I had people ask if I would be reporting in clericals and I told them that I would not. I don't try to trade on the collar in that way if, for instance, I go to traffic court and I wasn't about to start then so I reported for duty wearing a bow tie and a blazer. I figured that I didn't stand much of a chance of getting selected because when I was asked what my occupation is and I said "priest" that the prosecution would rapidly strike me assuming that I'd be a bleeding heart; if I survived that I guessed that the defense would do the same when I answered the fairly standard question of whether or not I had any close associations with law enforcement officers by telling them that I was a Chaplain for the Sheriff's Department, presuming that I has biased toward law enforcement. When I arrived at the Courthouse I learned that after twenty years of no jury duty I'd made up for it big time by getting the jury duty that lasts a year (with an option to get extended for a second year), namely service on the grand jury. Furthermore the only questions that I was asked were those that I'd already answered on the questionnaire; when I was the first name drawn the die was cast.
And so it was that for the next twelve months (I didn't get picked up for a second year) I and roughly 18 of my fellow citizens reported to the courthouse monthly to deliberate and vote true bill or no bill on a large docket of cases (I would guess an average of 100 per month) for the princely sum of $10 a day (fortunately the hospice for which I served as a chaplain at the time paid me for jury duty, but employers are not required to do that, so it represented a real sacrifice for some of the jurors). I would guess that I was one of maybe two or three people with a bachelor's degree and am fairly certain that I was the only juror with a graduate degree. I can honestly say that we discharged our duty faithfully with a few of us recusing ourselves from time to time (I myself did I think three times, a couple of times because it was dealing with cases that I'd encountered while riding along with deputies [as I was instructed to do] and one other time that I realized the person charged was related to a hospice patient for whom I'd cared; at least one lady did so because the person being voted on was her ex-husband). As I recall I voted "no bill" a couple of times and we as a grand jury voted "no bill" a couple of times when more information was needed -- after it was clarified we voted "true bill."
I've thought back on that year quite a bit over the past few days in light of the decision and subsequent unrest in Ferguson, Missouri. Many people, including some friends of mine have suggested that the grand jurors didn't do their duty by not automatically vote to indict and send it to a "real jury" so that a "real trial" could take place. Such comments betray an ignorance of how our criminal justice system works. A grand jury is in fact a real jury, and it plays an important role in safeguarding our liberties and the notion that it only exists to rubber stamp whatever charges are leveled at citizens by the state is a dangerous one. I have a degree in criminal justice and within the first 15 minutes of the first criminal justice class that I ever took it was drilled into us that our criminal justice system is based upon discretion at all levels and the grand jury is one of those levels. Grand juries protect citizens from unjust charges and if they don't do their duty -- as some are suggesting that the St. Louis County grand jury shouldn't have done by merely rubber stamping the indictment and allowing a trial to take place for a crime that they didn't have probably cause to believe had been committed in pursuit of, ironically, justice, then some of the protections that we enjoy under the Constitution have been eroded.
But aren't grand jury indictments so easy to obtain that you could indict a ham sandwich? Not really, and they're certainly not supposed to be. I'll grant that the process is weighted in favor of the prosecution but that doesn't mean that just anything can be slipped by a grand jury and it certainly doesn't mean that it should. The overwhelming majority of the cases result in a vote of "true bill," but in the majority of cases the information presented more than met the standard of probable cause. After reviewing the facts of the case in the shooting of Michael Brown in excruciating detail (three autopsies and numerous witnesses) the St. Louis County grand jury determined that probable cause did not exist to believe that Officer Wilson violated the law in exercising deadly force (I'll not comment on the specifics of the case but would commend this article form a law enforcement site that goes into great detail).
Is there racial injustice in the United States in 2014? Yes, I'm sure that there is in places, but progress toward eradicating it is not made by looting and rioting, nor is it made by trying to short-circuit the process and make someone stand trial for a crime that they are not adjudged to commit for the sake of atoning for sins that the person did not specifically commit (if one goes down that road it is a very short trip to convicting people of crimes that they didn't commit to appease an angry mob... seems I recall a case similar to that somewhere). In point of fact grand juries are one of the safeguards that protect the rights of individual citizens and should be respected as such.