Our judicial system is the worst; except for all the others

December 03, 20144 minutes to read

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Last spring I served two weeks of Grand Jury duty in Brooklyn, NY. We heard cases ranging from the petty to the hyper-violent. It was a piercing view into the worst moments of people's lives with fates hanging in the balance on each vote. I considered it an awesome and grave responsibility as did my 22 peers.

We indicted 23 of 24 cases heard. That's a 95% indictment rate.

"A grand jury would indict a ham sandwich if that's what you wanted."- Sol Wachtler

My experience validated that famous quote. Seemingly every person presented was guilty of something. Trumped up charges, inconsistent testimony and questionable detective methods aside; anyone pushed through that point in the process was there for good reason. There are simply too many checks and balances had to click into place by that point.

Even in the one case we voted "No true bill" there was never a doubt about the case. The defendant admitted his guilt plainly in open court, but we didn't indict him due to the circumstances. The defendant admitted to possessing marijuana but denied assaulting the arresting officer. "No I didn't hurt him! I told you I was smoking weed. When's the last time you heard of a stoner getting in a fight?" That's sound logic, even if it doesn't carry the same eloquence of, "I Shot the Sheriff."

The reason the jury declined to indict was the underlying racial bias at play. The defendant was a rather slender African American man of average height. The arresting officer was a young, hale, well-built caucasian man. The racial profiling evident was... well ... black and white.

The jury of fellow New Yorkers were an accurate snapshot of this diverse city thanks to - and I really can't stress this enough - the unbiased selection of the Jury. There is no voir dire or denial of service. If you're picked for grand jury, you serve. It was truly a multi-hued slice of the population. Black grandmothers, white hipsters, jewish alter-kakkers, latina students, and every stripe in between. Despite racial and socio-economic differences this motley crew worked together to uphold the pillars of justice. It would be impossible to present any sort of racial bias with such a diverse group.


It's also worth noting how the procedures and operations of the grand jury proceedings force a methodical reckoning of justice. It's not operationally possible to rush presentations or skip evidence. The jury is afforded every opportunity to examine the facts before reaching a conclusion. Other logistical safeguards include the absolute secrecy of the jurors and the charges brought forth. This secrecy is essential in forging the trust of the jurors in reaching a fair verdict.


Overall I came away from my civic duty with a renewed confidence in the judicial system's ability to fairly judge guilt and innocence. While not a foolproof method for determining the validity of a case; there was never even a whiff of impropriety or incompetence.

The system isn't perfect but it's the best we've got and it's actually not terrible.


This is why I have a deeply conflicted reaction to the news that the grand jury voted "no true bill" on the charges against Officer Daniel Pantaleo in the Eric Garner case.

There's such blatantly obvious evidence of wrongdoing and recklessness - from the coroner's report to the video - that it boggles the mind to understand how a jury of responsible citizens could NOT agree to push this case to trial. What outrage!

And yet... I know and trust that these jurors took their charge seriously and voted in the most just and responsible manner they could. I know that they felt the same outrage we all did when watching the videos. I know that they understood the ramifications of their decision. I know they discussed every angle of the racial, political, and legal impacts of this case.

I know it would require a conspiracy of JFK proportions for them to vote wrongly.

I have to voice my support with the jury. It's not their position to serve "justice" or to indict because "it feels right." That is using two wrongs to make a right. It's vigilantism and mob mentality. Our justice system depends on people like these jurors upholding the task they were charged with.

I only hope the rest of the world chanting Eric Garner or Michael Brown's name in anger can uphold the law as well.