Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Civic Duty

I finished a week long jury trial last week - my first time serving on a jury. The defendant was charged with possession of a controlled substance - pot - with intent to distribute and possession of an unlicensed, unregistered firearm - a semi-automatic Tec-9.

I'm glad I had the opportunity to serve though I'm left wondering how anyone ever gets convicted. My fellow jurors and I were told after we delivered a verdict that the first jury to hear this case couldn't come to a decision. We came close to doing the same, but after endlessly discussing the definition of "possession", we ended up compromising enough that I doubt anyone but the defendant was satisfied. Of course the law needs specific rules, but I'm dismayed at how much of the law is about technicalities and finding the right one to suit the occasion. Technicalities serve both sides, but it's also easy to see how an inexperienced public defender can be overmatched.

I was more bothered by the semi-automatic than a little pot, so convicting the guy on possession of less than $200 of pot stung a bit. But without more evidence there was nothing more to do. Despite popular rhetoric on the sanctity of the Second Amendment, actually getting caught with a gun you're not supposed to have is apparently much more perilous than such small quantities of marijuana.

I also hadn't thought about the impact of having a law student on the jury. It was like having a medical student around when they're learning how to diagnose people: everyone's sick with an exotic condition...rather than just having a cold. The same was true for this guy: why didn't the cops watch longer, were they profiling the neighborhood, maybe the defendant was passing candy bars, how come they didn't find this and that piece of evidence. All valid questions, but you can only judge what's there.

The best part of the experience was talking to both attorneys after rendering a verdict and learning their opinions of their cases. The defense was resigned to losing the drug charge but both attorneys thought the case for the weapon was leaky. It felt very much like being inside an episode of Law & Order and watching the attorney work a little sleight of hand to obscure the missing evidence. These people weren't Sam Waterston, but in retrospect the diversions and the glamours weren't hard to see.

Anyway, my $4/day travel payment is in the mail and I'm off the hook for at least another two years.

1 comment:

Shayne said...

Hahahah law students are annoying!!