Next Time.

Friday, August 27th, 2010

Reader Scott Milner writes:

Hi Radley,

Just a quick note to let you know that the drum you’ve been beating for awhile has had some affect on at least one of your readers.

I got called for jury duty this week.  The case involved cocaine (possession, delivery and trafficking).  Testimony took most of yesterday with closing arguments happening first thing this morning.  Shortly after a name was drawn out of a box to determine the alternate juror.  Sadly, that name was mine.  I would have acquitted via nullification on all counts and was absolutely looking forward to sharing the story with you…

The state’s case was interesting for a number of reasons but I won’t bore you with the details unless you ask.  For whatever it’s worth though I want to thank you for helping me develop some courage and convictions regarding the insane war on drugs and  hope that at least one of the other 12 of my peers shares similar sentiments.

Didn’t happen that way. Scott emailed me again this evening:

Well, I just got a call from the judge’s secretary.  The jury found the defendant guilty on the charge of trafficking.  I didn’t ask about the possession or delivery charges… my assumption is that The State was happy to get the trafficking charge and so didn’t request the jury to deliberate on the possession or delivery charges.  Or perhaps it’s simply that the trafficking charge was the big one and it became irrelevant as to whether or not a guilty verdict was returned on the other two charges.

I’m disappointed but not surprised.  Another person goes to prison despite not having hurt, stolen from or in any other way caused material damage to another.  Despite some conflicting and inconsistent testimony from the narcotics officers, and the inability of the state’s forensic examiner to explain some specifics.

As I left I told the bailiff that I’d be happy if the defense counsel contacted me because I want him to know that I was ready to acquit on all charges and why I was prepared to do so.

More people like this, please.

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54 Responses to “Next Time.”

  1. #1 |  JOR | 

    Had to report for voir dire once. It was a drunk driving case. I do remember having to watch some silly little “educational” video (it was the sort of thing that you might see played in a third grade classroom) about the wonders of jury duty and the like. The judge seemed like a likable enough fellow but for the whole being a judge thing. Questioning never got around to me, as the trial was called off because a key witness (who happened to be the arresting officer) hadn’t been heard from and couldn’t be found.

  2. #2 |  Leon Wolfeson | 

    Your jury selection system baffles me.

    I’ve never been called, but in the UK they’ve systematically removed basically ALL the excuses not to be called up, and you’re asked one thing before you’re sworn in – can you give both sides a *fair hearing*.

    There’s also very a high bar to challenging jury selection – family/friend/employee of the accuser or defendant, where someone has expressed a public opinion on the case – pretty rare, all in all.

    Also, we don’t have “alternates”, several jurors can be removed (up to 3 of the 12 in Crown/High Court and 2 of the 7 in County court), if more need to be removed it’s a mistrial.

  3. #3 |  mjp | 

    I attempted to hang a jury so that an elderly man wouldn’t go to prison for possession of a controlled substance (free base cocaine) due to lack of evidence…and won! Even the foreman wasn’t as educated about the subject as I was. The defendant was an African American and didn’t stand a chance; even when half of the jurors–and foreman–were also.

  4. #4 |  JC | 

    I actually pity the myopic sentiment expressed and espoused by so many in this thread, as it truly is borne out of an insulated view of the justice system and clearly demonstrates a flawed and radical view of the legal system (we don’t have a justice system). I have a serious problem with anybody who feels that distributors of controlled substances should be kicked loose out of hand, while recognizing that the decent people who do feel this way typically only do so based on mere superficial knowledge of why they do so. This is a mendacious approach, at best.

    There exists no justifiable excuse for individuals to distribute and traffic cocaine, crack cocaine, heroin, crystal meth, etc. The arguments are endless and I’m sure most of you are familiar with the common ones. I’ll give you two from a more practical perspective though- have any of you ever asked a crack cocaine dealer what he would do if that substance was legal? The answer you invariably get in an honest exchange would likely surprise you, but it shouldn’t. Not when you consider that the people who distribute narcotics, by the very nature to spurn societies rules, only use the drug trade as a medium for easy ill-gotten gains. The honest answer, almost to a man (and one I have heard no less than 100 times), is “I’d probably be stealing more cars, breaking into more cars and houses, maybehave to do a few more licks (robberies) or sweeps ( home invasions)… Gotta replace all my money somehow”. The second point correlates to the first, drug crimes and their respective sentences are also mediums used by police and prosecutors to put dangerous and career criminals away. Well over 90 percent of all individuals who are charged with a distribution related offense (not mere possession) have non-narcotics convictions as well, in almost 70 percent of these cases there is at least one serious violent felony conviction (as defined by 18 USC 924 e). Of course, the norm is usually far more than just one of these present which is why that statute exists in the first place.

    I would also caution you against beating the nullification drum too much. The problem with these marginal ideas are again unintended consequences if they ever truly become larger movements. Each of you, individually, have a right to make up your own minds and come to your own ideals, but to do so without completing investing yourself into the forum of those ideals- both academically and practically- makes it a dishonest ideal and one not worth one iota more than the effort you put forth to embrace it. This is how negative unintended consequences evolve in any arena to begin with. Problems with jury nullification is a direct reason why unanimous juries fell by the wayside in many state systems years ago, and a repeat of that movement would likely cause even more state systems and the federal government to change their positions, thereby now affording less protection to defendants and making it far easier to convict on votes as low as 9-3 (as it is in Louisiana… 10-2 in states like Oregon, Alabama, 11-1 in others). People don’t have the right to an unanimous verdict- never have on the fundamental level- and a nullification movement with any legs would have this direct cause, not to mention a host of other indirect ones (even more taxpayer money wasted on jury screenings and the void dire process for starters).