Tuesday, March 22, 2011

How LEAP got me out of jury duty.

Today was the first time I've been screened as a juror. There was only one case being tried at this court today; someone facing several drug related charges. I was the very first juror to be screened, and the prosecutor began the screening. He asked asked me several questions to determine whether or not I'd be able to judge the case, impartially, and eventually asked me if I knew any police officers.

I told him that I did know a few retired officers. I proceeded to tell him that I volunteer for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, an organization of former police officers, prosecutors, prison wardens, judges, and others in the criminal justice community who have spent their careers waging the war on drugs, and now believe it's a public policy disaster. I told him they advocate legalizing all drugs, and believe they should be regulated in a manner similar to how dangerous pharmaceuticals are currently regulated. (I book speaking engagements for one of their speakers).

He paused. He said I probably know the state's drug laws better than most, and asked if I understood that possession of marijuana is currently illegal. (He emphasized "currently"). I said "yes". He asked me if I thought I could judge the case impartially. I said "yes". He looked a bit frustrated, his face turned a bit red, and he allowed the defense attorney his turn. The defense attorney asked me a few hypotheticals to see if I understood what circumstantial evidence was, and other questions along those lines. After he was through, I was asked to leave the room while they deliberated.

Less than 30 seconds later, I was called back in; I was excused. So ended my day at court :)

A few thoughts on the experience:

- I learned today that, in CT, employers are only obligated to pay for the first 5 days of jury duty. After that, the judicial branch pays jurors $50 a day, max. Assuming an 8 hour day, that's less than CT's current minimum wage. That doesn't seem right.

- I was being honest when I told the prosecutor that I could judge the case impartially, and really didn't want to be on the jury because of that. I don't know any details about the charges, but if the defendent was a non-violent offender, I would have felt horrible sending him to an environment where he could be brutalized, raped, and left with few career options after serving time.

- I'm guessing the prosecutor was frustrated because he probably had to use one of his few "premptory challenges" to dismiss me without giving a reason. Since I was the very first juror to be screened, using one on me left him at a disadvantage, as he had to be a lot more careful about how to use remaining challenge(s). It occured to me that, as public opinion turns increasingly against the war on drugs, it's going to be harder for prosecutors to find jurors that are sympathetic to their case. That's a nice little bonus we can appreciate as we slowly move towards legalization.

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