Trial By Jury
This morning, I found myself back at the local Superior Court, the site of last year’s battle with corrupt and venal prosecutors who sought to advance their own careers at the expense of my innocent son. Readers of my blog know that justice did prevail, but at a high cost.
Anytime you’re forced to spend nearly a hundred grand to defend you kid against frivolous criminal charges, you have to ask yourself . . . how many other innocent people rot in jail because they could not afford a first rate defense?
In this economy, how many people lose their houses or their livelihoods, when forced to give it all up to defend against a malicious prosecutor who menaces their family with impunity while hiding behind the shield of the State?
Like most people, I grew up believing there was some degree of fairness in our court system. In particular, I believed our prosecutors took the idea of protecting the innocent and convicting the guilty seriously. Now I know better. I realize they too are only human. Some of them may – hopefully - possess the strong moral fiber of a trusted village pastor while others have all the ethics of a street corner pimp or crack dealer.
If the specimens in encountered last year are representative of the sort of creature we depend on to protect the public, look out! The problem is, how do you know which ones are good and which are bad? And what do you do if you are set upon by the latter, when they see a chance to make a score over your dead body?
All you can do is what I did last year . . . trust in our jury system, and hope the jurors can see specimens like that for what they are. In my son’s case, they did, and I returned to the court today as a potential juror to return that favor if offered the chance. Would they take me?
At 8:30 I found myself in a room full of people, typing away at my computer as potential jurors filled the room and things got tighter and tighter. By nine, fifty four of us were paced into a few hundred square feet, as if we were participants in some bizarre rat behavior experiment. With all their talk about the importance of the jurors, judges and lawyers still relax in comfortable offices while we are packed like cattle. The lesson to be learned: importance is only a ten letter word. They did have a private bathroom for us, after all.
I wondered how long it would take for the cramped space to eliminate all traces of civility from my fellow jurors. Who would be the first to crack? The sweaty fat guy in the second row, or the hallucinating freak in the back, the one with the bright yellow t-shirt and Einstein hairdo. Some people read while others gnawed bloody stumps where fingers used to be.
From the marginal comfort of my chair, I gaze out at my fellow potential jurors. Are they smart? Are they insightful? Are they perceptive? Surely some of them are. How would I select from this pool, if I were a defense attorney? Would I want someone like me on the jury, a person with an inclination to see the law in a very cynical light?
I doubt things will get that far. Whatever a defense attorney might think, if I were one of the prosecutors we whipped last spring, I’d surely eliminate the likes of me from any jury pool at my first opportunity.
We see what happens soon enough. I filled out the “juror questionnaire” and handed it to the fellows in white uniforms. We watch a video, throughout which stern looking figures remind us of the importance of the jury system. An hour passes, and the judge walks in. “Folks,” he says, “There is just one trial today in the Superior Court. That defendant has decided to go ahead without a jury, so you are all dismissed.”
The clerk says, “I’m not telling you what to do for the rest of the day, but this jury slip won’t tell your employer what time you got discharged . . . “ He leaves the rest unsaid; there is a motel around the corner that rents rooms by the hour. I left the court and walked out into a rainy late winter day, with my questions of jury service unanswered and all my cynicism intact.