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."
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.
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 http://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.