Confessions of a Grand Juror

A summons for jury duty runs neck and neck with the reminder for your annual dental examination as the most unwanted item in the daily mail. As I read the crisp language and scanned the dates I would be required to appear, the calendar of planned events in my life crumbled. All else would have to be rearranged.

On the following Thursday at 8:30 a.m., I appeared along with about one hundred other chosen citizens to learn my fate. The session did not start on time. Not an auspicious beginning in contrast to the formal aura of the summons. We waited until several people arrived at the front of the room, bustled about arranging papers and microphones, and finally said “Good morning” to us.

The judge who entered was tall, imposing, clothed in black robes and serious. As he explained the process we would follow, I was impressed by his manner and the substance of his presentation. I started a learning experience that would continue through the eight weeks of grand jury service. I would learn about the law. I would learn about the other jurors, 23 to each panel. I would learn about the assistant prosecutors who presented each case. I would learn about crimes that range from forgery to aggravated assault, and the differences between theft and robbery, and robbery and burglary. In short, I would learn that serving on a grand jury might be an irritating disruption of one’s normal schedule, but it could also stretch one’s mind, experience and point of view about the courts and the law.

The names for each panel were drawn and I found myself a member of panel B, to meet on eight successive Wednesdays from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.  There was a chance to talk with the judge if a prospective juror had a reason or conflict to prevent serving. I shared with him that I was the chief prosecutor’s 8th grade teacher, but I had no problem with this as an influence pro or con. He agreed. I did not share with him the lingering memory I held of a 13-year-old boy who could not concentrate on his work and spent most of the time looking out the window. I had followed the prosecutor’s work and he had matured into a hard-driving aggressive official. In the weeks ahead, we did not meet the chief prosecutor. A steady line of assistant prosecutors, most of whom were women in their early 30’s, presented the facts of each case we heard.

The state of New Jersey requires that a criminal case must be heard by a grand jury first. Then the jury decides whether to bring an indictment (true bill), not to bring an indictment (no bill) , or remand for municipal court action. The vote is a majority vote. Twelve or more must agree. As the cases unfold, we learn that real life is not “Perry Mason”. And the grand jury is not a petit or regular jury. Our job is not to decide guilt or innocence beyond a reasonable doubt. Our job, based on the facts presented by the assistant prosecutor and witnesses, is to decide if there is prima facie evidence  –sufficient evidence to bring an indictment. Only the state’s case is presented. The grand jury does not hear from the defendants.

One of the most salient events is the transformation of 23 strangers on that first morning into a cohesive group by the second or third meeting. Leaders have emerged beyond the foreperson and assistant foreperson assigned by the judge. Certain jurors ask questions. Others appear to be bored. Several develop buddies with whom they banter during breaks. Seating patterns emerge. Many chew gum, unfortunately, cracking and popping at moments of serious deliberation. The smokers band together outside the building in self-imposed purgatory during breaks.  All jurors wear name tags, first names only, as well as an official number of the 23. When the votes are taken, the motion is made and recorded by number. We get to know and think of each other by number as much as by name.

About four weeks into our service, some of us are beginning to enjoy the sessions. We have learned the basics of the different criminal statutes. We know the difference between simple and aggravated assault. And the sub-categories that include “serious bodily injury, with a deadly weapon, and status of the victim.” We are becoming knowledgeable and I am reminded that a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing.

But the assistant prosecutors are very good at their jobs. Fairly young, intense, well-organized and female, they are a new generation of lawyers reaping the rewards of the women who pioneered in the profession before them. They define the charges precisely and read us the relevant law when questions arise. They give us what we need to make decisions.

The witnesses, in most cases, are police officers and detectives. We are impressed with the variety of men and women who hold these jobs. They are a cross-section of age, ethnic groups and appearance. Some are undercover narcotic agents, dressed for the role and reminiscent of TV cop shows. Others in suits and ties could pass for bankers or insurance brokers. Any stereotype of what a police officer or detective should look like is permanently erased from our minds. These are real people and their jobs can be dangerous and unpleasant.

Certain of the cases we hear are shocking. Stalking. Conspiracy to terrorize. Child abuse. Sexual assault. In graphic detail. There is no joking during the breaks on those days. Several jury members leave the room and abstain from cases they find too hard to handle. Those of us who stay will have a hard time forgetting what we have heard.

The number of drug related cases is legion. We learn not only about heroin, marijuana and cocaine, but also about the use of pagers by the sellers for instant business. And enhanced penalties for distribution within 1,000 feet of a school. The work of the undercover agents appears endless and our consciousness of the drug epidemic in our society is heightened.

