Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Do Your Civic Duty

I often hear people scheming and sharing ways to get out of jury duty. Heck, I even did it myself a few months back (in my defense, though, it was during school). Certainly, jury duty in Baltimore City is hardly oodles of fun: city employees are largely rude and often incompetent. So, I can totally understand not wanting to miss a day of work to deal with such annoyance and incompetence for a meager $15 or $20. However, after gaining a better understanding of the criminal justice system, I now implore those seeking to get out of jury duty to fulfill their civic duty.

Baltimore City (and likely other large urban areas) is filled with people who feel they, themselves, or someone close to them, have been wronged by the criminal justice system. Whether it be getting roughed up by a city cop, a family member getting a harsh sentence from a judge, or otherwise, city cops, State's Attorneys, and judges are not looked upon with favor by the city-folk. So, what happens when all of us law-abiding citizens without chips on our shoulders weasel our way out of jury duty? A: juries filled with people just looking to acquit, to "get back" at the "system." City juries regularly acquit open-and-shut cases...not necessarily because the State did not meet its burden to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, but because the jurors are getting their retribution against the criminal justice system (termed "jury nullification").

The brother of a good friend of mine from high school was murdered in Patterson Park two years ago after laying in a coma for nine months. The prosecution supposedly had a strong case against the thugs who committed the murder. However, fearing a jury seeking retribution against the system (which would acquit), the prosecutors were forced to offer the thugs a plea deal. Perhaps if less people tried to get out of jury duty, juries would be more heavily infused with people willing to look a a case with an open mind, as opposed to folks eager to acquit. I know it is less than convenient, and likely a miserable experience. However, by fulfilling our civic jury duty, we have the chance to remedy the joke that our city's criminal justice system has become.