I’ve been absent as I’ve just finished a two week stint as a grand juror in Brooklyn, the second busiest court after Detroit, as it happens. After living in New York for ten years, they finally nabbed me, but it was a pretty good experience: we had 1.5 hour lunches every day, could sit around reading the paper by the hour, and can now yell at the TV screen while watching Law & Order to point out the inaccuracies. Of the thirty or so cases we heard, most of them were drug-possession, with a large medley of robbery/assault and a soupcon of sex crimes and menacing (not to be confused with harassment, which implies less of an immediate threat). Here are a few things I learned from the mishaps of Brooklyn’s underbelly:
- Don’t brand your drugs: Sure, in a competitive industry, you want to establish a name for yourself and product, but giving your drugs a catchy name or logo is just a bad idea. Your ironically-named “Good Life” heroin allows the cops to link you to the junkie you just sold to, the bag of glassine envelopes in your glove compartment, and the bags stashed in your pants. Anonymity is best.
- Just because it’s legal, doesn’t mean you won’t be arrested: There were several cases involving the sale of Xanax, a controlled but legal drug, and even our liberal New York City court will try to charge it as a felony. How tough are you going to look in prison for selling anti-anxiety pills?!
- Keep all your drugs in one place: Maybe you like to keep your pot in the kitchen, heroin in the bedroom, and crack in the bathroom. Well, that’s three separate counts for each location if the cops search your apartment. On the other hand, the charges increase in severity along with the weight, so maybe it’s better to keep the stashes small and separate? Dealer’s choice, I guess.
- Asking “Are you a cop?” is not failsafe: Apparently, it is not entrapment if an undercover office approaches you to buy drugs. Yeah, I know, right?! I asked the prosecutor if the cops had to reveal if they were police when you asked and he told me I watched too much Law & Order. Whatever, Mr. A.D.A., you may look like a Hipster McCoy, but you sir, are no Sam Waterson.
- If you are walking around with drugs, practice acting casually: Nearly every single person arrested for drug-possession/intent to sell was either selling in plain view of police or walking past a cop car “acting suspiciously.” Constantly looking over your shoulder or patting your pockets while passing a cop car may entice him to search you and find your stash. Dude, be cool!
- When assaulting someone, don’t announce that you are planning to assault them: It will be difficult to prove it was an accident or a misunderstanding when you announce (in front of witnesses, of course), “I’m going to stab you” or “Let go of the knife so I can stab you” (actual quotes).
- Crack and crime don’t mix: Wait until you are safe at home with your spoils before hitting the pipe, otherwise you may leave crucial evidence (such as yourself) at the scene of the crime.
- Unless there is solid physical evidence against you, testify in front of the grand jury: We only heard a few defendants testify, but each one was fascinating, highly amusing, and often completely changed our minds about the case. Plus, you get a few hours out of jail and a chance to flex your improv skills. Some defendants told stories that completely conflicted with the testimony of eyewitness and cops and we *still* considered it reasonable doubt.* Really, you have nothing to lose by testifying, other than incriminating yourself, giving prosecutors ammunition against you, and potentially getting charged with perjury (which, apparently, you can not plead out for). So it’s really win-win for everyone.
Really, I loved my grand jury service so much that I’m thinking about going to law school now and becoming a public defender like my father. There are many, many criminals out there who need my help!
More things I learned from the grand jury to come…oh, and some travel, at some point.
*When deciding whether or not to indict, you consider “legally sufficient evidence” and “reasonable cause to believe (that the crime happened, that the defendant could have committed it, etc)”, but you aren’t determining guilt or innocence. It just seemed like a good opportunity to use the term “reasonable doubt.”