During one of the breaks, a juror remarks, “With everything we’ve heard, we’re learning how to be criminals.” His comment probably was meant as a joke. However, for most of us who served on panel B of the grand jury, this has been a serious introduction to crime and the workings of our law enforcement and justice systems. The “cop shows” on television seem pale in comparison  with what we have witnessed and heard in the real world.

…………………………………………………………………………..Joyce S. Anderson

 

 

 

Start The Impeachment Inquiry Now and Win The Presidential Election in 20/20

Dear Nancy Pelosi: As Speaker of The House of Representatives, you have won every skirmish and battle with President Donald Trump.  You led the Democrats to the enormous Blue Wave victory in the Midterm Elections.  A tide of  40 women ousted male Representatives across the nation.  2019 became The “Second Year of The Woman” in our history.

Your experience before as Speaker gave you the added knowledge and wisdom to best the president on different important issues since the 2016 election.  He was coming from the New York business world, and his experience in real estate was vastly different from the many political lessons you learned in Maryland when you were the daughter of the Mayor of Baltimore.  You entered politics when you were elected to The House as the Representative from San Francisco and moved up in later years to be elected Speaker the first time.

Now, you are faced with a major decision. A growing number of members of the majority Democratic Caucus and those who are running for president are urging you to start an Impeachment Inquiry. This would collect the evidence that would lead to Impeachment Proceedings against President Donald Trump.

Much of the evidence was laid out in The Mueller Report that was presented on April 18, 2019 after almost two years of investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election that helped Trump win.   It ran to over 400 pages plus footnotes, and only a redacted version was available to the public. Some members of Congress did receive a more complete version.

U.S. Attorney William Barr who had been given The Report according to Department of Justice guidelines gave a televised four page summary  to the public on The Mueller Report.  He then testified under oath to the televised Senate Judiciary Committee, with Republican and Democratic senators asking questions and making statements.  During the questions, it is important to note that Senator Kamala Harris, Democrat, CA, asked if he had read the evidence under ten Obstruction of Justice incidents by the president documented in The Report. Barr, after some delay said he had not.

 

After Barr gave his summary, Trump claimed    “No Collusion” and “Complete Exoneration” although this was not in the report.  Senate Republican Majority leader Mitch Mc Connell  said, “Case Closed”.    However, the American people and the Democrats in Congress are not ready to do that.

Donald Trump will formally announce his run for reelection shortly. He is already holding rallies repeating his claims of “No Collusion and Case Closed” to the cheering throngs. He has also instructed Attorney General Barr to start an investigation of what he calls a plot by the F.B.I. and C.I. A. to attempt a “coup to overthrow his administration”.

There are now 24 Democrats running for President , a stunning number of men and women, the largest  group in modern history.  Former Vice President Joe Biden is leading in the current polls, with former Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont second.  Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts is third.   Senator Kamala Harris of California is fourth.  Mayor Pete Buttigeg of Indiana is fifth.

The real political campaigns will begin when the Democratic primary results in a winner.  At present, William Weld , former governor of Massachusetts,  is challenging the president in the Republican primary.  His chances appear slim.

Speaker Pelosi could strike a master stroke if she starts the Impeachment Inquiry now and considers the millions of Obama voters in 2012 who switched to Trump in 2016.  These people  are significant potential voters for the Primary winning candidate.   They have seen Donald Trump’s actions and behavior these past two years and many are not happy with his performance.

Recent studies of this data reveal that these voters in four key states: Michigan, Iowa, Pennsylvania and Ohio,   gave Trump his electoral win. They made the change four years ago and could be open to change again when the daily testimonies of witnesses in The Impeachment Inquiry are on TV.

According to the national polls,  Trump’s current approval rating is only in the high 30’s to low 40’s.  His disapproval rating is in the sixties.  At present, hypothetical matchups of leading Democrats show Joe Biden at the top, beating Trump by ten points. Bernie Sanders , Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris  beat Trump in single digits.

Donald Trump always labels his rivals with insulting nicknames.  He has already called Joe Biden, “Low I.Q” and Elizabeth Warren, “Pocahontas” .  It is ironic that he chose “Crooked Hillary” for his 2016 opponent… when he was the businessman sued hundreds of times over shady real estate deals.

Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by three million votes. This was despite Russian interference helping Donald Trump ….as documented clearly in The Mueller Report.

………………………………………Joyce S. Anderson