Saturday, November 17, 2012

"On Trial" from Edcon Publishing



You know you're not guilty, but can you convince the court?

After all this time it doesn't seem possible, but finally the trial is about to begin. Your lawyer, Mr. Barton, tells you the delay has been to your advantage because he needed the time to gather facts and prepare your defense. He spent weeks trying to find witnesses who might testify in your favor. You don't bother to point out to him that few such witnesses have turned up. You were in a book store fifty miles away at the time of the robbery but the clerk doesn't remember you. You remembered him only because his ears stuck out at nearly right angles to his head. When they brought the clerk to see you, he stared hard at you and shook his head.

"Maybe I saw this person before, maybe not," he said. "And even if I did, I certainly couldn't tell you when it was."

In your anguish, you envied him his outstanding ears, wishing for the first time in your life that you had some obvious feature which might stick in a person's memory. The jury members, eight men and four women, are sitting solemnly in the jury box and a few even seem a bit frightened. You wonder what they have to be scared about, knowing for certain they can go home again when this is all over.

"I'm sure we'll get a fair trial and a just decision," Mr. Barton told you last night with his customary cheerfulness. "We've got a good jury."

If it isn't a good jury, it's not through lack of effort on Mr. Barton's part. You never realized before how lengthy a process choosing a jury could be. Mr. Barton and the opposing lawyer, Mr. Dunn, questioned each candidate closely and rejected many. You were amazed to discover how many people had read about you in the newspaper, discussed your case with others and already decided whether you were guilty or innocent.

Now you lean forward, tense and expectant, as Mr. Dunn begins his opening statement. He tells the jury he will prove that the accused - he looks at you and says your name - is guilty as charged. The eight men and four women are all looking at you. A few curious strangers, who sit in the public section, also stare at you.

Trying to ignore them, you concentrate on Mr. Dunn who is giving a brief description of the testimony to follow, which he claims will prove beyond any reasonable doubt that you are the person who robbed the First Federal Bank. He tells what witnesses he will call and what evidence he will give.

Mr. Barton nods to you, tapping his pen on the papers before him to remind you that he is prepared. To emphasize the point, he leans over and whispers, "No surprises so far."

The first witness, Officer Owens, is called and sworn in. You listen as he tells how he recognized you from the photograph taken by the bank's hidden camera. The photograph itself is introduced as evidence. You know, of course, that the person in the photograph cannot possibly be you, but you must admit the resemblance is strong enough to create suspicion.

Officer Owens goes on to describe the navy blue parka you were wearing when he arrested you. Mr. Dunn asks if it looked like the one worn by the person in the photograph. Mr. Barton objects, but the judge tells Officer Owens to answer.

"Yes," Officer Owens says, "it looked just like that."

Now Mr. Dunn comes to the matter of the money. "Isn't it true, Officer Owens," he asks, "that at the time of the arrest, the accused was carrying a large sum of money?"

Officer Owens says that you were, and Mr. Dunn loses no time in asking him what statement you made regarding employment. When Officer Owens finishes speaking, Mr. Dunn nods wisely.

"Didn't it seem strange to you, Officer Owens, that a person who admits to having no regular income, no visible means of support, should be carrying that amount of cash?"

Mr. Barton is on his feet shouting, "I object! I object!"
The judge rules that this question not be considered part of the testimony. That's fine, you think, but the jury has already heard it and a search of their twelve faces does not relieve your anguish. Will they believe you're guilty of this crime?

Once, when you were about twelve years old, you let a group of friends dare and bully you into taking a candy bar from a store. You felt disgusted with yourself for days afterward and decided you could do without friends like that. How could anyone think you, of all people, capable of robbing a bank?

Then, as you've done so often during these difficult weeks, you try to see yourself as the others must see you. Here you are, a stranger in this town, with no job, a wallet full of big bills and a face similar to that of a person photographed in the act of robbing a bank. How could they feel anything toward you but suspicion and doubt?

Mr. Dunn has finished questioning Officer Owens. "Your witness," he says to Mr. Barton, who now steps forward to cross-examine.
Under questioning by Mr. Barton, Officer Owens admits that he can't identify you positively from the photograph. Yes, he agrees, many people wear navy blue down-filled jackets. Yes, though you did say you had no job, you told him the cash you were carrying was payment for a piece of sculpture you had sold to a private collector.

Mr. Dunn calls more witnesses. The bank teller and others who were in the bank, all testify that you look like the robber. They do not change their minds when Mr. Barton cross-examines them and you feel quite discouraged. Will our system of justice, which Mr. Barton thinks is so wonderful, allow you to be sent to prison?

At last Mr. Dunn has presented all his witnesses and evidence and now the defense will have its turn. Mr. Barton makes an opening statement, as Mr. Dunn did, and calls wealthy old Mrs. Greenwood to testify. Though nearly ninety and not always cooperative, she is the only one who knows about the money.

"Yes", she says in her hoarse old voice, she knows the defendant. Her hand shakes as she points you out across the courtroom, but she describes in perfect detail the sculpture you did for her and the amount she paid you.

On cross-examination, Mr. Dunn tries hard to emphasize her age and suggests that she might be forgetful or confused. Mr. Barton objects but the judge allows Mr. Dunn to make his point. Mrs. Greenwood says, "I object, young man!" which draws laughter, even from the judge.

There are a few other witnesses, but there isn't much they can add to your defense. In his closing statement, Mr. Barton emphasizes the difficulty of identifying someone you've seen only once: the ease with which a mistake could be made. Then Mr. Dunn makes a closing statement, the judge says a few words to the jury and they go out.

You try to ignore both hope and fear until they return. As they file into the expectant silence of the courtroom, you study their faces. One of the women nods and smiles. So you know, even before you hear the words "Not Guilty" that Mr. Barton was right about justice.

COMPREHENSION CHECK

1. The person from the bookstore who stared at the individual on trial, was
a. a clerk.
b. a customer.
c. the owner.
d. a salesman.

2. Mr. Barton was the lawyer who
a. wanted to put the person on trial, in jail.
b. was defending the person on trial.
c. was a witness for the person on trial.
d. served as a judge for the trial.

3. Although the person on trial had no job,
a. he was caught with the bank's money.
b. he had a lot of money on him when he was arrested.
c. he had many workers to act as witnesses for him.
d. he knew all along the jury favored unemployed people.

4. The first witness called was
a. Mr. Dunn.
b. Mr. Barton.
c. Officer Owens.
d. an old lady.

5. From this selection, we may infer that
a. the person on trial was unsure about his fate.
b. the person knew all along he would be freed.
c. the jury was unfair to the person on trial.
d. Officer Owens was the most important witness for the defense.

6. This selection leads us to believe
a. Mr. Dunn was a better lawyer than Mr.
Barton.
b. the judge favored the defendant.
c. there was not enough evidence to convict the defendant.
d. Mrs. Greenwood couldn't help the defendant.

7. The author's purpose for writing this selection was
a. to describe a struggle between lawyers.
b. to explain what lawyers do.
c. to show how justice is fair.
d. to let us know how juries react.

8. Mrs. Greenwood was an important witness because
a. she was an old lady who was funny.
b. she explained why the person was carrying so much money.
c. she wanted to free the person on trial because they were related.
d. she was good at describing statues for lawyers, judges and juries.

9. Another name for this selection could be
a. "Mr. Barton Defeats Mr. Dunn."
b. "Big Bills Mean Big Trouble."
c. "Mrs. Greenwood's Explanation."
d. "Justice at Work."

10. This selection is mainly about
a. how officers make mistakes, too.
b. why carrying lots of money is bad.
c. why having a job is important.
d. how a man is proven innocent.