Doing my (jury) duty

Credit: George Mathis

Credit: George Mathis

As most of you know by now, I am an excellent judge of others.

DeKalb County must have heard the news because they recently summoned me for jury duty.

Usually, the court, like a wife in a country song, quickly tells me I'm not needed and I go home and wonder where it all went wrong.

Not this time.

I arrived early Thursday morning at the courthouse with a stack of law books, water and snacks. I watched a few "Matlock" clips on my phone when I realized how boring law books can be.

Then they called my name.

I took my seat as Juror No. 8 and was fully prepared to serve up some justice when the judge came in and started saying stuff.

Judges, like most people walking around in public in a robe, can seem a bit addled if you bother listening to them.

This one told the pool of potential jurors that jury duty is "one of the few things the government asks of citizens."

People nodded in silent agreement, but that's not true, of course.

Jurors are not "asked" to participate. If you don't show up you can be arrested and fined.

I didn't take a formal poll, but from the conversations I overheard I think it's safe to estimate 90 percent of the jurors "asked" to be at the courthouse would have preferred to be elsewhere.

People hate jury duty so much one fellow said "I'd rather be at work."

And, not to pile on, but citizens are also required to pay taxes, follow laws and not interrupt the judge when she's talking.

Then the attorneys started asking questions.

Have you ever fired a gun? I was startled about 30 percent of the 48 potential jurors said no.

Then came a real shocker: Do you think the possession of any amount of marijuana should be legal? Amazingly, about half of the jurors said yes, including some folks older than myself.

The prosecutor questioned each person individually and explained by "any amount" he meant an amount of marijuana larger than any human could hope to consume, like a barn full of the stuff.

No one changed their answer. Since this was a drug case, I figured people were trying to get sent home.

The next day, the jury pool was told the case had been resolved.

Once again, I was left wondering the details of a case I'd missed out on.

The judge had read the charges so we knew the basics, some fellow named Alexander Williams was pulled over for speeding on I-20 and was in possession of cocaine, heroin, some prescription pills and marijuana.

Since the jury pool seemed to have a relaxed view towards marijuana, I figured the state felt compelled to offer a plea deal.

As usual, I was wrong.

The jury pool's attitude towards marijuana had nothing to do with the settlement of the case, the DA's office told me in an email. The defendant, who was also charged with armed robbery and aggravated assault in a separate case, had simply accepted the state's offer of "free" room and board for the next 25 years. OK, they didn't phrase it quite like that, but Mr. Williams won't be speeding again anytime soon.

My hammer of justice is back in its holster now, but I wonder if relaxed attitudes towards marijuana have reduced conviction rates?

In this case, every juror said they'd set aside their personal opinion and look solely at the evidence when determining guilt or innocence.

Maybe. But there's probably more than one defense attorney who thinks he can find the one potential juror who's just blowing smoke.