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Life as a Public Defender

BROWARD COUNTY, Fla. - It was the first time I was picking a jury, May of 2015, and thanks to Madeleine Albright I felt calm. A friend reminded me that my decades of asking questions when I was a journalist was the best preparation one could have for this moment. Her advice made me think of the day I was sent, last minute, to ask Secretary of State Albright about the Dayton Peace Accords. This was pre-smart phones and at a time before I went to Kosovo, so I knew little about the war in the Balkans.

Somehow I pulled that assignment off and the memory gave me the confidence I needed for my first jury selection. I had to interview 16 strangers in hope of finding 6 who would be fair and impartial (Fair and impartial -- that is the legal jargon but honestly both sides want 6 people who will see things their way).

These 16 citizens had no idea that the table where my 23 year-old client was sitting -- I'll call him "Kevin Todd" -- hid the shackles on his legs and the rip in his ill-fitting borrowed pants. My client was in custody waiting to fight a felony charge when we decided to take his misdemeanor, Possession of Cannabis under 20 grams, to trial.

I knew I was off to a good start when I asked the jurors for real world names for cannabis. One woman even went old school and busted out with "Mary Jane." I was a bit worried about the pilot on the panel. He didn't think pot should be legal but he did say loyalty was the most important characteristic in a friend. Trying to figure out how people will feel about our case after talking to them for just 20 minutes is no easy task. We needed 6 people who had friends who smoked pot and who understood why Mr. Todd would try to help a friend.

In the end my gut said to keep the pilot and of course we kept Mary Jane. The 6 chosen heard how Mr. Todd was in the backseat of a friend's car that just parked at a nightclub. A cop approached the car and saw the guy in the passenger seat rolling a joint. The cop also saw Mr. Todd lean forward and try to conceal "something" in the creases of the front seat. The State played up Mr. Todd's own statement to the cop: The bag of pot (eventually found in the front seat crease) wasn't his but he just didn't want them to get in trouble.

A portion of the "Kevin Todd" trial notes from the Broward County courtroom clerk Broward County court clerk/Kim Segal

We decided to embrace this statement. We argued that just because Mr. Todd tried to hide a bag of pot that was found in the car did not mean that he had control or ownership over it.

The only evidence we provided came out during cross examination of the cop. My questions took less than 3 minutes. Did you see Mr. Todd take anything out of his pocket? No. His sock? No. You never saw marijuana in his hand? No. You searched Mr. Todd after arresting him? Yes. You didn't find rolling papers on him? No. You didn't find a pipe on him? No. That was the gist of our evidence.

We told the jury that perhaps Mr. Todd did something foolish by trying to protect his friends but he didn't do anything illegal because just as he told the cop that night, the bag of pot wasn't his! It took the jury 20 minutes to come back with their verdict.

Thanks to thoughts of Secretary Albright I made it through my first jury selection without passing out -- and thanks to the jury, because they sweetened the experience when they announced their verdict. NOT GUILTY!

The high profile trials of Manuel Noriega, Timothy McVeigh, OJ Simpson and George Zimmerman are among the important legal stories Kim Segal covered as a journalist for over two decades. While working as a producer for CNN, she began attending law school at night, and was admitted to the Florida Bar in 2005.

At 46, she left her television career for a position as a Public Defender in Broward County, Florida.

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