Sunday, April 24, 2011

Mr. Casey Goes to Jury Duty

Rick Casey has a column in today's Chronicle about his recent experience of serving on a jury panel in the 182nd on a drug case.   It is a well-written column, but I can't help but notice how genuinely amazed Casey seems to be with the process of voir dire.  It strikes me as rather ironic that he would seem so out of his element in jury selection considering how often he writes with such authority and indignation over the way "the System" works.

Casey interprets his experience on the jury panel as something very telling of the community's thoughts on the "Drug War", when in reality, it sounds like just another typical day of picking a jury to me.

The article is entitled (in print) as "Conscientious objectors in the war on drugs", and he goes on to describe the First Degree Felony of Possession of a Controlled Substance with Intent to Deliver 4-200 grams as a "low grade felony".

I sincerely doubt that the Defendant on trial (who was facing up to Life in prison) would agree with that description.

He downplays the seriousness of the charge by describing the jury selection as a "fascinating three-hour seminar on how Houstonians feel about the justice system in general and the war on drugs in particular."

He details how he was shocked that they brought over 60 people for the panel, thinking that was too many for the above-mentioned "low-grade felony".  He then marvels at how (after strikes for Cause had been made), the attorneys reached all the way to Juror # 55 on the panel.  This, Casey seems to imply, is due to the controversiality of the "Drug War".

Rick, my friend, that happens on every case, I hate to break it to you.

Try picking a jury on a murder case where self-defense is an issue, or a jailhouse snitch or co-defendant will be testifying.  Or perhaps a domestic violence case where the complainant no longer wants to prosecute.  Want to really see potential jurors get struck for cause?  Observe a sexual assault of a child case where the act was consensual but the age difference made it illegal.

Contrary to some of Mr. Casey's prior articles, the Judges, Prosecutors and Defense Attorneys around the Harris County CJC usually have some idea as to what they are doing.  They know that they need to pull about 65 prospective jurors on any felony trial because every felony case is chocked full of legal issues that you might never think of.

Hell, Rifi Newaz and I busted six jury panels trying to select a jury on one murder case.  And the case had nothing to do with drugs, believe it or not!

Casey goes on to list many of the reasons that the potential jurors were struck for Cause.  He details jurors who had bad prior experiences with law enforcement, those who would hold it against the Defendant if he didn't testify, and those who didn't want to participate if they didn't have a say in sentencing (upon conviction).

He makes note of one gentleman who talked in detail about the effectiveness of the "Drug War", and then jumps to the following conclusion.
But the overwhelming message was that about a fifth of the pool couldn't in good conscience take part because they found fault with the way the justice system deals with drug offenders.  They were, in effect, conscientious objectors in the war on drugs.
Wait.  Huh?

He just detailed how about twenty people got struck for Cause for various and sundry reasons like 5th Amendment issues and sentencing issues, and then leaps to the idea that of the 23 people struck for Cause that it was based on them finding "fault with the way the justice system deals with drug offenders"?

I don't follow his logic.  Nor his math.

He only mentioned one or two people who were taken off the panel due to "Drug War"-related questions.

He also goes on to point out that both the Defense and the Prosecution were "able to dismiss up to 10 [jurors] without offering any reason" as if that were some sort of ominous back-room deal designed to do something unseemly.  Uh, Rick, those are called Peremptory Strikes, and nobody who practices criminal law really seems to mind them being around.  The Code of Criminal Procedure kind of provides for them.

I guess in the end, I have to commend Mr. Casey for actually attending a Voir Dire and trying to learn from his experience, but damn, if this was a science project, I'd have to give him a failing grade.  I'm not debating the validity of the Drug War here, but when you have such faulty conclusions drawn from his experience, he greatly diminishes his credibility in his analysis.

For more on Voir Dire and the Strikes for Cause, you can click here.


Anonymous said...

Typical journalist with 20/20 hindsight and not really hitting the mark with his / her story. By putting into print, he really showed his a** and his ignorance of the "system" he is so critial of.

That being said, there are some good journalists here in Houston, but most of what happens in Houston everyday doesnt make for good headlines. Its gotta have a spin put on it that will make people stop and think twice.

Rick Casey has no clue what we do and how we do it. Just like may of us have no clue how he does his job. The difference is that we dont publish our ignorance all too often.

Anonymous said...

Rick Casey really did expose his ignorance of the criminal justice system he regularly criticizes and bemoans. I can't say I am surprised by his ignorance, just that he would put it on display so openly for all to see. The article is an excellent example of poor journalism. It is loaded with inaccurate assumptions and baseless conclusions. I have no problem with a writer pointing out inadequacies of the criminal justice system, but this analysis was worthless and misleading. Real minor league stuff, Rick.

Anonymous said...

He was in the venire, you were not. I trust his observations are accurate.

Anonymous said...

If the Chronicle had any sense, it would fire Casey, hire Murray and start getting good columns.

Anonymous said...

Eh, voir dire is more art than science, and if you've done any number of them you know that as hard as you try, sometimes it's just as effective to throw darts at a list, or pick the first 12. Some jury panels have a feel and a life all their own. I can see why someone who is not a lawyer, and even a lawyer who has not tried many cases, would not understand voir dire very well.

I'm not saying his other articles have merit, but I think it's understandable he wouldn't know what the hell this was about.

A Harris County Lawyer said...

Anon 10:35,
If his observations were accurate, then his ability to make them seem logical in print are sadly lacking. I may not have been to that particular panel, but I've been to well over 100 before them.

Just saying.

Anonymous said...

His observations were his own. A layperson's observations aren't deserving of ridicule just because you've been there 1000 times. If he perceived an opposition to the war on drugs, that's what he's going to report. I would hope that the educated reader is able to decide that it is just one man's opinion.

Anonymous said...

Murray - "Spot On" with your assessment. Depending on whom you believe - Mark Twain or Will Rodgers - the following has been attributed to them both: "All people are ignorant, but just on different stuff". Casey is an Opinion writer. His is his own. In a city of nearly 4 million he has only ONE opinion - but a lot of ink that is truthfully (nothing personal)getting read less and less. To put the herein-above phrase in a more positive light - there is always something to learn from someone. Some people teach the law but no common sense. Others have no formal education yet have a PhD in Common Sense. The bottom line here is that Mr. Casey and his colleague Ms. Falkenberg DO spend a lot of ink and time writing about the failings of this of this or that perceived or real failing of the C.J. System - without even leaving their "bubble"; Yet when they DO get a chance to enter the Real World of just ONE criminal case - the spin begins before the presses do. Like a kid in a candy store with fuzzy dark tinted glasses on.

And yes THIS is merely one more single opinion of my own.

A Harris County Lawyer said...

Anon 8:34 p.m.,
No, a layperson's outlook is not worthy of ridicule. A columnist who purports to be so knowledgable about the Criminal Justice System and misses the boat like Casey does, however, is worthy of scrutiny. He found the voir dire process to be a "referendum", because he was trying to meld the facts into his own agenda.

Don't feel bad because I'm criticizing him. I'm sure that I would do the same thing if Mr. Casey were to interpret a geometry quiz as a post-Arthurian neo-classical statement on Fascism. It would have about as on point as his column from Sunday.