The very phrase sets the pulse a-racing, no? Read on and share in the magic. It’s too much for just one post, so consider this Part One. (Here’s Part Deux.)
My turn came up last week, as it does every two years without fail here in Our Nation’s Capital. A jurisdiction with governance challenges, some reminiscent of Greece, turns into a well-oiled machine when it comes time to track me down to serve.
The last time I was actually selected as a juror a few years ago, it turned out to be a bad experience. The trial ground on for almost a week, though if it had been run with any efficiency (and concern for jurors’ lives) it would’ve been more like a day. And it was incompetently pursued on both sides. This time, therefore, I was hoping not to be tabbed.
But at the end of the day of jury selection, a group of us found ourselves in the system’s sights, and I found myself raising my right hand and being sworn in as Juror #6.
Since I’m dividing the experience into two posts, and I’m a delayed-gratification kind of guy, today I’ll focus on the negative.
The charge was obstruction of justice. The defendant, a 29-year old man, had been jailed on a drug offense, and while locked up, he wrote two letters to a friend.
Paraphrase of the first letter:
‘Since I have a long record and you don’t, what I need you to do is tell the police the following. The drugs, found in my coat in my bedroom, were yours, because I had lent you my coat and you had just recently returned it. You can tell them you found the drugs down by Pizza Mart.
‘Because you have no record, you’ll likely walk out the next day, with 2 years’ probation at the most. I, on the other hand, have spent 8 of the last 10 years in jail, and a conviction on this would add much more time. I already have a young child, and another baby with another woman is on the way, and I want to be there for them.
‘And for doing this, I’ll give you my Cadillac, as well as ‘pound cake.’ (It was explained that this could mean money and/or drugs, depending on the circumstances.)’
Paraphrase of the second letter:
‘You didn’t respond to my letter, nor are you taking my phone calls. You are not a real man. My cousins and I will deal with you when we get out. What goes around comes around.’
All the language was much more colorful than in this paraphrase. The letters came to light when the police searched the house of the friend (not sure why) and found them under his mattress.
The defendant testified (unwillingly, according to his lawyer, since it makes him in some sense a ‘snitch’). It wasn’t a comfortable experience for him, as he had to admit to his many prior convictions, and attempt to explain why providing a story with some admitted lies (though, he said, some underlying truths) to his friend was not an attempt to obstruct justice.
I must admit, the trial was a learning experience for me. If I’m ever imprisoned, I think I won’t write letters providing this kind of explicit instructions to a friend. Mail isn’t the ideal medium for every kind of message, it turns out.
SPOILER ALERT: the verdict was…
…guilty. And my main reaction, both to the verdict and to the whole jury duty experience, was sadness.
The verdict was correct, but what we did was add even more ‘lost years’ to the life of this man. His two children are growing up without a father. Who knows what other pain and havoc his ways are causing in the lives of those close to him.
And he was just one of many passing through the courthouse on those days. Throughout the corridors people were waiting, waiting, waiting – maybe for their own trial, or that of a loved one. Many were having private conversations with the lawyers and other functionaries who joylessly make the system work.
It wasn’t dramatic like a TV show, of course. But it was overwhelmingly sad to see, through this particular lens, one of the ways people in this world waste their lives.