PoP Observations From Jury Duty

Last week and yesterday I had the pleasure, nay honor, nay torture, nay duty to serve on a jury. I get called up like clock work every two years but normally I never get picked because I’m too good looking or too short or something like that. But anyway, I was thrilled to get picked this time, initially thrilled that is. I can talk about it now because the verdict was rendered yesterday. So I went down on Wed. for selection and this is a god awful time period. If you get called I highly suggest you bring your entire stack of unread magazines because you’ll finally have the time to read them. I arrived at court at 8:00 am and didn’t get selected for the jury until 5:30 pm. Ok, so this was a criminal case where the defendant was accused of selling drugs (crack cocaine) for $45 to an undercover police officer. The trial itself was actually quite interesting. But you’d think this was a fairly open and shut case, yeah? Ha, ha, ha. No, it wasn’t. The defendant was sitting in a car next to two undercover police officers and was busted about 3 minutes after the purchase. So what’s the problem? Was his coat grey or black. It doesn’t matter that the defendant was 6’5″, otherwise wearing the same clothes and located on the exact unit block where the crime took place. But following is my favorite concern from a fellow juror. When my fellow juror was examining the evidence bag during deliberation there were two tiny drug bags. And his concern: “that’s not $45 worth of crack.” Additional concerns included entrapment, claims of a set up by the police and concern that a gun was not found on the defendant because all dealers carry guns. Thus a 1 hour deliberation turned into 10 hours. Thankfully reason or exhaustion finally won the day – Guilty. I think even the judge was surprised it took us so long to deliberate. As the judge was thanking us for our duty he practically laughed with a huge smile on his face as he said “you obviously took your duty very seriously.”

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  • who was the judge?

  • Hmm, it seems kind of callous that he laughed that 10 hours were spent making a decision that will affect this man’s life for many years to come.

  • That’s pretty much standard operating procedure for DC juries. You could have a defendant caught red handed with a dozen witnesses and the whole thing videotaped by the Channel 4 news crew and you’d still have some old lady on the jury squawking, “The cops set that poor boy up! I know it in my heart! I’d never trust anything a policeman tells me!” That’s just the way they see things.

    And with the new crack cocaine sentence guidelines, all those folks arrested in the 1980s are going to be back on the street soon. Good luck!

  • Man, I wish they had more Scandanavian options, or Indian for that matter. Why can’t every food establishment just serve everything?

  • Jesus kidneys, man, you had a much longer but far more interesting time than I did last year. See here. Didn’t get picked, but got to enjoy loads and loads of bad television. And weird conversations in the cafeteria thingie downstairs.

  • I can totally see how it could have taken 10 hours. It’s one thing to sit and watch Law and Order or read the papers and think “nail the guy!”, it’s a different thing to actually give a guilty verdict. Kind of a weird feeling to know that you and group of several other everyday people have the power to do that to someone. Even if you’re 99% sure that the defendant is guilty, you want to prove yourself right. It’s not like you can call back the judge the next day and say “Maybe I was wrong- can I have a do-over?”

    I supposed I’d want a jury to deliberate long and hard if I were in that position.
    Not that I’d be selling crack in the first place to get myself into that position…

  • Pop, there is legitimate concern about the abuse of police powers. I give you as an example of a case I am aware of. Police searched a home without a warrant and took the person to jail. Tampered evidence to justify searching without a warrant. Stole an ipod from the home. Lied on the police report. You can not just take an officer’s word. They are humans and prone to lie and cover up just like anyone else. I am sure this type of strong arming by the law does not occur in Burlieth or Georgetown. But police can or feel that they can get away with these tactics in lower income areas.

  • Jury Duty can be really intense, my first time being called I was selected to serve on a 2 week long gang related attempted murder and witness tampering case…let’s just say it took a long time for me to feel safe again after the guilty verdict.

  • Sat on a jury in October where we spent less than an hour deliberatiing a case in which it was quite obvious that the police had abused their power to set up a defendant on a gun charge. We were a mixed jury of whites and blacks, 5 males, and with maybe one member under the age of 35. In my near 20 years living in DC, it was actually a surprisingly positive jury experience. We deliberated on the case as it was presented, with no tension among us, as rarely happens in this city.

  • I’ve sat on two similar-sounding juries, both open-and-shut drug dealing cases, suspects caught with drugs, paraphenalia and large wads of money on them, etc, but each time one or two jurors tried to block the conviction even though they conceded the defendant was guilty. Each time, the reluctant jurors were eventualy persuaded, but it was eye-opening to me the high levels of evidence and testimony it took to overcome the mistrust of police and prosecutors in some jurors.

  • PoP and others,

    I highly, highly recommend seeing this movie: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0488478/

    “12” was nominated for best foreign language flick at this year’s Oscars. It’s about a jury trying to determine the guilt of a kid convicted of murdering his stepfather. I never thought Russian jury duty could be so amusing.

    Very funny, very poignant, and very memorable. Without question my movie of the year so far.

  • I say this with mixed emotions: I wish I would be picked for DC jury duty.

    I’m on active duty, and while that doesn’t exempt me, it means that I don’t vote, have a drivers license, car registration, or pay income tax in the District, but rather in my home state – all the places where jury lists are dawn from.

    My wife was on jury duty years ago, and she had a similiar experience to POP – although there appeared to be more police bungling in that case.

