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It has been a couple of years since I last served jury duty. As is standard procedure, I was called in to sit on jury duty last week. After checking in and joining the jury pool, I was brought upon the judge and questioned by the judge as well as two attorneys on several matters. Upon discussions among themselves, they decided that I would serve on this jury panel in a criminal trial involving the possession of an unlicensed, loaded, operable gun.
The magnitude of our responsibility was not lost on me, I recognized that I had it within my power, along with 15 other people to decide someone’s fate. This was a gun charge that would have condemned Ricardo Fleurmond to a very hefty prison term. I was aware of this very serious fact the entire time. A young man’s life was literally in the palm of our hands. That’s a mighty big responsibility to have placed upon your shoulders. And you owe it to yourself, society, and the defendant to give them as fair a trial as is possible!
It is important that when you sit on the jury you set aside your preconceived notions, your personal beliefs, and you base your decisions solely on the facts and evidence presented to you in the courtroom. It is my belief that I was instrumental in enforcing this today.
I was the foreman of the jury, and I was extremely vocal about my own “reasonable doubt” and why it existed. It was not that difficult to come to a unanimous decision because most of the other jurors agreed with my stance as well. The charges and the requirements for a guilty or not guilty verdict were very clear. Once that information was set forth it was easy for me to come to a fair, just, lawful decision. Based on the general consensus among my fellow jurors, it is my belief that it was also fairly easy for them to come to their decision as well.
Except for that one guy.
There’s always that one guy isn’t there? This man did not focus on the facts, he wanted to know information that was not relevant to the case.
Him: Where were they going together?
Me: This was not presented as evidence, it is not relevant.
Him: What is the relationship of the two men?
Me: They could be lovers, brothers, best friends, gang members, perfect strangers, it was not presented as evidence, it is not relevant.
Him: It was after midnight, I still want to know where were they going?
Me: Again, this is not relevant, and not really any of your business. They could have been going to party with some hot women, or to get a slice of pizza, and it doesn’t make a difference as far as our considerations go.
Him: It matters to me, I want to know if he is a bad guy. Does he have a criminal history? Is he a good man?
Me: Again, none of these things factor here in so far as the law is concerned. If he was trying to rent an apartment from you, then you can judge his character. But here, and now, it is not relevant.
Him: Every time I talk, you interrupt me and say your funny words with your funny answer. This is not funny.
Me: It is not funny, I’m just trying to get the point across that these questions do not factor into our thought process. But, I want everyone to be heard, so please do go on, I will not interrupt you with my funny words.
It’s true, I did interrupt him, and I was mocking him a bit. Simply because he was being unreasonable. In fact, I encouraged him to write out all his questions and then we’d submit them to the judge. I did this because I wanted to see which method the judge would use to shut down his irrelevant questions. I saw the judge become impatient the Assistant DA and the defense attorney, and I wondered if he would lose it on those irrelevant questions. He did not, he was much more gentle and patient with the jury than he was with the legal team.
Look, the concerns this juror he had were valid life concerns. They are the type of questions you ask if Ricardo’s dating your daughter or something. However, in this scenario, they were not addressed nor relevant to our decision as jurors in this specific case. So yes, we (especially me) gave him a bit of a hard time.
At the end of it all, it was one juror who managed to sway him a bit. She explained her reasoning, (which I didn’t agree with by the way) but it seemed to make sense to him. So rather than challenge her too, I just remained silent, and let her finish swaying him to understand what we were saying through her view lens.
At the end of the day, I don’t care how you come to the conclusion, but there was reasonable doubt.
According to the criminal complaint, Ricardo was driving a BMW in a Jamaica, Queens residential area and was being followed by an unmarked police vehicle which was part of a plain clothes anti crime unit. According to one of the officers, his flashy car came to a full stop but then failed to signal on a turn. At that point the police officers turned on their sirens, flashed their lights and had Ricardo pull over. It was late in the evening and one of the officers had a flashlight as he approached the vehicle. The officer then claims to have seen part of the firearm and directed both passengers to to exit the vehicle. Ricardo and his passenger were both arrested and taken to central booking.
