Bob O’Brien: Our broken justice system
I was inside the courtroom yesterday, and a part of the jury pool for trial.
Fortunately (or unfortunately), I was not selected. When we arrived in the courtroom, there were so many of us in the pool (I would guess over 100) that there were not enough seats for everyone.
First, the judge had to dismiss anyone who couldn’t participate for economic hardship or other reasons. Around 15 people had to fill out the forms for this, and the judge read them all before dismissing them. At least now, all of us who were still there had a seat.
We all rose to swear we would tell the truth to the court if we were questioned. The defendants were seated in the courtroom with their attorney and the two prosecuting attorneys.
Observing the husband and wife defendants, I noticed one of the husband’s hands appeared to be shriveled. The judge told us in only general terms that this was a marijuana-for-sale case, which would probably last three days. I couldn’t help but think that this was a non-violent ordinary looking couple in their late 70s, who wouldn’t harm a flea.
Eighteen people were selected by the court to be the first jurists (12, plus six alternates) and they were seated in the jury section.
First, the judge began the questioning of each jurist, asking basic questions and explaining the law. Then the attorney representing the defendants started questioning each of the potential jurists to see if they could decide the case without prejudice.
The prosecuting DA then asked questions of the same jurists. After all had been questioned, the prosecutor and the defendants’ attorney have a certain number of people they can dismiss from the jury “without prejudice.” It came out during this questioning that medicinal marijuana was probably involved as well.
Seven of the first 18 were dismissed, several saying they disagreed with the legitimacy of the law (I would have said this myself if I had been in the box). The seven who were dismissed were replaced by those of us still in the jury pool, and the questioning started anew for the recent arrivals.
When several of the new arrivals thought that the jury would possibly decide the sentence as well as guilt or innocence, the judge said several times that the sentence was up to the judge alone, not the jury.
Given that recreational marijuana is legal in Colorado and Washington state, I couldn’t see how it made sense for this elderly couple to be sentenced to prison.
The questioning went on for several more hours of prospective jurors, who came and went depending on their answers; and it wasn’t until mid-afternoon before the court had 12 jurors and one alternate seated for the trial. They were all sworn in and the rest of us were dismissed.
What are we doing?
With the legalization of recreational marijuana in Colorado and Washington state, and with California probably not too far behind, what is the point of sentencing an old man and woman to hard time in the penitentiary for growing a small amount of pot?
What kind of lesson will they learn and what additional safety will we get because they are safely “in the pen”?
Medicinal marijuana has been legal for a number of years in California, and yet our county still doesn’t have a legal dispensary. The resources it takes to prosecute this old couple (there were eight or nine county staff in the courtroom, plus police investigators and witnesses to come) were enormous.
I would think it would be better used fighting violent crimes (plus, there was the time that all of us in the pool had to surrender).
Yes, I believe our justice system is broken (as well as broke). How can we prosecute behavior in California which is legal elsewhere? How can we jail old folks who possibly should be in a retirement home or assisted living? This no longer makes sense!
Bob O’Brien lives in Rough and Ready.
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