Simple Risk

Jerin, legal advocate, could not quite believe the young woman facing him across the table. They were in the Aagerinar city jail, and he had been asked to take her on as a client.

“Marita, heir to the Earl Northmarch, and also third in line for the Duchy of Aagerinar,” he said, reciting the known data. “How old are you, anyhow?”

“Rumor has it I’m 15.” Her expression didn’t change. She was relaxed, even serene. There was no sign of the tension he would expect of a young woman under arrest.

“Rumor has it? Don’t you know?”

“My adoptive mother guessed I was eight when she adopted me. That was seven years ago. In actuality, nobody knows for sure.” Very slight amusement showed. He suspected that if this girl did know, she wouldn’t be telling. “But none of this is important right now. I need you to do some work for me.” Not “represent me” or “defend me.”

“If I’m to represent you,” he said, “You’ll need to follow my instructions exactly and trust yourself completely to my care. You are charged with a serious crime, and it’s under the city jurisdiction, not the ducal, so you it won’t be easy.”

“On the contrary,” said Marita, “You’ll do exactly as I say, speak when I tell you to, and be quiet when I want you to. You will merely be a voice.” It was amazing how, when you started from the original serenity, slight changes could convey a great deal of meaning. Now there was a hardness in her expression that would permit no argument.

“Someone your age can’t do that!” he said. “The legal system can be complicated, and you can’t count on your birth to save you from this one. City judges aren’t chosen by the Duke, and aren’t susceptible to the kind of influence you’re used to using.”

“I can get someone else. Or you can sit beside me, win this case, and get the fame that results. It’s your choice. But remember, I don’t deal well with disloyalty. You’ll agree to do things exactly as I say.” Still that hardness around the lips.

Jerin considered for a few moments. He could end up looking like a fool, but on the other hand, Marita had the reputation for living a charmed life, she was close friends with the Ducal heir, her mother was the High Priestess and founder of the Ecumencial Temples of the Sun, and her father was the Earl Northmarch. The odds she was going to end up swinging by the neck from the end of a rope were probably small.

“OK,” he said. “I’ll do it. But please let me give you some advice along the way.”

“You can always give me advice, provided it’s not at an inconvenient time.” The serene smile was back again. “But it won’t make any difference. You see, I already know how it’s going to go.”

There was a moment of silence, and then she continued. “I’ll be arraigned today, and you’ll ask for bail. You don’t need detailed instructions for this. My mother will be present and will be willing to present the bail in cash. I’ll be released and take up residence at the Aagerinar Ecumenical Temple. We will then demand a jury trial . . .”

“Oh no! my lady,” Jerin interrupted. “Not a jury trial. You don’t understand. Jury trials are messy. The jury is selected randomly in the presence of the court. They draw 21 names at random, then each side gets to dismiss jurors alternately until there are seven. A simple majority of four is required to convict. It can’t be controlled.”

“We’ll demand a jury trial,” continued Marita, as though the interruption had never happened. “After that you will have nothing to do until you appear with me on the defense. I will, of course, be associated in my own defense, and you will be there to advise me. I will chat with you frequently, thus demonstrating how important your expert advice is to me.”

“But a jury trial, my lady! The rules of evidence go out the window because the jury can override the judge’s decision. That’s why jury trials are so rare.”

“Nonetheless, it’s a jury trial that we will have.” No give, no reaction to what he was saying. He reconsidered his decision to be associated with this mess, but again he remembered how many times this girl had landed on her feet in tough situations. It was unlikely she had suddenly become totally insane. Surely she had some control over the jury selection process. That had to be it. Impossible as it might seem, the jury would be rigged.

It was the day of the trial. Aagerinar city trials were required by law to be accomplished in a single session. One rule the jury was not allowed to override was that the defense got the same amount of time as had been allowed to the prosecution. This tended to make the jury a little bit careful as to how much time they allowed the prosecution to present its case. It also tended to make defense teams very wary of taking too much of their legally permitted time, lest they annoy a tired jury. Legal advocates diligently avoided jury trials under the city rules; a trial by a panel of three judges was the alternative, and resulted in generally fairer trials.

