The drugs are in a glassine bag in the middle of the table. Couple of grams of crystal meth. Crystal. Methamphetamine. Crank. We know all the words now. Looks to me like a half a teaspoon of pinkish brown beach sand. Only the blonde girl has ever seen crank before. She's a student and has done it. Describes the effects while the senior citizens cringe and wonder why anyone would want to feel that way.

Crank is snorted, smoked, or injected. Injecting is the preferred method among people who have been using crank since grammar school. Copper wool is used as a filter. A "quarter" is the usual dose. Quarter gram. Size of a match head. Paper.

Cops pull you over because your tail lamp is out, find a box of copper dish scubbing pads and an eyedropper of water in your trunk, and you're going to jail for a while. No kidding.

Especially if you're Hispanic in east San Jose.

The powder is mixed with spring water in any small container and drawn up into the needle. Needle in vein, press plunger. The residue that's left is the cut. He has to say the word three times because behind his accent we all think he's saying "cunt" and the women are blushing. Cut is garbage, but has some use. He doesn't say what the use is.

Our lesson in drug use came from a man the size of a redwood tree. He was wearing bright orange hospital scrubs with the name of the county imprinted haphazardly across the chest in black. He was handcuffed, so when he scratched his eye he pulled both hands upward to do it. His legs were shackled. He looked us in the eye and gave us a view of his world. His world was jail.

"He's why we have jails," one of us muttered and at first I thought it an elitist remark. Then I thought of my kids in the same town as that guy and agreed without saying a word.

The bus driver holds up a picture, says, "This looks staged," and tosses the image of the bloody man onto the pile. The picture lands in front of me image up. I see the perpetrator on the hospital bed, his head swathed in bandages, rivulets of dried blood running down his face from the head injury.

The police officer, on the other hand, looks like he's coming out of the bushes where he'd just gone to take a leak. Couple of scratches. No other marks.

"I'm black," says the grandmother at the head of the table, as if it wasn't obvious. Her voice is smooth and measured, the same voice one imagines she uses on her grandchildren when she's telling them right from wrong.

Everyone shuts up in reverence as if Mahatma Gandhi is about to speak. She says, "Things have happened to people my color over the years. The police aren't always good to us," and she takes a yellow paper tissue from her tiny purse and wipes her nose. "But I don't know," she says, and I'm worried she won't stick to her guns. The bus driver and the machinist are absolutely certain what they think and unless the grandmother shows some intestinal fortitude, they'll steamroll her.

"I just don't believe the police," says the college student next to me. She goes back to asking the blonde girl about doing crank as if we're not judging someone's fate. I stop her because we'll be here all day if I don't have her attention. The vote has to be unanimous and nobody is bullshitting until it is.

She says to me, "Just look at the pictures," as if common sense could possibly prevail where police, criminals, and the law are involved. One guy is bloody, the other guy doesn't have a scratch bigger than a pubic hair. The bloody guy is charged with assault and battery.

I say, "I am never doing this again," to my eleven co-victims. "Next time I get called for jury duty I am telling the judge that we have a different legal system on my planet and while I was sent to observe, I welcome the opportunity to participate. It will all go into my report."

The other jurors chuckle, then go back to staring at the pile of evidence on the table in front of us.

California is a three-strike state. Four of Mr. Sanchez's three strikes are on a piece of paper in front of me. It's a fill-in-the-blank test sort of form, covered in legalese with spots for my words and signature as jury foreman. If I write "guilty" in any three of the four spaces Mr. Sanchez doesn't walk outside without handcuffs for the next 25 years to life, though, that's not supposed to affect our decision making.

This happens because Mr. Sanchez is an idiot. A fool. A jackass. Mr. Sanchez has twelve of us deciding his fate instead of letting us watch soap operas or get yelled at by our bosses. None of us wants to be responsible for Mr. Sanchez, but we are. It's our civic duty. The lawyers made their cases, the judge gave his instructions, and then a whole court full of professional people threw up their hands, made us sit around a table then locked us in the conference room, and waited for our thumbs. Would we hold them up, or down? Modern day Caesars.

"This is the greatest legal system in the world," the PC board designer says. "There must be some reason this is the right thing to do. Can someone explain it to me? How the hell are we supposed to make a decision based on this crap?" He waves his hand at the pile of pictures and drugs on the table in front of him.

The machinist doesn't need to hear anything else. "I think his guilt is pretty clear from the evidence."

"What evidence?" says the maternity nurse. "Everyone was lying. The defense witnesses were lying. The police contradicted themselves six times. I kept notes." She waves a yellow spiral bound pad and continues, "This is ridiculous. Nobody was telling the truth. I don't know what to believe."

"Then we have to find him innocent," I say. "If there's any reasonable doubt, you have to find him not guilty. It's not like we have a choice. That's the law."

"But he's guilty," she says, staring at her hands on the table.

He is and we all feel it. Not one of us wants to be responsible for saying it so we're struggling for any reason to squirm out from under the task.

