Because I've lived in Washington, DC for over a decade, I'm a career juror. DC's jury pool is so small that I get picked every two years. While that sounds like a spectacularly craptastic deal, my juror experiences (criminal jury and federal grand jury) have taught me so much about: our broken, racist criminal justice system; the police; evidence (or lack thereof); the prosecution; police testimony that defies the laws of physics; and the alleged criminals themselves.
While you might think sitting around all day, waiting for your number to be called sounds like being stuck eternally in line for Satan's deli counter, your experience will truly inform you on how totally fucked up and incestuous our criminal justice system is. Sadly, it will also explain why a policeman can literally be caught on video murdering someone and a grand jury still won't indict.
My jury experience has taught me a number of shitty things such as:
*Cops lie. They just do. They'll take a dump in your lap and tell you it's homemade chocolate lava cake, if they think it'll get them an indictment or guilty vote.
During a grand jury experience, I directly questioned one cop as to how he knew that rum was "definitely" in the defendant's cup even though the defendant was standing across the street. "I have a very strong sense of smell, and rum has a particular scent to it." What a coincidence? I also have a strong sense of smell, and I smell bullshit from across the room. If you have to listen to a cop's testimony, channel Matlock and scrutinize every detail.
*Prosecutors openly admit gaming the system. A fairly common negotiation tactic, particularly in auto sales, is to start with what you know you won't get and then "come down" to what you really want to make it look like you're making concessions. I listened to one district attorney openly admit he does the same thing: he tacks on a whole bunch of charges he knows are flimsy BS so that he can tell defense attorneys he's doing the defendant a "favor" by reducing the charges in exchange for a plea. If this sounds familiar, that's because this tactic is not only prominent in Law & Order but it was also used on Piper Kernan.
While it might sound legally savvy on the surface, it's another way to rack up prosecutorial wins. When you don't arrest and prosecute people, based on things they've actually done, you're not searching for the truth. You're searching for random people to pin crimes on in order to make your boss look "tough on crime." This district attorney might not have cared about the specific individual he put in prison on a drug charge, but I did and do. You should too because those lives matter and the truth matters. When we overlook sloppy, smaller incidents like this, we should never be surprised when people like Michael Brown and Eric Garner do not get justice.
*Grand juries are in a crappy position. In Washington, DC, the federal grand jury process is heavily in favor of the prosecution. The defendant isn't there to present his case; the prosecution and the prosecution's witnesses do all the talking. There are no defense witnesses. The defense lawyer can't be in the room to hear anything or ask witnesses questions; the prosecution gets to ask all the questions and screen which questions the grand jurors ask. The only skeptics are jurors.
If you've ever wondered why a grand jury would indict a ham sandwich, the process's one-sidenesses is the reason. There have been so many times, where I thought the charges and evidence were shaky, but I didn't want to vote "not guilty" because something was awry. Gray evidence; black and white choices. Given these circumstances, no wonder prosecutors can easily manipulate a grand jury into doing a preferred action.
*Prosecutors and cops are super tight BFFs. I suppose that comes with the territory, but it's a relationship that's ruining the pursuit of justice. In one instance, I saw the same cop and the same prosecutor, who were pretty jovial together, in back to back to back to back to back grand jury hearings for drug cases. The only details that were different were the defendants' names. (That whole morning was like a Law & Order and Groundhog Day crossover.) It turns out these two people handled the bulk of cases that fell under a particular crime. They needed each other to be good at their jobs.
The closeness is problematic. I was on my way to the bathroom when I heard a cop and a prosecutor talk about hitting a happy hour later and then a potluck on the weekend. While that type of relationship might be okay in a typical workplace, it's not okay when one party needs to accurately, properly, and thoroughly investigate the other for serious crimes like murder.
The next time you get your jury summons, feel free to grumble about it, but I can assure you that if you take it seriously, you'll get a sinister look into how our judicial sausage gets made. While you might think your role is minor, it isn't. Question, scrutinize, and push in the jury room. Be Henry Fonda in 12 Angry Men. You do not need to be an attorney or a cop to understand the criminal justice system.
When you're done with jury duty, take to the streets and the internet to let other people know how absolutely biased, sloppy, crappy, and unfair our justice system really is, especially to people who have been historically disenfranchised.