Today was my first experience in Federal Court - I was interviewed as part of jury selection for a criminal case. We were all picked for this honor from the voter rolls - this is one reason why people don't vote. Needless to say I was not selected as a juror, and furthermore we were all asked not to discuss the specifics of the case, but I did have the opportunity to compare the United States Federal Court in the Northern District of Illinois to my only other source of information about criminal legal proceedings - Law and Order reruns. So how did reality stack up?
Judge Amy - looked pretty much like Judge Amy, with better hair. Came off as wise and authoritative with a personal touch.
Federal Prosecutor - babe. Very attractive brunette, even a couple months pregnant. Smartly dressed.
Assisting Federal Lawyer Guy - young guy, handsome and of course impeccably dressed.
DEA Agent - handsome, broad shouldered, great haircut and nicely cut suit. Heartthrob material for sure.
Drug Dealer (alleged) - stocky and swarthy, well dressed and a little too smug looking considering the gravity of his situation. He had his own translator with him, does not speak English.
Defense Attorneys - their suits were just as good as the Government lawyers, their hair was not. I swear there had to be $2500 of Brooks Brothers suits in that room.
The Jury - My guess is they will end up being a Greek chorus of faceless everyman. Everyone who displayed intelligence, wit, or seemed informed was rejected. I have no idea why, all the haggling was done in whispers up close by Judge Amy.
Everyone was asked if they had ever been the victim of a crime, if they had had positive or negative experiences with law enfocement, etc. We were asked if any of us had any "problem" with federal anti-drug laws, and we all remained silent in spite of the fact that, from the decidedly haggard looks of things, most of jury had used marijuana at some point, especially the aging boomers and the out of work former MIS guy. You don't want to start an argument about decriminalization with a Federal judge, in court, after all.
All the prospective jurors were white, except for one young black single-mom Chicago State student, who I guess was the token everything - both of us other city dwellers were bounced from the jury. The others were suburbanites, a couple younger white guys married to stay at home moms, even. We were asked whether the fact that the defendant was Hispanic would make it hard for us to be fair. Everyone said no, but I wondered at the time if he'd end up with any "peers" on the jury.
I sort of wanted to stay for the rest of the episode, but apparently unedited they run for four or five days, and I couldn't afford to stay that long (Jury pay is like $40 a day, it costs $4 in public transit just to get there and back). Anyway, I couldn't decide which way I should be biased. On the one had, I think our current drug laws are wrongheaded and counterproductive, and I believe criminalization, like Prohibition, is causing more harm to society than addiction alone ever could. I don't believe that decriminalization will result in that much more use - I'm sure not going to start smoking crack just because it becomes legal. Are you?
On the other hand, I'm sick of these gangbangers and their business killings and their loitering around the neighborhoods making things harder for everyone else. A classic case of externalizing costs (the economic term for "sin"). So should I want to put him away, using a law I don't agree with, because I don't like him? Or let him go even though he's probably an asshole on account of the inanity of the law in question?
I know what you're gonna say. I didn't stick around to hear the evidence. The law should be applied as it's written. Guilty until proven innocents. Blah blah blah. I just don't see it. Not only are we human beings, we're Americans dammit! We don't need no stinking evidence! Just our beliefs and values and "common sense," whatever the hell that means. What use is being given a little power if can't exercise it arbitrarily to make some boneheaded point?
So anyway, I'm real happy I'm not a juror, and the American criminal justice system should be as well.
Note to readers: I don't know anything about the law at all. To learn something useful about legal matters, check out How To Law School, an insightful and thoroughly researched guide to legal education in America.