Marita signalled quietly to Jerin as to which seven jurors to exclude. As she did that, he became even more convinced that she must have the process under control. There was no apparent logic to who she was excluding from the pool. Since no questions were permitted during the exclusion process, most advocates simply used this option to guarantee randomness in the jury selection. Marita seemed to think she was making informed selections.

With the jury seated, the prosecution began their case. The lady Marita had been arrested on a street two blocks from the Serenta Bank, wearing ragged street clothes and dirty as a street urchin. She had been carrying three gold bars, which would be introduced into evidence and identified as having come from the aforementioned Serenta Bank. She had refused to identify herself. By the time the police had discovered her identity, they had also found that the Serenta Bank had been robbed, that significant records had been destroyed, and that several safety deposit boxes were missing. He would establish a motive of greed, based simply on the lady’s reputation. He would establish opportunity based on her location, means based on her abilities, and he would establish that she was in possession of some of the stolen money.

Jerin was sure he saw a smile playing around the edges of Marita’s face as the prosecutor gave this account. The chief city prosecutor was making the presentation, and Jerin admired the careful lines of his case as he presented. It was a masterpiece of legal presentation. The terminology was entirely correct and unambiguous. It was regrettable for someone like Marita that testimony of reputation was permitted in Augion courts. Her reputation for getting out of jams would hurt her, and the prosecutor could play on it. He wasn’t looking at the jury–they looked bored, and they didn’t understand much of the terminology.

Marita insisted on presenting her own opening. It was short. “Fellow citizens of the jury,” she said, “In my defense I will show that the prosecutor is not only stuck up and boring, he’s wrong about nearly everything.”

Prosecutor: “Challenge!”

Judge: “On what grounds?”

Prosecutor: “That is an improper and insulting opening statement.”

The judge was more aware of his surroundings, and could see the interest of the jurors. But he also knew that while there were a number of arguments that could be made against an opening statement, the only one that was usually successful was an argument of irrelevance, that the advocate was talking about completely irrelevant issues. In this case, though eccentric, the opening would probably be allowable by a panel of judges. What was further, an objection after the fact in front of an Augion city jury was usually a waste of time–the words were said, and an alteration of the record was not permitted. He could tell Marita to stop, and probably be overridden by the jury, but she had already sat down.

“I’ll note your challenge,” he said, “But that’s all that can be done at this point.

Marita’s eyes were on the jury, communicating with them in that subtle way she had with her facial expressions.

The prosecutor became more and more surprised as Marita failed to challenge his basic testimony. There was a witness from the Ducal army who discussed her work instructing commandos in urban warfare and evasion, along with her intimate knowledge of locks and traps. The prosecutor expected her questioning to try to obscure her skills, but instead she used the time to emphasize the breadth and depth of her knowledge and experience. She got him to say that he regarded her as the foremost expert in the Duchy on building security. In the end, she asked him how likely he thought it was that she would be arrested within two blocks of a crime she actually committed. “Never!” he answered.

Then there was the lead officer of the guard patrol that arrested her. The prosecutor couldn’t think of anything Marita could gain questioning him. There was no doubt about who she was. But Marita did have one question:

Marita: “Which way was I walking when I was spotted by your guards?”
Guard: “North.”
Marita: “Toward the bank?” (Pause) “Yes.”

There was the bank officer to identify the gold bars. They were stamped with the Serenta Bank’s logo and numbers. They were the type of bars that would be in the bank. He could not verify that they were actually bars that were in the bank at the time because the vault records had been destroyed in the robbery, but he was as certain as possible that they were.

Marita: “How much money was stolen from the bank?”

Manager: “Fifty bars of gold, and an unknown amount from the safety deposit boxes.”

Marita: “Where do you suppose I hid the other 47 bars?”

Manager: “I have no idea. I’m not a thief!”

Marita: “I was just curious. I’d really like to go back and recover it, but I have no idea where it is!” (laughter)

Marita: “I’m showing you a document, and I ask you to identify it.” (hands witness a sheet of paper with an embossed seal on it)

Manager: “It appears to be a receipt from our competitor, Bank of Aagerinar, for the withdrawal of 10 gold bars. It’s dated three days prior to the robbery.”

