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Thursday, March 26, 2009

Life, Liberty and a Good Cup of Joe

I like coffee.

I don't like Starbucks and I don't like my coffee black and I don't care for more than two cups in the morning. That's just me.

On Monday of this week, I was summoned for jury duty. This isn't my first time, so I realized this would require long periods of the inability to have access to a restroom. To prepare for this torture, I dispensed with my morning ritual of coffee. I do the same thing when I am going to be on an airplane. It works.

Anyway, I had thought to, maybe, try to get in the line of fellow potential jurors who would be asking the judge to be excused. I would tell him that I run a small business and am the sole member of my company and the service I deliver means I need to answer the phone when it rings or the potential client would call my competition and I could lose the business forever. Then take a breath.

But I figured a judge is, well, a pretty good judge of things. He'd probably patiently wait till I was finished and ask something like, "Mr. Smith, exactly what is the service you deliver?" "Uhh, fishing guide, your honor." That's when I imagined he would, in a voice just loud enough for roughly half of the room to hear, say "Are you suggesting I excuse you so you can go fishing?" I didn't try it.

As luck would have it, I ended up on an panel of 80 potential jurors for...a Capital Murder Trial. Let me try that again, A CAPITAL MURDER TRIAL. Now, I don't know about other States, but Texas takes Capital Murder very seriously. So much so that we have something called 'The Law Of Parties' and it may not be what you are thinking. This is an extremely simple paraphrase but, if you and I decide to rob a convenience store, 'cause it is convenient, (sorry), and you stuff a gun in your belt while I keep the car running and things go badly, (i.e. you kill the store clerk), I am just as guilty as if I had pulled the trigger. See, you CAN pick up some valuable education serving your civic responsibility.

Whether you think that is fair or not, it is pretty clear; but it seems it can get a little fuzzy. So much so that even the opposing lawyers AND the judge did not agree on the interpretation of this law of parties. Say you and I are going to rob the store. I see no gun and assume if things go wrong we just run, but you kill the clerk anyway. No one could tell us exactly how to interpret the law of parties in that and varying other scenarios of being even further removed from the actual murder. This was important because the defendant was a young lady, maybe 25, who didn't actually kill anyone but was somewhere on that continuum of scenarios. I won't even get into the law of duress, however, as you can tell, this was going to get real messy.

So I, one part curious and two parts looking to get excused, raised my hand to ask what I thought was a resonable question. Well, it was more of a statement and that is never very good at getting you included on a jury. "This law has been around for sometime and I am sure that there is a precedence that has been established, why don't you guys figure that out and let us know?"

Bottom line, it took three days to pick a jury. As I was walking out of the court room, with the other rejects, I glanced back at the young lady about to go on trial. Her life is changed forever and she may spend it all in prison. No getting up in the morning, looking outside and deciding if the weather is good to go fishing or will I tie some flys or go to the fly shop to see what's going on. It's a sobering thought.

I felt liberated as I left the court house because I would not be required to pass judgment on another individual and I would be able to drink coffee again. I stopped at an IHOP, which has coffee way better than Starbucks. I drank 3 cups.

Judge, Jury and Executor

1 comment:

  1. Good commentary, Kenny. There's nothing like being injected into the criminal justice system for just a short time to make you realize how staying OUT of it is a very good thing. Years ago I went with an Army tennis team to play tennis with the inmates at the Federal pen in Leavenworth, KS. After banging the ball around for about 4 hours, we left. The guy I had been hitting with said to me, "I guess you're going to McDonald's now for lunch, huh?" That happened decades ago but I've never forgotten it. That was his way of saying, "You can do anything you want now, can't you?" I looked back as we walked away from the building at those barred windows and felt sad, even though I knew every one of those guys in there were scumbags and deserved what they got.


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