Yesterday, I sat on a “jury” for the first time. I put it in quotes to basically compare it with what I did: I served on a three-member discharge board for the Reserve Command. I took a phone call at 0930, where the Judge Advocate General’s [JA] technician called me up and asked if I was available and willing to sit on a discharge board. I said yes, and later found that the ‘other third member’ was excused because counsels felt he could not form an impartial opinion on the case. JA often draws from potential officers on the AF Reserve Command [AFRC] staff, due to our availability (hey, we’re already here on base!) and due to our disconnection to the accused by virtue of being technically out of the direct chain of command. The technician has had my name from previous cases, but I wasn’t chosen due to a variety of reasons. But this time, they were in a bind. . . the Lieutenant Colonel who I replaced apparently was interviewed under voir dire and later excused.
So, I got called, and volunteered to serve on a board. Because of the late urgency of the phone call, I couldn’t change into the appropriate uniform (blues), and was allowed to serve in BDUs. It was a legitimate formal proceeding, so they wanted all members in blues.
I went into the hearing room, a single room with five tables: The AFRC Reporter (prosecutor), the Accused’s counsel (defense), the court reporter, the Legal Advisor (basically, the judge), and we three board members. Now, remember I was called at the last minute. Here I am in a room full of ‘full-bird’ Colonels, and I’m a lonely Captain. One of the particular questions under voir dire was “Do you think you can speak freely being a Captain among much higher Colonels? Will that rank and grade separation prevent you from expressing your opinion?” I politely replied “No, I would feel comfortable deliberating with ‘em,” knowing that I talk with my bosses on a daily basis. This is important, and I’ll follow up at the end of the post.
Anyway, after voir dire, I’m accepted as a board member, and the presentation of the case begins. Obviously, the prosecution goes first, and for brevity, I’ll post the case particulars:
The Elements:: The accused was a reservist, with 19 years, 11 months, and 26 days of creditable service—just four days shy of earning a retirement. He and his wife were going through marital difficulties. He smoked meth with her in a confessed ‘appeasement’ to keep the marriage together. He smoked it several times over a two-to-three month period. He tested positive in a random urinalysis test on one of his reserve training weekends [ a “Unit Training Assembly” or UTA]. When the results came back, he confessed openly.
The Questions: As board members, we were tasked with the questions of (1) Did the accused wrongfully commit drug abuse? (2) If so, is the accused subject to discharge under AFI 36-3209 Discharge of AFRC Members ? (3) If so, under what service characterization (Honorable, General, Under Other Than Honorable Conditions) is the accused subject to discharge?
Basically it was a determination of whether his abuse constituted a discharge, and what sort of discharge. The tricky part was going through his records and seeing 19 years, 11 months, and 26 days of good, solid, dedicated service (20 full years being the cutoff). Did a single slip in personal judgment warrant a life-long sentence of denying a retirement? Was it even a single slip, or was it repeated use? What were the conditions of the use? I could go on painting the picture. . .
The presentation of the prosecution was pretty straightforward—we already had a confession in our exhibits. The prosecution hammered away for several hours on the validity of the randomness and the urinalysis test. She called three witnesses testifying to how the tests work, how pee test Gas Chromatography is about as scientific you can get, and how the numbers all add up, it’s a conclusive positive on the order of 300.628 bajillion to one it’s a false positive yadda yadda yadda. . .
After three hours of prosecution, the defense presented the case. First, the accused wasn’t present—and presumably didn’t even know about the proceeding! Part of the exhibits prepared for us was the discharge package sent to the accused, and the signatures did not match the name or signature of the accused. We couldn’t infer any sort knowledge of the proceedings.
What impressed me was the cross-examination of the witnesses. The witnesses called in this particular case was done over the phone, and as I mentioned before, supporting the scientific validity of the tests—which I also mentioned was moot due to the member’s confession.
Both sides rest their cases, and we retire to deliberate. Based on the facts documented, we did conclude that the member (1) did knowingly abuse drugs according to his own confession (based on the fact he said he “knew it was wrong”, and repeated ingestion over a few weekends in writing), (2) even though it was a situational lapse of judgement (to which I voiced that he was almost under duress), that he met the criteria in para 126.96.36.199 of AFI 36-3209, as a drug abuser, and (3) that based on his previous good service he met a definition of service characterization in Attachment 2 of the AFI.
So we present our findings to the court, which are accepted and recorded. We then adjourn that particular court and case.
I tell ya, what impressed me about the whole system:
[li] The depth of documentation that went into the case. I mean, I had over 530 pages of photocopies of the particular reports and tests based off the one pee test sample that struck a positive.[/li][li] The arguments of both the prosecution and defense counsels. Through their verbal arguments, they explored basically every every aspect of the case at least once, painting the picture for us jurors.[/li][li] The court itself, in making sure I was comfortable deliberating with Colonels—way higher ranking than I—and that I would be comfortable “taking off my shirt” and voicing my opinions objectively.[/li][/ul]
All that being said, and knowing full damn well that all courts are not run as efficiently, I will opine that all of those Pit threads whining about having to serve on a jury? Y’all can go fuck yourselves. In the U.S., we citizens constitute the state—there is no overlord state or sovereign to police us—and we must do it ourselves. Go serve, and go fill your obligation as a decent citizen. The only reason I haven’t so far until now is that New Jersey keeps calling me, but I’ve been out of state for years. It’s just a matter of time before Georgia does, and when she does, I’ll serve.
Further, I have some faith in the process. With decent lawyers, and an open court, I can see how ‘due process’ is a good thing, and I’m thankful we’ve been guaranteed it (in whatever form) through the Constitution. Yes, I know that there are variances in the system, but just having that right guaranteed makes me want to go kick some Soviet ass and ensure it’s guaranteed for your kids and mine.
So there you have it. I served on an essential jury. I’ve learned an appreciation for the process (as limited as mine was), and look forward to the next time I’m asked to serve. And I’m a better man for it. . .
Matlock? Eat your heart out.