Your Honor, we have Reached the Verdict:
We are the Guilty!
Edip Yuksel, J.D.
State of Arizona v.s. Robert Tracy Wilson
Pima County Superior Court
Judge Clark W. Munger
In the 22 years since I immigrated to the USA, this was the first time I was summoned for jury duty. Early morning of June 8, 2011, I lost my sleep. The second day of my jury duty is going to start at 10:30 am, and at 7:00 am I have an appointment with endodondist for a root canal on tooth number 19. I did not lose my sleep because of my tooth; I lost it because of that homeless guy staring at the jury box the day before.
After listening to the opening statements and some witness testimonies the day before, I was disturbed by the events, characters, and my role. The voice of the judge echoes in my mind. He read his instruction for us reminding us that we have to set aside our opinion and follow the law, since it would cause anarchy. He was right. As a jury member, I took an oath to follow the laws. The judge was a very kind person and followed the rule of law as he was expected to. But, last night, after some soul-searching I contemplated to become an anarchist. I prefer to be an anarchist rather than to be an accomplice robot of legalized systematic injustice. I know that I would not follow the law to find Rosa Parks guilty of sitting in a bus allocated to white people. This homeless drug addict, of course, is no male version of Rosa Parks, but I found similarities between us and those who haunted witches and tried people like Rosa Parks.
Out of about 40 candidates who were gathered for voir dire, I was among the chosen eight jurors plus an alternate one. I was later told by the law clerk, who happened to be my classmate from law school, that it was very rare that a lawyer would make it to the jury. Perhaps, the snapshot information about my colorful background and my occupation of authoring books and teaching philosophy and ethics courses at college, were the redeeming factors… The defense expected me to empathize and the prosecutor expected me to rationalize. I did both, and even more!
For me, truth and justice are priceless! They are worth fighting for. Now, I was going to fight for a little guy who had nothing to lose except an old bicycle and his little freedom to roam the streets and parks. And now he had lost both.
The 0.363 grams!
Robert Tracy Wilson is a homeless man in his forties. On January 19th 2011, he was arrested in a public restroom after the park was closed. A police officer noticing a bicycle by the bathroom wall stops by and finds the defendant by the sink with a lighter in one hand and a finger bleeding. On the sink he sees an aluminum beer can split into halves. Then he notices a little metal tube on the bathroom’s concrete floor and a tiny piece of crack cocaine on the sink, 363 milligrams, according to police report. Robert is arrested and charged for “unlawfully possessing a narcotic drug, to wit: cocaine base, and unlawfully possessing drug paraphernalia, to wit: pipe.”
The evidence is circumstantial. The police has no evidence that Robert was high on drugs or he actually possessed a narcotic drug and paraphernalia; in legal terminology he was allegedly in “constructive possession” of the drug. There is neither fingerprint on the pipe nor on the crack. The pipe does not have the screen in the end, which was used in favor of the defendant by the public defender, Dean Brault. As a response, the prosecutor, Gordon Bennett, through several expert witnesses provided free public education about the many ways of using drugs! I am a teetotaler. All my life, I have never used alcohol or drugs, never smoked cigarettes, and as you might guess, I have also never gambled. So, I have no empathy for the alleged crime, and I consider alcohol and drugs most harmful afflictions in human history, at par with wars and perhaps little creatures such as viruses, germs and mosquitoes.
I will not bother you with the details of this case and the arguments of the parties. In fact, I found that all the factual details were distraction and smoke screen. Unfortunately, like most of the jury, my friends would be distracted by the facts of this particular case. They were excited to act like detectives in movies and employ all their smarts to reach guilty or non-guilty verdict. I see the devil in some details. If we ignore the bigger picture and get lost in the cracks of the details, the justice too might get lost. I also know that there are literally hundreds of similar cases around the nation every working day, and juries are disoriented and misled into looking for justice in the tiny cracks of an unjust system.
Nullification versus Planting Reasonable Doubt
I am surprised that other jury members pick me as their foreperson. The jury members are comprised of three women and six men. Among the jurors there are two engineers, a chemist with doctorate degrees, two university students, a medical claims specialist, a social worker, and I do not remember the occupation of the alternate juror.