    Anyway…I think it would be interesting to sit jury duty here…

  • People may laugh but our laws are designed to protect the falsely accused.

  • Mr. T,
    While there are issues of jury nullification that gets spotlighted, little is reported of the cases where police lie, tamper, and bungle evidence. Police are humans too. They have the same biases as everyone else.
    Many cases hinge on probable cause for search of a home or car. Police are more than likely to pursue bogus claims to justify probable cause. I am telling you this from experience. Let me give you an example. if the police comes to your door, they can make up almost any reason to barge in and search your home. They can say they heard someone destroying evidence. They can say they smelled something like marijuana. They can say they saw something illicit. They can say that they heards kids in danger. And once they are in your home, they can tamper evidence so as to get a warrant. Trust me, it happens more than we know about. The thing is that it happens to people with little to no voice. Just notice how many people on this board have spoken of sloppy police work.

    I had this happen to me. Police showed up to my apt. I answered the door. Police used the smell of marijuana as cause to search my home. Only thing is that I was not smoking marijuana. I tested negative for drugs once in custody. Yet, in the police report, the police wrote that I TOLD them I had been smoking drugs. This changed my whole view of law enforcement.

  • Nathan – how was you case adjudicated? Did it go to trial? I don’t think we should poke fun at folks who take their dutys seriously. Where Pop to have sat on a jury trying a case like Nathan’s experience, I would have expected the skeptics to rule the day and convince the others of his innocence. Are jury trial’s perfect? No. Do the innocent sometimes get convicted? Yes. Do the guilty sometimes get off? Yes. That said I will take this system of justice over any other, imperfect as it is.

  • Hey–I hear all the concerns here about jury’s being justifiably worried about police misusing their powers. But a juror looking at crack bags and claiming to know the street value of the drugs? That’s a bit worrying, too…

  • I commend the PoP for taking his jury duty seriously.
    There are few fundamental duties that an American citizen has, voting is one, and participating in the judicial system is another.
    As another commentor said, it is a weighty responsibility to decide on the fate of a fellow citizen.

    To address Nathan’s concerns, the judicial process is more than: police arrest – you go to trial. After an arrest, there is a review by the officer’s officials, if there is a mistake and the person shouldn’t have been arrested, the official will order the person released, and this does happen. If there is probably cause, the case goes to the US Attorney’s office for review. If it doesn’t stand muster, it will get dismissed there as well. If it gets past there, then there is preliminary hearing. If it’s a felony it also has to get past the grand jury. Etc. I think I left some stuff out, but you get the idea. It’s not a two step process.

    “hearing someone destroy evidence” is weak, and actually is not a sufficiently exigent circumstance to bust a door without a warrant.

    So, if you had a bad experience, that is unfortunate. But as you said, police are people too, some prone to mistakes, especially when decisions have to be made in sometimes chaotic environments. But for the most part, police do a thankless job and most actually do want to protect the general population from crime.

  • Whoa, hold on. I always object to people calling cops “thankless”. I am not some “down with the man” cop hater but they hardly go unthanked. As someone who routinely gets cut in line at the convenience store/fast food restaurant etc. and someone who, during a 10 year food service career, never saw an on duty cop pay for food cops get plenty of non-verbal thank yous from a lot of people in the form of social lee way. Also in my 10-15 or so dealings with DC police over the years (witnessing this or that, car broken into, getting pulled over etc.) I have only met one who was polite. Most of the others weren’t only impolite, they were purposefully combative (once when I saw a guy breaking into cars I was laughed at when I tried to give them a description). Trust me, I thanked the polite one up and down for being so helpful and even wrote a letter to a commander at the station. Giving verbal thanks is a sign of respect and it is hard to give respect to someone when you are getting none. I think when people get a sense that a police officer legitimately wants to help them they will be more than thankful. It is just that the attitude of a lot of police officers is one of disdain and annoyance that they are having to fill out paperwork because of you. I am not thanking someone for that.

  • Steve Says:

    March 4th, 2008 at 6:29 pm
    Nathan – how was you case adjudicated? Did it go to trial? I don

  • Nathan says: Cops are human. Some are good. Some are bad. Thay are not to be bestowed with trust simply because of the career they choose.

    I am active and vocal in my community, and most of the police officers that I have encountered are hard-working, decent men and women. However, I have to agree with Nathan, because this shit does happen.

    Several years ago, I reported an incident. The officers at MPD did not file a report, and subsequently lied about it. A detective to whom I’d reported the incident also lied about what I’d reported, to try and cover his ass.

    After I complained to the officials, a newly-assigned detective called me in for an interview. As I was being escorted to an upsatirs office at the police station, the first detective and a lieutenant ambushed me in a stairwell, and the first detective confronted me screaming and trying to intimidate me into denying what I had reported. I screamed right back at him that he was a liar, at which point the lieutenant objectied.

    I e-mailed the useless city council and filed a citizen complaint which was also useless. MPD HQ claimed that they had not received my complaint although I had a USPS receipt with signature. Only after I suggested I would contact FOX5 news to help them find their mail, did they act on the complaint. The lieutenant who witnessed the ambush was the one assigned to investigate the complaint!! The lying officers were reprimanded for not filing the report, but the lying detective was cleared of any wrongdoing. The investigator with DC’s citizen complaint agency actually laughed at me. And of course, the useless city council couldn’t care less.

    Restoration of ANY trust in MPD took awhile.

  • “Most of the others weren

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