There were four charges against Ricardo Fleurmond on this matter. Three of them were varying degrees of possession of a firearm without a proper license, and the final charge was driving without a license. The district attorney brought forth witnesses including the police officers, chief medical examiner, Evidence collection teams, and some folks from the DMV.
We were presented evidence in the form of testimony and other information which was to help us decide whether or not Ricardo was in possession of the firearm. They even presented the firearm. It was a 2 shot derringer pistol. It looked like one of those collectible firearms, rather than a proper gun. Also, it was two shots, come on now guys! If you are gonna pack heat, then pack some real heat! Even in NYC, with all the restrictions we face, my legal Smith & Wesson M&P9 holds 7 bullets!
In any case, the sad cigar room weaponry aside, the law stated that in order for us to find Ricardo Fleurmond guilty, that several conditions had to be met, otherwise we had to put forth a not guilty verdict. The judge stated that the burden of proof was on the people, and the people only. Mr Fleurmond need not, (and he did not) testify on his behalf. He was presumed innocent unless the people proved to us beyond a reasonable doubt that he was guilty.
To be honest, on several of the charges, 4 out of 5 conditions for guilty were met, and Mr. Fleurmond was dangerously close to receiving a “Guilty” verdict based on the specific laws put forth. However, there was that one deciding factor, the term “knowingly” was included in each of the 3 guns charges. Was he knowingly in possession of the firearm? This is where our own personal deductions came into play. What did we believe here? Most of us felt that we didn’t know if he knew or not, we were not convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that he knew. Therefore, we all agreed on “Not guilty.”
The defense made the argument that this was not Ricardo’s gun and that his friend attempted to hide the gun when the police pulled them over. They attempted to convince us, or at least create enough doubt about whether or not Ricardo was aware that his friend had the gun. Mr Castro (defense lawyer) wanted us to believe that Fleurmond’s friend didn’t tell him about, and then tried to hide the gun when the police showed up. Making Ricardo an innocent bystander.
The district attorney on the other hand wanted to convince us that Ricardo knew about the weapon and that he was in possession of the weapon the whole time. Mrs Fitzgerald insisted that he was guilty of possession and that he knew!
What’s the truth? I sure as hell don’t know. Is it within the realm of possibility that they both knew about the gun? Of course it is possible! However, was that a solid fact, and was it proven within a reasonable doubt? Well, me and my peers did not think it was proven within a reasonable doubt. This wasn’t about speculation, it was about facts. Since we just “didn’t know,” we couldn’t condemn a man with his entire life ahead of him to a long prison term. I could not do that in good conscience and live with myself.
The chief medical examiner said that there were no fingerprints recovered from this firearm. However, do note that he also stated that never, ever, ever has he been able to pull a print from a firearm. This was news to me, and I found it rather shocking to learn this fact. That’s crazy, right?
In addition to that he stated that there was DNA recovered from the firearm, there were at least three individual’s different DNA found on this weapon. However, Ricardo was 100% excluded from the DNA pool. In other words none of the DNA found matched Ricardo’s DNA. This wasn’t the only factor that came into play, but it did factor and certainly helped the defense. Again, this does not guarantee that Ricardo never touched, handled or even owned the firearm, however it is a fact that his DNA was not on it.
There are many what-ifs in this case. What if the gun was his? What if they were going to shoot somebody on that evening? What if they were planning to commit a robbery? What if Ricardo didn’t even know that his friend had the gun? What if after what if after what if!
That in itself was enough to create a reasonable doubt, and as per our instructions if we had a reasonable doubt as to whether or not Ricardo truly possessed that firearm, then we were to hand down a not guilty verdict.
