By Linhchi Nguyen
ANAHEIM, CA – Attorneys involved in defendant Oscar Sosa Tapia’s minor sexual assault case began with their jury selection this week at Orange County Superior Court.
Tapia was charged with five different counts on August 28, 2020, including a first-degree residential burglary in which he allegedly entered an inhabited dwelling with the intent to commit sexual assault toward a minor.
Tapia is also charged with engaging in lewd conduct in a public place, annoying or molesting a child under the age of 18, unlawfully peeking through the door and window of an inhabited house, and loitering on private property.
For this jury selection, Tapia’s public defender, Madeline Berkley, was particularly keen on finding jurors who have any issues with hearing testimony about mental illness or relying on child testimony.
“There will be some issues that come forth in the child that relates to mental health,” Berkley said before asking the jurors, “Who in this room has had experience with mental illness?”
One juror identified herself as a professional psychologist of 12 years. During her questioning, she told Berkley that she is willing to rely on any expert testimony regarding the mental health of the child witness.
However, she also mentioned that it would be difficult for her to completely restrain herself from applying her psychology background in assessing the case.
Deputy District Attorney Stephanie Caughlin followed up with the juror, clarifying whether it is fair to say that the juror won’t be able “set aside her 12 years of experience when listening to one week of testimony.” The juror confirmed that she won’t be able to, and as a result, she was later excused by Caughlin and the judge.
Another juror, who was a mother of several children, was dismissed because she admitted she may be too emotional hearing about a potential sexual assault case toward a minor.
Other than that, most of the jurors, despite admitting to having mental health issues or raising young children themselves, assured the attorneys that their personal experiences would not affect their judgment during the trial.
Prosecutor Caughlin also asked the jurors questions regarding their capability of empathizing with witnesses who may be uncomfortable with public speaking and having to testify on traumatic events.
“[They] might appear a bit nervous. Are you going to hold that against them?” she asked. “Are you going to actively self-regulate yourself to make sure that you’re fair and impartial to everybody?”
For some of the jurors who were parents, Caughlin asked them about how they handle a situation where their children are fighting and end up with different accounts of the story. “What sorts of things do you do to investigate to see what really happened?” she asked.
One juror stated that the best she can do is to listen to each child separately and hopefully get the truth out of each of them. Caughlin responded, “That kind of skill, that’s what we’re going to want in a case…it’s common sense.”
Both Caughlin and Berkley continued on with their questioning until the court ended its first day of jury selection. Only a few more people were dismissed, including one who had trouble comprehending English and one who alluded to having trouble assessing whether one is guilty or innocent.
Judge Michael Murray announced that they will continue with the jury selection on Thursday, April 1 at 9 a.m. in Department C1. He also estimated that the court will finish with the jury selection on that day.
Linhchi Nguyen is a fourth year at UC Davis, double majoring in Political Science and English. She currently lives in Sacramento, California.
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