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Wednesday, 11.23.05:  Grand Jury Duty

I got the summons yesterday -- Grand Jury duty!

I'm one of those rare birds who thinks jury duty is a great experience. I've only been called up once, about 5 years ago. It was a civil case that lasted 4 days. A single mom was suing the driver of the car that hit their daughter. It was clearly the kid's fault for running into the road and she had a little residual arm damage that meant she'd never be an Olympic shot-put contender. But the reason Mom sued was that, at the age of 13, the girl had turned into a little bitch. Mom thought someone should pay. It took us about two minutes to decide the driver was not liable for the girl's puberty.

I was pretty excited about a new jury adventure till I read that I had to be in the courthouse over the holidays. Wrong -- I wasn't going to give up a St. Louis Christmas this year. But when I called, the scheduler was very nice and reassigned me in January.

What does serving on a Grand Jury mean? I had to do my research.

Every felony in New York State must get a nod from the Grand Jury before the District Attorney can prosecute -- unless the defendant waives the right. There is always a Grand Jury on hand to perform this duty. We are assigned for 20 days, 9 AM to 5 PM, so I'll be downtown from Jan 3 through Jan 27. And I will be sworn to absolute secrecy.

Information and guides for grand jurors are not readily visible on the web. The American Bar Association has a general overview. It sounds like being on an investigative federal Grand Jury would be very interesting -- but it might turn into a career, like Fitzgerald's CIA leak investigation jury, which sat for 2 years.

An essay I found on the NY Grand Jury was pretty cynical. I think the author was in New York City. The Grand Jury of his experience got rushed into handing down indictments after 10 minutes of hearing a quick police report, sometimes as many as 4 per hour. In theory, Grand Juries are meant to be a buffer between the State and the people, to prevent arbitrary and corrupt miscarriages of justice. I get the impression much of it may now be symbolic and ritualistic.

But I did manage to find a couple of Grand Jury reports for Monroe County, where I live. They certainly weren't returning 4 indictments an hour. More like 10 a week. And they also issued a few "no bills," or refusals to indict so I'm hoping the job isn't hopelessly a rubber stamp.

The crimes? Criminal possession of a weapon (there is currently a big crackdown on guns), criminal possession of a controlled substance (drugs), DWI (drunks), and a sprinkling of robberies, burglaries and assaults.

Should be an interesting month.


(Snow on the ground this morning! First of the season, earlier than usual.)



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