I was called to jury duty and had the experience of being part of a “busted panel.”

That means that, from a panel of 65 prospective jurors, the lawyers and judge in the case couldn’t find 12 people and perhaps an alternate or two who weren’t biased.

Typically, defense attorneys have more concerns about biased jurors than prosecutors. That wasn’t the case with this panel.

The defendant was charged with possession of less than a gram of cocaine. If you’re confused about the amount, picture a packet of sweetener for your coffee.

The prospective jurors were asked whether they could sentence the defendant to up to two years in a state jail, as the law requires. Or, hypothetically, if the state could show that the defendant had previous convictions, whether prospective jurors could sentence him to up to 10 years in prison, as the law requires.

The reaction was overwhelming. One man asked the prosecutor whether anyone knew how much it cost to keep someone locked up in prison for 10 years. He suggested the state had better use for taxpayers’ money. When asked by the prosecutor if he could put his personal feeling aside and follow the law, the prospective juror said no, in good conscience he could not. The prosecutor thanked him for his candor.

The prosecutor asked if anyone else had problems with just following the law. Hands shot up everywhere.

Maybe some of those people were trying to get out of serving on a jury. But some of them, when questioned, vented. One man described the war on drugs as a failure. Others said they’d seen friends and family members prosecuted for similar offenses and had come away convinced that the process was so unfair they were soured. They simply could not be unbiased as a juror.

To be fair, some of the prospective jurors supported the law. One woman said she believed whatever officers said about drug cases. The defense attorney likely found her biased.

A few people said simply they would follow the law.

Perhaps in reading this account, you consider it biased. So consider an indisputable fact: The judicial system couldn’t find enough unbiased people to seat a jury.

When it was over, you could hear people who had missed work fuming about a day wasted with nothing accomplished. You could hear the words like “stupid,” “idiotic,” “insane,” “dumb” and worse. Much worse. They were talking about the law, something in theory we should all respect.

It’s a paradox. In general, the law works because almost everyone respects it. But what happens if one particular law is so bad that almost no one does?

I wondered how many ordinary citizens will experience the joys of being part of a busted panel before the people who make our laws realize we might have a problem.

Heber Taylor, a retired newspaperman, lives in Galveston.

(17) comments

Diane Turski

Time to elect representatives who pass common sense laws! Glad to see people following their conscience!

Doyle Beard

In other words if it feels good do it, to heck with rules and laws.

Raymond Lewis

That operative word 'might'. I'm afraid we 'do' have a problem with many of the drug laws. Most people want to respect the (a) law but as you report, not when the law makes little sense.

Doyle Beard

Then work your --- off to change not disobey

Andy Brown

Do you think the prospective jurors were disobeying? They were honestly answering questions posed to them.

Doyle Beard

I dont have a problem with drug laws. dont mess with the stuff and all will be ok. Abstain from drugs dont make excuses.

Andy Brown

Drug possession penalties are slowly changing from the 94 crime bill and mass incarceration that followed but we still have a long way to go. The people can voice their displeasure with laws in many ways. A majority of the jury pool in the article did just that. Good for them.

Doyle Beard

I never disputed I just said its the law and I believe a civic duty to serve on a jury and decide the case not hide from your duty. the trouble today no one wants to face reality.

Andy Brown

I understand your frustration with those making up excuses not to serve on a jury. I served once and was chosen. I remember one gentlemen during voir dire said he could not judge anyone ever. Come on, man. I do believe some of those mentioned in the article honestly could not in good conscience be responsible for putting someone away for up to ten years for a non violent crime and not just trying to get out of jury duty.

Susan Fennewald

I was part of a busted panel once. That case, too, involved previous convictions and, as a result, an extreme jail term if convicted. I thought that they might've gotten a jury if the possible punishment was 1 yr in jail - but it would've been 20 yrs in jail.

Doyle Beard

yes relax the drug laws to make it easier for the young people to get hold of it. Real smart people.

Mark Aaron

Doyle: "yes relax the drug laws to make it easier for the young people to get hold of it. Real smart people."

How about an intelligent response for a change? Stop treating addiction as a crime and start treating it as the illness that it is. Legalize the relatively benign marijuana like Colorado and other states have done, tax it, and use the money for education and treatment.

https://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2016-09-15/study-opioid-use-decreases-in-states-that-legalize-medical-marijuana

Doyle Beard

get your self a mirror. I never mentioned an addiction but commonsense will tell you how an addiction starts. Istand by what I posted .Of cousre common sense for most died several years back.

Mark Aaron

Doyle: "I never mentioned an addiction but commonsense will tell you how an addiction starts."

No, you just inferred that onerous drug laws should continue. Did I misunderstand you, or is that your position?

Doyle Beard

My position and nothing can change that even changing the law. Addiction to street drugs began with access to them and the more relaxed the rules are the more people including younger people will have access to them. Thats not hard to fiure.

Mark Aaron

Doyle: "My position and nothing can change that even changing the law. Addiction to street drugs began with access to them and the more relaxed the rules are the more people including younger people will have access to them. Thats not hard to fiure."

When I talked about an intelligent response I was referring to the government. Sorry if it sounded like I was attacking you Doyle.

The government has placed draconian penalties on individuals for years with its War on Drugs and it has been a complete bust. It has made criminals out of generations of ordinary people for victimless crimes to little effect. Draconian penalties do not work. It is time to take a more intelligent approach. Treat the illness. Educate the public. Admit that marijuana is a relatively benign drug on a par with alcohol .

Carlos Ponce

When it comes to use of "recreational" drugs I am reminded of Eve , the forbidden fruit and the serpent in the Garden.

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