When we are taken to the jury room for deliberation, it is already noon. Before taking a lunch break, I ask the jury members to raise their hands if they find the defendant guilty. Five out of eight raise their hands. I let them discuss it for about fifteen minutes. There are some doubts regarding the possession of paraphernalia, but the majority has no reasonable doubt that the defendant possessed the crack cocaine. We take a forty minute lunch break.
Before raising doubts about the prosecutor’s allegations, I decide to share with them my ethical trepidation. They listened to my emotional yet reasonable argument for about five minutes. There is complete silence in the room. They look at me and tell me that they indeed do agree with me ethically. But, they immediately add that they want to indulge in discussing the facts of the case, since they must follow the rules of law as they promised the judge.
They are good citizens, perhaps too good for a not-so-good government. They remind me of a light version of Victor Hugo’s police inspector, Javier. Unlike Javier, none of them would commit suicide after reaching the verdict of not-guilty.
Getting a Gram of Justice by Accepting Tons of Injustice?
It takes me only a few minutes to plant multiple “reasonable doubts” in the minds of my fellow jurors. Besides, having ethical problems with the entire trial, I too have reasonable doubts regarding the charges. So, I am not fabricating doubts, but perhaps highlighting them. At one point, the chemist remembers the classic movie, the 12 Angry Men, but he makes us laugh since he cannot remember the title of the movie well and confuses it with some cowboy movies, which in turn reminds me my unfinished script for a movie I titled, 12 Hungry Men.
I am happy that I could influence and change the minds of the five jurors who had initially considered the “guilty” verdict. They now have reasonable doubts about the evidence provided by the State alleging constructive possession of the narcotic drugs by this homeless man.
I expect more. I want to turn it into a public information event and read our reasons for why we acquitted the defendant even if we did not have any reasonable doubt against the State’s allegations. I wish that other jury members could show the courage to join me in reading the following explanation for reaching the “not guilty” verdict. Unfortunately, none demonstrate interest in jury nullification based on universal principles of justice and fairness that may override the written laws. They prefer to justify their verdict by following the narrow and shallow mazes in the cracks of facts and the laws about cracks.
If the laws were really drafted by people’s representatives without the unfair influence, corruption and interference of the interest groups and big corporations, perhaps it would be a different story. Most of the congressmen and senators we elect, the moment they end up in Washington they break their oaths and promises. What we have is corporatocracy disguised as democracy, and our “elected officials” need the support of big organizations, corporations and their media. Thus, I am not crazy about adhering to all the laws passed by our sausage-makers, especially when I know, without reasonable doubt, that some of those laws are unjust.
Invitation to Civil Disobedience
Well, here is what I wanted everyone in the courtroom hear. I hope that all Americans will hear, ponder and act on this invitation:
We have deliberated carefully and discussed the issue with all its aspects and ramifications, and we have concluded that it is not you who is guilty, it is we, the society, guilty for putting you behind the bars for 6 months and we are even more guilty for trying to keep you there for years, as we have to millions of others.
We did not care much about you when you were hungry. We did not care much about you when you were cold on the street. We did not care when you were sick. In fact, your presence in our streets and parks has bothered us. We wished that you and millions like you would just disappeared into oblivion. But, now we have caught you poisoning yourself with drugs, with a pea-size crack. Now we care about you. If we are convinced by the police report and the prosecutor, the law instructs us to make you really invisible by putting you behind bars for years. When you come out you will be older, more corrupt, angrier and unemployable. We know that you will most likely spend the rest of your life in jails and prisons. At the same time, we will be creating more jobs for lawyers, judges, police officers, crime scene specialists, detectives, expert witnesses, guards, and the multi-billion dollar prison industrial complex.
You may not know, but in 2008 alone, 1.5 million Americans were arrested for drug related offenses and half a million of them were imprisoned. That creates a lot of jobs and generates big money for the few. This will transfer the working people’s tax money to the crime-profiteers. This has been annual multi -billion dollar business. Though it is smaller than the budget of the military industrial complex that generates more wars and enemies that turns the children of poor people into invisible “heroes” in other countries killing the children of other poor people, it is still good for business. Those who have declared the so-called “war on drugs” hit three eagles with one stone. They turn underclass into criminals and make you really invisible as permanent underclass. They hide the byproduct and shame of capitalism with impunity. They make billions of dollars out of this business of criminalization, adjudication and incarceration.
