Doing My Civic Duty

Tomorrow I have to show up for Kings County grand jury duty at 10:00 A.M. I’ve already put it off twice so I couldn’t get out of it this time. From what I can gather, this isn’t much like petit jury service like you see on TV. You serve for a fixed period of time (likely two weeks) rather than for a specific trial, and you hear as many presentations as you can get through in that time. Indictment is by a majority vote of 12 out of 23. There’s no voir dire, so you can’t sneak out by being snarky to the D.A., telling the judge that God told you to convict, or expressing your deep affection for the principle of jury nullification.

I only hope I don’t get stuck on a drugs grand jury. According to one prosecutor:

In Kings County, about 40% of grand jury presentations are what are referred to as “buy and bust” operations (B&B). These involve the sale of a relatively small amount of heroin, cocaine or crack cocaine to an undercover police officer. The testimony is substantially the same in all such cases, and the charge is exactly the same. The presentation goes along the lines of:

“My name is undercover officer badge number 1243. On this date and time I approached an individual who I referred to as �JD Red Cap� [since at the time of the transaction the officer does not usually know the name of the defendant, the officer refers to that person as JD, for John Doe, and then some descriptive term]. I had a drug related conversation with him. He showed me some tin foil packets of what I believed to be cocaine. I exchanged a certain amount of United States Currency for the tin foils. I later saw JD Red Cap in the precinct under arrest and I learned his name to be….. I sent the tin foil packets to the lab.”

Following this riveting testimony is the testimony of the arresting officer who says:

“I placed someone under arrest identified to me by UC Officer 1243 as JD Red Cap. Upon arresting him I learned his name to be ….. I found an additional 12 tin foil packets of cocaine on his person. I sent the tin foil packets to the lab”.

Then we introduce the lab report into evidence [Under NY law there is a hearsay exception in the grand jury]. The grand jury is then charged on the law regarding a B felony sale, possession with intent to sell and simple possession.

The next case sounds, looks and smells just like the case before except the name of the defendant is different (JD Blue Shirt). Sometimes, it is even the same undercover officer who is testifying since the officer often makes two, three, or even four buys during a single tour of duty.

Since all these cases involve undercover officers, security concerns mandate that they be presented to one of two juries impaneled for this purpose. This means that two grand juries per term hear almost exclusively buy and bust cases. In 1998 we filed 7,446 felony indictments. Of those, 2,957 (39.7%) were narcotic cases, almost all of which were B&Bs. That means that these two grand juries hear about 114 B&B cases per term, or about 6 a day. They may hear other police-witness-only cases as well, such as guns (567), Driving While Intoxicated (108), and other vehicle and traffic law felonies (162) [an average of about 7 cases per day], but their primary diet consists of B&B cases.

It is hard to imagine anything more routine and repetitious than to be on a narcotics grand jury for twenty consecutive days.

Worst of all, the proceedings are confidential and there’s no wireless in the courthouse so I can’t even write about them. What fun is that? (Update: there is wireless in the courthouse. I’m using it to post this update. I don’t know if that’s because I’m in a different courthouse than last time or if they all have that now.)

I will bring my laptop though. If there’s any down time, I can work on my course notes for CS 9053 next week (I’m adding a class on generics and the Collections API) and work on my keynote address for XML 2007.

3 Responses to “Doing My Civic Duty”

  1. John Cowan Says:

    On the other hand, if the ADA shows you a ham sandwich, indict it at once!

  2. Wouter Says:


    It’s seems you had a copy/paste accident. The quoted text contains the same story twice.

  3. JD Says:

    Be thankful it’s only two weeks. I was press-ganged onto a Fed Grand Jury for two *years* of service (up to two full days every week). Similar experience re repetitive cases, lack of communications access, etc. Very glad that’s over with. This was in White Plains, NY.

Leave a Reply