Presumed Innocent Until Not
Craig Heath
52

I was on a jury about a year ago. It was a drunk driving case — drunk driving a tractor on a city street. The prosecution provided not one bit of evidence that the defendant was guilty. Our city has no laws against driving tractors on city roadways so that was not an issue. There was video of the defendant driving the tractor and he did appear to possibly be inebriated but he hit nothing, did nothing wrong. In fact, he deftly maneuvered his way around several vehicles that were poorly parked along the street. His possible state of inebriation was only evident when he spoke and then it was impossible to know if he simply had a speech impediment or if his slightly slurred speech was a result of dehydration on a 99-degree day. First, there was no reason for the cop to stop him. No reason at all. Second, the man was polite and cooperative but still the cop immediately called for backup as though the quite small, 70+ year-old man was a threat. Third, no breath test was given, only a line-walking test which he failed but, again, that could be caused by the heat, dehydration, or a multitude of other reasons. There was no real evidence. The case was a sham. A complete waste of time. Not to mention that the arresting officer had moved out of state and had to be flown in to testify! It wasn’t a big case in the grand scheme of things but it was a big case to the defendant. It was huge to him. The jury found him not guilty even though some thought he probably was drunk but we all agreed it wasn’t proven. We all agreed that it was an insult to us as jurors that the case even made it’s way to court. Justice was done that day but many times it isn’t. Many times the stacks are higher and the charges graver. And, too often, the police and prosecution are just as wrong. No one can ever assume that police are trustworthy and don’t have a hidden agenda. The tractor-driving man was targeted for some reason that day. Why? Who knows. Maybe the cop was bored. Maybe he has dealt with the man before and doesn’t like him. I don’t know and will never know but it was clear that there was no case there.

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