Thoughts from a first-time Juror

Thoughts from a first-time Juror

I just spent 3 days as a juror - one day for the jury selection process, and two days as a juror on a criminal case - a "possession with intent to distribute" drug trial.

Now that the case is over, and I can talk about it, I have a number of thoughts.  I learned more about ZipLock baggies, crack cocaine, the business behind buying and selling drugs, and society in general than I ever wanted to know.

I want to share some thoughts as a first-time juror, because I had so many thoughts while I was in the jury box, and I thought the perspective might prove useful for any budding prosecutors, defense attorneys, and anyone else involved in the legal system who cares to listen to someone seeing it from the outside.

First, full disclosure:  1) The judge said we could talk about the case, even its specifics, once it was over, so I am.  2) Any thoughts I share here are my opinion alone.  I did not talk to any other jurors during the case.

I had limitless time while in the jury box to form plenty of opinions, and an interesting aside is that i used the peg memory system to remember them all, as we weren't able to take our notes out of the courtroom.  I highly recommend learning the peg system for the next time you're in the jury box :)  or you just have to remember a grocery shopping list.

One thing that astounded me was the cost of this one trial alone.  Between the judge, 2 bailiffs, 14 jurors, prosecutor, defense attorney, 5 police witnesses, DEA specialist, expert witness, defense witnesses, and court administrator, I figure this three day trial conservatively cost US taxpayers $20,000, and probably more.  And those are just the direct costs - not including lost productivity of anyone involved (ahem, one juror in particular found this especially painful - startups and jury duty don't mix very well).  And thousands of trials like this happen every day.   The economic costs alone are enough to make me re-think the supposed "war on drugs" that has been dragging on for 20+ years now.  Any war that takes 20 years and isn't making a dent in the problem is the wrong approach.  I'm not going to go so far as to necessarily advocate for the legalization of drugs, but what we're doing just isn't working, and there must be a better way.  A more relaxed attitude like some other countries have is worth exploring; if nothing else, let's just look at the facts and not cloud the matter with deep-set opinions.  One especially interesting story is the one about Mexico recently legalizing certain amounts of drugs.  I just have to think that if a country with a problem much worse than ours turns to drug legalization to stem the problem, we may want to consider learning from other's mistakes and at least carefully examining what they've done and how successful it's been.  Well, enough about that - I don't usually venture this far away from technology & entrepreneurism topics, but as I mentioned, this trial has really given me a new perspective on many things.

OK on to the trial specifically.  My first reaction, immediately upon being selected as a juror, was to be infuriated with the defendant for getting himself, and therefore me, into this situation.  My strong reaction surprised me, and I think it's something that a defense attorney should really capitalize on.  This specific defense attorney did not capitalize on much, in fact he was terrible, which is something I'll get to later on.  But a good defense attorney might use a line like this to the jury:

"I know you don't want to be here.  Imagine how my client feels - he could have just pled guilty and avoided all of this stress, but then he would have been wrongly sentenced for something he did not do."  Etc.

Another thing neither the prosecution nor the defense did very well was explain the process to us.  The judge did a bit, but more detail would have been appreciated, and it would have allowed me to empathize with one of the two counsels more if one of them had taken the time to explain the process to me.  There's an additional reason that it's especially important: Since the prosecution makes their arguments first, and the defense second, for the first half of the trial the defendant is basically getting pummeled by the witnesses.  And if you don't know what's going on (and I really didn't, aside from watching Law & Order I've never seen this process up-close before) you really think that the defendant has to be guilty.  I mean, the evidence is overwhelming!  I think a smart defense attorney would begin his or her opening argument with something like this:

[attorney places a nickel on the jury box, in front of the jury]  "Let me give you an analogy of what's going to happen over the next few days.  The attorney is going to describe this nickel to you.  He's going to talk about how it's round, and it's flat, and it has a head on it.  He's going to go into a lot of deal telling you about what that head looks like.  Well guess what ladies and gentlemen of the jury, this nickel in fact has a tail as well [flips nickel over].  And I'm not going to get the chance to tell you about the tail until later in the trial.  But I want you not to forget that there is more than just a head to this nickel, there's a tail too, and the fact is that no matter how much detail the prosecution goes into describing the head of that nickel, it's not the whole story."

So at the end of the day, we ended up finding the defendant guilty on all 3 charges of drug possession. It wasn't an easy thing to do, but it was the right thing to do.  Hope this feedback helps anyone out there thinking about the legal profession.