DRCNet Honchos Challenge DC with CD -- Borden and Guard Refuse to Report for Jury Service in Protest of Drug Laws 11/14/03

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DRCNet executive director David Borden and associate director David Guard are set to perform acts of civil disobedience to protest the inherent injustice in the District of Columbia and the US criminal justice systems. Both Borden and Guard are refusing to participate in jury trials in the District.

"The first time I was called for a jury pool I found that people with our kinds of ideas don't get picked for juries," said Borden. "The name of my employer, which I am required to list on the juror registration form -- the Drug Reform Coordination Network -- virtually guarantees that I won't make it to a jury. That turns their calling me for a jury pool and my reporting to it into a game. I decided instead to take the opportunity to make a statement."

David Borden in Mérida

Last August, Borden related, he sent a letter to the people listed on the juror summons firm, DC Chief Judge Rufus G. King III, son of the late, great drug reformer (and DRCNet member) Rufus G. King Jr., and cc'ed to the Clerk of the Court, Wayne Delaney. Borden's missive to Judge King was an open letter in which he explained his rationale for refusing to serve. "I wanted to show respect to the court and particularly to Judge King by really laying out my thinking in detail. I knew Rufus King the elder, and I'm told his son was proud of his activism," Borden explained. "Also, he continued, "jury service is supposed to be a noble part of citizenship, and many people in our movement see juries as a check against government tyranny. But you have to be able to get on the jury to play that role; on drug cases at least, that's not a likely scenario for the head of DRCNet, for obvious reasons. And when despite the efforts of many good people within the system its net effect has become so ignoble, in my view serving it without having the ability to truly monitor and influence the administration of justice presents a real moral dilemma."

Borden's letter described a "moral and humanitarian crisis" in US drug policy, listing the injustices of drug war enforcement and punishment; the external consequences of the drug laws, such as violence, HIV, Colombia, and the under-treatment of pain; and the impact of drug policies in undermining the ethical functioning of the criminal justice system as whole. Because of that, Borden argued, jurors cannot rely on the information they're provided for deciding cases; the information is often skewed and incomplete, Borden charged, and jurors lack knowledge of the possible sentencing consequences to which their votes cast may subject the convicted. The letter describes attempts to enact minor changes in the District of Columbia's own drug policies which were approved by voters but rebuffed by Congress, and goes on to weigh the moral pros and cons of not serving even on non-drug cases.

The first response from the DC criminal justice system came from Judge King, but had the appearance of having been written by a staffer and did not reflect a thorough understanding of the content of Borden's letter. More recently, Borden received a second communication, this time from the juror office, informing him that he was not excused from service and instructing him to appear Monday, November 17 for jury duty. Borden sent a letter back stating that he was not asking to be excused, but simply refusing to show up and that he would not be appearing for jury service, but that he would appear for any formal proceeding relating to his refusal to report. Meanwhile, David Guard also received a juror summons, and followed suit by also not showing up, instead sending a short letter to Judge King with a copy of Borden's attached.

David Guard protesting
the sentencing of
medical marijuana
provider Bryan Epis
Instead of going inside to the juror lounge, Borden, Guard and allies will at 8:15 Monday morning hold a small rally outside the DC Superior Court building at 500 Indiana Ave. NW in Judiciary Square. The DRCNet duo and a handful of other speakers will denounce the drug war and declare solidarity with the half-million people incarcerated for nonviolent drug offenders and all the other victims of the drug war. If all goes well, said Borden, the media will be in attendance and the issue will be covered. "After all," said Borden, "we're risking up to a week in jail and/or up to a $300 fine, and though the actual penalties are likely to be toward the lower end, it's not worth it just to preach to the choir. We are trying to make our point in a dramatic fashion and in the process educate the public on the need to change the drug laws and reform the criminal justice system -- and in the meantime, make the majority of people who will report when called for jury service a little more skeptical of the information presented to them by the state and more cognizant of their right to act as conscience dictates."

Borden said that many people have responded to his open letter. Some wrote or called to say they were moved or inspired by the action, including one federal prisoner serving a life sentence for an LSD offense. Borden and Guard have also received compliments form colleagues, and one jury nullification advocate sent the letter to his list. "But I also heard from people who thought I'd made a mistake and that I should instead have tried to get on a drug case's jury in order to acquit someone. "A few people were upset that I didn't do that," Borden said. "They thought I was discouraging enlightened thinkers from serving on juries. I respect those opinions, but on both counts I judge the situation differently -- I don't see how I will ever get on a jury, at least not on a drug case; and the small set of people willing to risk jail time for civil disobedience are well-educated and aware of the other options such as nullification that might be available to them. Plus, none indicated having ever successfully carried out jury nullification themselves. Maybe it has a future, but in the present, at least, other strategies are needed as well."

"I also have a quasi-mystical belief in the power of the pure gesture," Borden said. "Historians debate whether trends or individuals make history; I think it's both, and who knows what small choices by individuals doing what they feel is right might end up catalyzing those larger trends."

Some attorneys and others saw the jury process as presenting opportunities to influence other potential jurors by using voir dire (the stage of jury selection in which each potential juror discusses issues that could affect their decision-making) as a bully pulpit. "I wanted to speak my mind for the room when I was called the first time," said Borden, "but in DC courtrooms there is a white noise system that prevents anyone but the judge, prosecutor, and defense attorney from hearing what the potential juror has to say. It was disappointing, actually. I've heard that this is not the case in every jurisdiction."

Is Borden suggesting that others should follow his example? "I am not suggesting that anyone should or should not repeat this. I view it as an individual decision based on conscience, strategy and practicalities. Anyone considering this should think it through carefully, should certainly find out what the laws are in your state and perhaps consult an attorney, decide what you are willing to risk and what you might gain by trying a different approach. But by all means, feel free to get in touch. I'm a believer in multiple strategies pursued concurrently. Not that this is all about strategy; it is also an act of conscience that seemed a logical conclusion when I opened and looked at my jury summons last summer."

Visit https://stopthedrugwar.org/openletter/ to read Borden's letter to Judge King online. Come out to 500 Indiana Ave. NW, DC Superior Court, Judiciary Square metro stop in Washington, 8:15-9:00am Monday 11/17/03 to rally in support of Borden and Guard.

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Issue #311, 11/14/03 DRCNet Interview: Larry Campbell, Mayor of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada | South Carolina: High School Drug Raid Sparks Incredulity, Outrage | DRCNet Honchos Challenge DC with CD -- Borden and Guard Refuse to Report for Jury Service in Protest of Drug Laws | Drug Policy Alliance 2003 Conference | BUSTED: Special Video Offer for DRCNet Members | Newsbrief: Canada Decriminalization Bill Dies Quiet Death | Newsbrief: Bolivian Intellectuals Issue Call for Debate on Coca Law | Newsbrief: FAMM Study Show States Embracing "Smart on Crime" Reforms | Newsbrief: Illinois Targets Ecstasy, Speed on Campus | Newsbrief: Texas Drug Task Force Prosecutor Plays "Let's Make a Deal" With Wealthy Defendants | This Week in History | DRCNet Temporarily Suspending Our Web-Based Write-to-Congress Service Due to Funding Shortfalls -- Your Help Can Bring It Back -- Keep Contacting Congress in the Meantime | Perry Fund Accepting Applications for 2003-2004 and 2004-2005 School Years, Providing Scholarships for Students Losing Aid Because of Drug Convictions | The Reformer's Calendar

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