… down the road, that is, in the current politico-wonk phrase. No reference intended to the venerable children’s game.
Early on in our grand jury experience, some of us raised questions about procedure. So a higher-up in the DA’s office was brought in — I don’t know exactly what her title was, but she was clearly a person with more stripes or stars on her shoulder than the drudging, droning dogsbodies we deal with ordinarily. Was she a major? A light colonel? A full colonel? I don’t actually know. I would like to think we got the attention of a brigadier, at least, so I will call her General Blondie.
This eloquent lady painted a glowing picture of the protections available to the defendant at trial — the possibility of excluding evidence improperly obtained, the cross-examination of witnesses — all the stuff we know and love about courtroom drama. The message was that we shouldn’t worry our pretty little heads too much about indicting somebody, since all these wonderful protections would come into play as soon as Atticus Finch showed up for the defense.
But of course this is a fairy tale, as we all know. To repeat comments made here earlier, something like 98% of criminal charges are plea-bargained and never go to trial. Nobody ever examines the admissibility of the evidence; nobody ever cross-examines those inveterate lying dogs, the police.
(They even have, I’m told, a characteristically blunt and candid term for what they do on the stand: ‘testilying’.)
A Member Of The Grand Jury — this is the phrase used when an ADA grudgingly deigns to pass on a witness question from one of us — asked General Blondie what percentage of cases were plea-bargained.
It was wonderful to see the General’s response to this piece of gross impertinence. She flashed that automatic tight mirthless smile that deeply aggressive but very repressed people exhibit when they’re really furious. ‘That is no concern of yours,’ she said, ‘and I am not going to answer it.’
Should have given the game away, to anybody with ears to hear, right?
But the fairy tale had its effect on many of my colleagues. Over and over, now, I hear the argument that hey, it might have happened the way the DA said it did, so let’s indict — let’s kick the can along to a trial jury which will do all this wonderful sifting and scrutiny of the evidence.
It does absolutely no good to remind them that no such jury will ever sit; no such sifting and scrutiny will ever be done. They simply can’t, or won’t, take it in. Some of them have even said, in so many words, that we are not allowed to think about that.