The law, in its infinite majesty, forbids rich and poor alike from sleeping under bridges, begging in the streets and stealing bread. ————Anatole France
Two more hours of sitting court this morning before they managed to empanel a jury without every needing my judicious services. All in all, I was more impressed by the process than I thought I would be. The judge, one Bruce Mills, was incredibly thorough in questioning the prospective jurors and explaining the process and the types of judgement that are needed. He made it very clear that policie officier testimony carries no more weight than anyone else’s and that there are good and bad cops. The first 18 people were questioned by the judge, then by both attorneys. The “people” were represented by a certified clerk, a law student under the direct supervision of an assistant DA. He questioned every single person regarding their wilingness to convict on the testimony of a single person—I thought he was not really questioning by trying to manipulate the jurors into accepting uncorroborated testimony. Maybe that’s an accepted technique. This morning, 7 of that first 18 were released, and 7 more seated. The questioning continued, and 7 more were released. Finally, they managed to get 12 for the jury and one alternate, and the rest of us were free to go. The idiocy in all this is the case, involving a 50 person jury panel, judge, DA, defense attorney, court reporter, clerk and bailiff, was all because some poor schmo was being tried on 3 counts of public intoxication. Not recently, but I’ve been publicly intoxicated. It’s likely that you have too, if only as a stupid college kid. But rich white guys don’t get busted for that, they get driven home. This defendant was, I believe, Vietnamese, and the ‘offenses’ occurred in Orinda. Just being poor and non-white is a crime in Orinda, and has been since I moved there 53 years ago.
Great column Chris, but remember, this cumbersome process came about to help ensure that whatever was done with drunks was more equitable than the old system (driving home vs. incarceration based on class system).
Wasteful…probably so. OTOH, this is at least some effort to provide an equitable system – whether the “crime” was intoxication or armed robbery. As to should intoxication be a crime, that’s a separate question. As long as it is, we owe it to defendants to give them the same procedures and process as those charged with other crimes. Do we want to have separate processes for different levels of “crime”? That’s a worthy question that would be a quantum shift for the judicial system.
One more thought….the defendant at any time can waive a jury trial and have it as a bench trial with the verdict determined by the judge. Given the attention to detail by this judge, perhaps that would have been a good choice.