Friday, July 11, 2008

Soon to be an Olympic Sport

Emil Steiner posts about competitive shoplifting over at OFF/beat:

According to reports, at least two Cincinnatians have been arrested in the past week for...elevating shop-lifting to a competitive sport. First came a Winton Place man who was busted after "stuffing three packages of T-bone steaks down his shorts at a Walnut Hills Kroger." Then on Tuesday, Christopher Penn allegedly "stuffed eight T-bones down his pants at a Marsh supermarket, putting the old record to shame and landing himself behind bars on a theft charge."
This reminded me of my first and only time serving on a jury. Most jury trials, by the way, are nothing like what you see on Boston Legal or even Law and Order. The lawyers aren't eloquent and passionate--they're barely even prepared! They are rarely any GOTCHA! moments or breakdowns on the stand. Most jury trials are fairly pedestrian and even a little boring...

The case on which I was a juror was a grocery store shoplifting case--just like Steiner's post. The accused had stuffed items down his sweatpants, but noting the guard at the entrance, thought better of his plan and removed the items from his person. He was arrested anyway, because the act of concealment constitutes shoplifting under Virginia law. Of course his rather lame public defender tried to bring up the fact that he was unemployed, with a pregnant girlfriend and infant at home--blah, blah, blah. He might have gotten the sympathy vote had the items the accused tried to steal been stuff like baby formula, strained peas and Pampers.

It was not.

The accused attempted to shoplift two steaks (shoved down the front of his sweatpants...I'm feeling sorry for the customer who purchased them after they had been removed and replaced...), a couple of pairs of tube socks and a can of beer. He also had a record of check fraud and petty theft. It wasn't too hard of a deliberation.

When it came time to decide his fate, we gathered together. We had to elect a foreperson. We looked around at each other. "I'll do it," I volunteered. I was duly elected. About half of us were hardcore "red state" types who were ready to give the guy the death penalty. The other half were bleeding heart types who wanted to give him the steaks and beer and a hug. A couple of us (including me) were squarely in the middle. The bleeding heart types needed to be convinced that the act of concealment constituted shoplifting--even if the accused had ended up changing his mind. (And it was pretty obvious that he changed his mind only because he feared getting caught!) Once they were on board with the legal definitions, it was pretty easy to find him guilty.

Interestingly enough, once he was found guilty those same bleeding hearts had no problems giving him a pretty tough sentence. We were told we could give time and/or a fine. In order to expedite matters as foreman I wrote down each juror's suggested penalty. Then I added them up and divided by the number of jurors. You're not supposed to do that, but it was the simplest way to handle it. Once we had an average time/fine calculated, we voted and went back to the courtroom to deliver the verdict and sentence. And then we went home.

So let that be a lesson to all you future competitive pants-stuffing shoplifters! Unless you're doing it as part of a Price is Right game, you best leave the steaks in the meat case...

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