Oh thank god I can talk now
We got a very limited view of it. A 26 year old man was on trial, charged only with a single count of lying on a federal form -- to wit, in 2009 he bought a gun for a friend, but filled out the transfer document saying that he was buying it for himself. We found him guilty, mostly because he sat on the witness stand and told us that he indeed checked off that box on the form and signed the form. What are you going to do with that? So, why do I think this is part of the wider case?
First, because of government overkill. They brought in ATF agents from all over the country. They brought in a handwriting expert from the Atlanta ATF crime labs. They spent a day with that handwriting expert testifying about a completely irrelevant point -- did the defendant fill in the date on the form, or did someone else do it. That point might have mattered if the gun store was on trial, but they weren't. They probably should be, if they have not, in fact, been charged separately. Or maybe they were working with the ATF all along to let these straw purchases go though. I don't know.
The weapon in question is what brought our defendant to the ATF's attention -- it apparently turned up in Mexico a month after purchase -- but we heard no evidence about that beyond the fact. That it ended up in Mexico was mentioned once by one of the ATF agents, to explain why they wanted to talk to the Other Guy. But no one explained how anyone knew that the Other Guy was connected to that weapon. The Other Guy was at one time a co-defendant in this case, but now he isn't. We were not to speculate on that. Don't think of a hippopotomus!
I would feel more sympathetic to the defendant (and I am pretty sympathetic to him, because he's clearly an idiot who got drawn into something a whole lot bigger than he understood) (unless he's an exceptionally gifted liar), except that another thing we know is that another weapon he purchased some years before also ended up in the ATF data base, connected to a crime. I'm not at all sure that the defense lawyer should have allowed that to pass without an objection, but there you are. The fact came into evidence while they were talking about pulling handwriting samples from previous gun purchases. Our defendant had bought 8 weapons previously, including an AK47, and the Glock that was in the ATF's database.
The prosecution was a mess. Not at all focused, spending hours on material that really wasn't relevant to the charge. I suppose this is what you get when you're dealing with a small piece of a larger case -- YOU know why that information is important, and you forget that the jury has no idea. But it's no way to make a jury like you.
The defense was damn near criminally negligent. The lawyer should never have allowed his client to testify under oath that he had committed the crime. The defendant claimed that he filled in the form that way because the gun store owner told him that he had to or else he'd be in trouble with the ATF. He claimed that the form in evidence was a SECOND version that he had come back to the store days later to fill out this way....as if that didn't make the crime more deliberate and conscious. I think that perhaps the defendant could make a successful appeal of our verdict based on negligent counsel, and the judge permitting that kind of damaging self-incrimination.
Additionally, the defense was negligent in voir dire. Six members of the jury were familiar with the Fast & Furious investigations, myself included. Only one juror had never heard of it at all. It gave a context to the case, and probably changed what evidence we weighted. They never asked about that. They asked about connections to law enforcement and the legal profession, and dismissed everyone in the pool who had them. They asked about membership in the NRA, and dismissed all of those. But they never asked about whether you owned or had bought or sold firearms. I suppose they can't. But we ended up with a licensed firearms dealer on the jury, who was extremely helpful in understanding the bits about how weapons are and are not sold, and what the penalties would be for selling a weapon to someone who filled out the form saying he was buying it for someone else (as the defendant claimed he had done originally).
All in all, it was an infuriating four days. Although I will say that the smooth-talking ATF agent from Kentucky telling us about the interview conducted in the parking lot of the Waffle House was entertaining. The drawl, the "oh, we was just making very small talk", the "I was there as training officer for one of the other agents, but I decided to stay back and talk to the defendant because of safety concerns, and he just up and told me that he'd bought a gun for his friend (the guy they were there to actually talk to) just last month", all of it was like a bad TV show. He couldn't testify to what the Other Guy might have told them because he was making small talk about pecan pie with the defendant. Also, of course, the Other Guy is someone we aren't allowed to talk about. There was much talk about the pecan pie, which as far as I know, the Waffle House in Tucson doesn't sell.
The defendant and his mother were very surprised that we found him guilty. I can't for the life of me understand why. Bad legal advice, I suppose. Why anyone would believe that "I did it because someone told me to" was a defense against the charge, I cannot figure out. Neither could anyone else on the jury.
<a href="http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-31727_162-57461204-10391695/a-primer-on-the-fast-and-furious-scandal/>Operation Fast and Furious</a>