The keyword that I hung onto, and many others hung onto, was the word knowingly. One of the conditions for a guilty verdict stated that if the person was in the vehicle and the firearm was in the vehicle then they are in possession of the firearm. That seems unfair, however, that is the law as it is written. If that were the only condition put forth, then many would have to say guilty. However, the next point stated knowingly, I’ll repeat that knowingly. I can’t tell you how many times I said that word during deliberations.
There was nothing that the prosecution presented to us that convinced us all beyond a reasonable doubt that Ricardo knew that his friend had the weapon. Even until that very last second when he allegedly attempted to hide the firearm in the car, Ricardo could have been unaware that his friend was in possession of the firearm. I’m not stating this as fact, I’m saying there was cause to be unsure, therefore creating reasonable doubt.
Did he know? It’s possible. But it’s also possible that he did not know and that creates this reasonable doubt. We all understood and agreed on this matter. With the exception of the one man, we all immediately agreed that he was not guilty of the first three weapons charges.
Now when it came to the driving without a license charge, they tried to create some doubt on that too. The defense attorney tried to imply that maybe Ricardo did not receive the letters that told him he was suspended. This is possible, but we were not buying that one. Furthermore, the law said that if the defendant was driving his vehicle and he was not in possession of a valid license then he is guilty. It doesn’t say anything about whether or not he knew or if he was aware or not, etc. So we had to find him guilty on the driving without a license. That was also unanimously agreed upon. I don’t think that they cared too much about that charge, and it seemed like they expected it based on the reactions I observed.
When we read the three not guilty verdicts I saw his lawyer exhale and smile with joy, Ricardo began to weep and wiped the tears from his eyes. I don’t know Ricardo, I don’t know anything about his past, and I don’t know the true intent behind that evening. What I do know is that the prosecution, as much as she tried just didn’t convince us beyond a reasonable doubt that Ricardo knew about the gun. The police officers were not consistent in their testimony, and they both came of rather shady which really hurt their credibility. The other witnesses seemed to state information that actually helped the defense, rather than hurt or incriminate him, especially the DNA evidence presented.
I believe that the ADA took on this case but that she knew she wasn’t going to win this one. I don’t know how it works in terms of assigning DA attorneys to a case, but it seemed to me that she just knew she couldn’t win from the gate. There was something about her, a defeated energy that just told me that she didn’t even seem convinced herself. She put up a hell of a fight though, she tried, but we were just not convinced beyond a reasonable doubt. I did fail to observed her reaction when I read the verdict. I really tried to avoid any eye contact with anyone as I was afraid it may indicate that I favored anyone.
Ricardo, I hope that going forward you will take advantage of this opportunity that you have been given, and that you perhaps should choose your friends with greater caution. Most of you know that I am very active on equality, and that black lives matter to me. I’m happy that I was part of a process where I was able to positively affect a young man’s life.
The defense was really good, Mr. Castro was a very passionate lawyer, very thorough, and almost seemed like he’s ready to be on TV soon. I believe that everyone including the judge did their jobs to the best of their abilities, and once again I am happy that I was able to be a part of giving someone a fair trial.
We did have to briefly fight this one juror to get him to understand the law. Ricardo’s saving grace, was the word knowingly. Did he knowingly have the gun in his possession and the answer to that was “I don’t know,” and “I don’t know” means reasonable doubt. That’s what kept this young man out of prison. I wish him all the best and I hope that he goes on to be a productive member of society.
You cannot believe the characters that we encountered during jury selection, some which expressed bias based on someone’s job. One woman said that she would believe anything a cop says regardless of the facts. She will simply believe them because they are a cop. Another woman said that she would be against someone simply because their was a gun involved in the equation regardless of the details.
Ladies and gentlemen you have to learn how to separate your feelings from the facts. Look at the facts, get information and then make an unbiased decision. I believe that we did that and I’m grateful and happy that in that process we were able to save one life. I pray to God that we did the right thing by granting reasonable doubt.
Ricardo, please don’t make us wrong my brother! Stay blessed.
Growing Up Bronx