Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Jury Duty

I was dismissed from jury duty today. It was an armed robbery case, and before anything got started the judge asked if anyone felt he or she might not be qualified to serve. I raised my hand, explained that many, many years ago I had been threatened by a man who was quite deranged and had shoved a handgun in my face, loosening a front tooth. After a quick huddle of judge, prosecutor, defender and accused, the judge told me my services would not be needed today. Or, for that fact, for the next three years.

The incident I was referring to was an anti-war demonstration during the 70s. The man wielding the gun was a cop at the end of his rope. I was one of three dozen people covering the event for The Washington Post, and I do think the policeman might have shot me had a reporter friend not interceded. I’ve been wary of guns ever since, and handguns in particular. I happen to believe that a crime committed with a handgun should be punished three or four times as severely as the same crime without use of a weapon. In other words, if a robbery gets you a year, the same robbery with a handgun will get you four.  Simple, clean, and understandable by even the stupidest of would-be criminals.

We know, of course, that this country is over-run by handguns, and that the gun lobby—largely personified by the National Rifle Association—will combat any legislation that might make handgun ownership a bit more difficult than it is. A good example of this is the loophole exercised by a person wanting a gun now. Gun shops have to abide by a waiting period between gun purchase and gun delivery, ostensibly to allow the shop-owner to do a background check on the buyer. But go to a gun show and anyone—anyone at all—can buy multiple handguns as well as the necessary ammo and have them immediately. Plunk your dollars down, get your gun. Sort of like McDonalds with bullets.

My revelation during the voire dire apparently persuaded the defending attorney that I was not one of the peers her client might appreciate on the jury, or with whom she wanted to deal. To tell the truth, I wonder now, mere hours later, whether I should have kept my mouth shut.

Had I not stated my views, I probably would have been among the 13 jurors deciding the man’s guilt, as well as the appropriate punishment.  If the accused was indeed guilty, I could have lobbied for the maximum possible sentence, and possibly kept a bad guy off the streets for a little while.

But that’s not the way it’s supposed to work. I’m not in France, where the Napoleonic code of guilty until proven innocent still holds sway. That’s a good thing. Jury’s are meant for justice, not vengeance, and I’m really not sure which I wanted this morning: to determine guilt, or get even for something done to me long ago.

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