Marita: “Can you read the numbers on that sheet and compare them to the numbers on the three bars of gold I was carrying when arrested?”

Manager: “Yes I can. (long pause) The three bars are listed here.”

Prosecutor: “May I point out to the court that this receipt has not been verified by anyone and has, in fact, been in the possession of the defendant?”

Judge: “You may, and the jury may consider that fact.”

Jerin was reasonably certain that despite the questions, most Aagerinar juries would convict based on the evidence available. The receipt was too convenient, and the prosecutor’s suggestion that it might be forged was reasonable. In fact, it looked very much to him like evidence of planning. But he knew that the next stage, personal reputation, would be very telling. He and many other advocates wished that evidence of reputation was not allowed in Aagerinar city courts. It was not according to precedent even the loose “precedent from anywhere” method used throughout the Duchy. But the city had passed a specific ordinance allowing it because so many criminals were known to have committed a variety of crimes, but there was insufficient evidence to convict them of specific crimes. Nonetheless, it also permitted the innocent to be convicted without evidence as well.

On the other hand, as much as he wanted to win this case, he himself was now convinced Marita had committed the crime, and even planned this entire scene. He knew she’d done it, and he was convinced now she was going to be acquitted.

The witness the prosecutor called as to reputation was an advisor to the city prosecutor’s office. This was unusual, though legally permissible. The jury could ignore such testimony because of the witness’s bias, but they rarely did.

After testifying to the number of crimes in which Marita had been suspected, or rumored to be involved, the prosecutor moved to a new line of questioning:

Prosecutor: “Hasn’t Marita’s own father cut off communication?”

Marita: “Note!”

The “note” was a legal maneuver traditional in Enzar courts and allowed in Aagerinar courts that allowed opposing counsel to make it clear that they intended to challenge a point of testimony and how they intended to do so, without allowing time for the point to settle in jurors’ minds. Jerin had been unaware that Marita was acquainted with it.

Judge: “Your note?”

Marita: “May I ask the prosecutor why he is eliciting testimony about my father’s attitude from this witness when my father himself is available?”

Jerin saw red flags in front of his eyes. Danger! Danger! The prosecutor would probably like nothing better than to get Lord Kaltros on the stand to comment on his attitude toward his daughter, an attitude that was well known. Having her father call her a thief in person would guarantee a conviction! But it was too late.

Prosecutor: “I felt it unnecessary to call Lord Kaltros when his attitude is a matter of public record.”

Marita: “Let me inform the, um, honorable prosecutor that should he persist in this course of action, I will call my father so we can hear his testimony for ourselves.”

The prosecutors expression went through annoyance, to concern, to fear, and then back to blank.

Prosecutor: “I do not wish to disturb the Lord Kaltros. I will abandon this line of questioning.”

The closing statements were predictable. The prosecutor presented a logical masterpiece, spinning every single event in his own favor. Marita simply pointed out that the prosecutor had placed her no closer than two blocks from the crime scene, had claimed that she was in possession of materials stolen from the bank, which turned out to be legally hers, and that they had tried to impugn her reputation, but she was proud of her service to the duchy. She noted that the city guard didn’t really like the ducal forces and was also known to be more determined to make an arrest than it was to make the right one. As she said it, she made eye contact with each of the jurors in turn. She fairly caressed them with her eyes and the expressions on her face.

The vote came in four to three for acquittal.

After Jerin received the congratulations of his peers for a masterful strategy, though an eccentric one, he met with Marita.

“How did you do it?” he asked. “It is pretty much a given that one can’t rig a jury under our system. Did the court clerk owe you a favor or something?”

“Indeed she did,” said Marita.

“But how could she arrange it?”

“I have to have some secrets,” said Marita.

Indeed I do, she thought. Especially the secret that while the court clerk does owe me a favor, she still does. The simplest solution was simply to win the case, and with a crowd of common people, Marita, street urchin become noble heiress, was the master.

But it was worrisome. She’d counted on winning five to two!

One thought on “Simple Risk

  1. Pingback: PianoPlanet

Comments are closed.