Every intelligent person, including the judge, the prosecutor, the defense and even the police and the experts on drugs, know that War on Drugs is a racket. A racket that not only does it make many people rich, it also provides pretext for our corporate-ruled government, the USA-Inc, to interfere with other country’s affairs. The government of corporations, by corporations and of corporations, uses drugs as an excuse to invade other countries, support contra guerillas and terrorists to topple popular governments that do not yield to the demands of multi-national corporations.
Yes, we are guilty. Forty of us were gathered here yesterday morning at 7:30 am in the name of justice. Some of us drove more than twenty miles to fulfill our citizenship duty. Yesterday, the scene in the courtroom was worse than a Roman Coliseum. Forty citizens who left their jobs and homes plus ten other citizens who were paid by the government were trying to judge a homeless man who harmed none, allegedly except himself. The judge, the law clerk, the bailiff, the clerks, the court reporter, the prosecutor, the paralegal, the defense attorney, the two police officers, the crime scene specialist, the forensic expert, and other witnesses… I am not even counting those who run the jury reporting room downstairs, the janitor and other staff who support this theater behind the scenes.
Yesterday, about 50 people, some well educated and well respected member of the society, who repeat the mantra of “innocent until proven guilty” gathered merrily and self-righteously to try you, their victim. We will all get paid, more or less, for our services. I learned that I will even get paid for serving on the jury. We are all making money just because of you. Yes, you who have nothing in your name. You have lost your only possession when you were arrested six moths ago, the old bicycle. Some may doubt about your degree of freedom outside compared to prison. But, we know that you have pled not guilty and prefer to get out.
When I saw you among fifty of us, supposedly defended by a single defense attorney, I looked around and searched for your peers. Where were they? I did not see a single black person in the room. Worse, I did not see a single homeless person. Of course, you know that you do not have home and you do not get mail for jury duty. Of course, you know well that if you had home like us you could smoke your poison in your private room not in public bathroom after the park was closed. You would get away not with a pea-size crack, you would get away with a coconut size! Well, we all know that the real criminals are out there enjoying their golf, villas and private jets.
The robber banks who perpetually rob the working class are respected businesses in this country. Bankers or Wall-street ….s who stole billions of dollars of our money last year awarded themselves with millions of bonuses from the bail-out money given to them by our (?) government. Not a single of those big thieves and robbers has been convicted. We also know that the war criminals who fabricated lies thereby leading the nation to wars that killed hundreds of thousands innocent people are not even charged of any crime let alone being convicted. Through the bloody wars, they made billions of dollars for their friends and themselves. But if you starve from hunger and you are caught of stealing a bagel you will be arrested and put behind bars.
The prosecutor included your picture as Evidence number 5. It was your picture taken the night of your arrest. You are now well-groomed and somehow you have a beautiful suit on you. Initially I did not understand the reason why the photo of your face was among the evidences. You were sitting just across us in 3D. There was no question regarding your identity. So, why did the prosecutor print a picture of you on a huge paper? Perhaps this is the biggest picture you have ever had in your life. Well, knowing the modus operandi and the subliminal messages of the capitalistic system that turns us into zombies called consumers, I think I know the answer. The prosecutor perhaps wished us to see you as a homeless person, with messy hair, fazed and rugged face, and unkempt beards. He wanted to alienate you from us. You are a Martian. You are a monster. You are afflicted with poverty. You are the curse of capitalism. You are the black spot that needs to be eliminated, to be hidden behind bars.
Dear homeless, we are the guilty. We are the hypocrites. In our ads, in our movies, in our magazines we promote drinking alcohol, one of the most harmful drugs that kills tens of thousands of people each year, yet, we criminalize other drugs.
Looking at the demographics of those who are hurled into prisons to become the members of the invisible class, we know for sure that the so-called War on Drugs is in fact war on poor, on black people, and on any country that does not yield to the demands of our corporations. We brag to be the bastion of liberty, yet we have the biggest prison population per capita in the entire world.
As jury, we decided to reject to be used by this unjust and diabolic system. So, in the name of those who have not sold their minds and souls to the corporate/government propaganda machine, we apologize to you for the months you spent behind bars.
You might be in a small prison, but we Americans are in a bigger and worst prison, the prison of falsehood and delusions, the prison of propaganda and lies. Let’s accept the truth so that truth shall free us. It is time to walk away from Omelas.