Baltimore's revolving-door jury system doesn't do justice to those often called

June 20, 1999|By GREGORY KANE

The document comes on the heels of another missive from the jury commissioner's office of the Baltimore Circuit Court. This one presumed to lecture me on my duties as a citizen. I had missed jury duty when called May 7. How dare I, the epistle had seemed to imply. You'll be contacted about doing your civic duty as a juror in the future, the document assured me.

It's not getting such documents that burns me up. It's knowing that there are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Baltimore residents who have never received one of these things in their adult lives and will not any time in the near future. The city is determined that those who have faithfully served jury duty before are now Baltimore's permanent Circuit Court jury pool.

So the city now demands that I return at 8: 15 a.m. July 22. I am not so inclined and am prepared to give Baltimore officials my top 10 reasons.

10. Duties apply to everybody, not just those in the jury commission's computer system. If I were convinced Baltimore was making a sincere effort to corral those who've never served on a jury, I might feel differently.

9. Jurors are required to give their occupations and work numbers to the commission. The state's annotated code demands this information, which is none of the state of Maryland's or the city of Baltimore's business. If citizens show up for jury duty, that should be the end of it.

8. I've been in court this year, as a defendant. The scene was traffic court, where I was found guilty of running a red light I didn't run. That case was 27 months old, well past the 180-day limit that guaranteed me a speedy trial.

7. I was in traffic court late last year for running a stop sign I didn't run. That case was already over a year old. When the officer who was to testify had to go to Circuit Court, the judge, who could have and should have tossed out the charges against me and other defendants, set new trial dates, thus further delaying our right to a speedy trial. I don't even want to get into the curious business of several defendants claiming the officer who was about to testify was not the one who stopped them.

Take Nos. 7 and 8 together and you'll realize that while I despise criminals, I no longer trust Baltimore police officers. And I'm a bit leery of district judges, too.

6. I was in court in 1997 at the pretrial hearing of a man, Anthony Tyrone Mills, who stabbed my youngest brother to death. The hearing so stressed out one of my sisters that she died of a heart attack the next day.

5. I was in court three weeks later for Mills' trial.

4. I had jury duty in October 1997, putting me in a courtroom setting once again.

3. I was in court again last year for Mills' appeal, in which his lawyer argued that the knife he stabbed my brother with wasn't a "deadly weapon."

"Really?" I asked. "Then why is my brother dead?" When court adjourned, I left quickly before I strangled the living daylights out of Mills' lawyer.

2. This year, I learned of the case of Brady Spicer, who was convicted on the shakiest of eyewitness identification testimony. I've since learned courts don't like jurors to know about the unreliability of eyewitness identification, the better, I suppose, to send people who are possibly innocent to prison. It's a curious criminal justice system we have, one that relies on jurors being kept as ignorant of the law as possible and then being handed the responsibility of making informed and rational decisions that may drastically alter other people's lives. This is a duty on which I'd just as soon pass.

1. On July 22, I hope to be in court to hear the post-conviction appeal of another inmate who claims he was also convicted primarily on the basis of eyewitness identification. I'd prefer to be in a place where I might expose a possible injustice than to serve as a juror, where I might be asked to participate in one.

I've had enough of courts. I've had enough as the relative of a crime victim. I've had enough as a defendant. And I've sure as hell had enough as a juror. Somewhere among all those hundreds, possibly thousands, of Baltimoreans who've never served jury duty there is someone less jaded and cynical about the court system than I am.

It'd be nice if the Circuit Court could find at least one of them.

Pub Date: 6/20/99

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