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.