Damn you for being so stupid, is what I think about the defendant. We all know what happened. Two AM. San Jose. A solo cop stops Sanchez's car for weaving from lane to lane. The cop doesn't radio dispatch. Never says where he is, who he's stopping, or why. There's a reason for this. The cops are gunning for Sanchez. We don't know why. Maybe what he did before.

Sanchez stops the car and bolts. There are a couple of warrants for his arrest on other charges we don't know about because it will sway our opinion. But Sanchez admits he runs. The officer pursues. Sanchez is big, muscular. He outweighs the cop by 30, maybe 40 pounds of muscle. The cop is a slight fellow who looks like he's a normal size only because he's wearing flak jacket. Probably got beat up a lot in high-school.

Somehow at 2AM on a dark street in San Jose our peace officer catches Sanchez. No guns--it's a residential neighborhood. There's a fight. They're rolling on somebody's front lawn. The cop clubs Sanchez with a 6" maglite when Sanchez tries to strangle him. The cop uses the metal flashlight like brass knuckles. Clocks Sanchez a couple of times. Draws blood. It's a head wound so Sanchez looks like his brains have been blown out.

Why the cop isn't wrecked by the bigger man is a mystery. How the cop, weighted down by 25 pounds of guns, uniform, and utility belt could catch up to the athletic fugitive in a foot race is a mystery. Lots of mysteries.

The cop gets Sanchez on his stomach and cuffs him. Calls for officer assistance. Ten cops show up. Sanchez is still struggling and needs to be subdued a little more. Now Sanchez has to go to the hospital. His wounds are pretty bad. Before he's loaded on the ambulance an officer turns out Sanchez's pockets. Finds the drugs.

The cop goes to the hospital, too. Refuses HIV supression medication even though he's got open scratches and has been wrestling with an intravenous drug user who's bleeding profusely from the head. Oh. And he's been bit, too.

It's a year later. Everybody testifies. All the cops. A bunch of prisoners who say Sanchez never took drugs in his life and the drugs didn't belong to him.

A lady from the crime lab comes. Says the vial of blood they took from Sanchez at the hospital was full of crank.

The cops can't figure out who did what, when. The police report is sketchy, doesn't mention the make or model of Sanchez's car, or why he stopped it. Mistakes the name of the officer who found the drugs on Sanchez. Gets the wrong cross-street where the scuffle occurred.

Another cop comes in. Says Sanchez tried to run when being transported from the hospital to the city jail. "Escaped" in the hospital parking deck even though he was handcuffed. Was eventually subdued by that officer. Had to go back into the hospital to get a few more cuts closed.

"Police conspiracy," says the defense attorney. "They brutalized my client. Look at the pictures. There isn't a scratch on the arresting officer."

Actually, there is a scratch on the arresting officer. It's on his arm by the elbow. It's hard to see in the picture.

In his picture, Sanchez looks to have lost about a pint of blood.

The telephone lineman wants to believe Sanchez's girlfriend's testimony. They hauled her in from another jail where she was awaiting charges on an unrelated incident. She was cute in a Gloria Estefan sort of way. Said she'd known Sanchez since eighth grade and he'd never done drugs. The librarian reminds the lineman of the the cross-examination.

"You would lie to protect him, wouldn't you?" said the DA.

"No. No way," Sanchez's girlfriend said .

"Then why did you tell the police his name was Munoz?" the DA said, and produced a transcript of her deposition. Put it in front of her. Said, "That is what you said, isn't it?"

"Oh. Yes. I forgot."

"And you know he has his name tattooed on his back."

"Yes."

And so on for four days of trial. The DA is a shark. Should be on television. The defense laywer is a bozo. Says, "The defense rests," when he's got one more witness. Keeps getting yelled at by the judge because he can't remember how trials work. Puts forth zero in the way of a defense for his client so that when we're evaluating the evidence it's all the cops word against--let's see--that would be the cops testimony against NO ONEs. The cops against a science fiction story about conspiracy that if we agree with, will send a herd of lawyers into city hall with lawsuits flying. There is no alternative viewpoint upon which to found any kind of argument. And we, the jury, are stuck with this crap and our consciences.

Goddamn sonofabitch will somebody take that defense attorney out and clock him a few times? Doesn't he know what he's making us do?

We take a couple of votes. Read the big stack of jury instructions and the law. Make interpretations based on the evidence. But It's pretty clear, none of the testimony is believable. We only have the pictures of injured people, the drugs, and the blood test results to go on. So we're going to have to believe whatever we want.

Today we believe we want to put a man in jail for the rest of his life. Twelve of us. Men, women. Young, old. Black, Hispanic, Asian, White. Engineers, bus drivers, grandmothers, nurses, students. Jail jail jail jail.

We're sick of all this shit. Put everyone in jail. You wanna give us random citizen bastards the power to send people to jail? You wanna hand us a pile of crap and expect us to make sense of it while you wash your hands of the whole proceeding? Fine.

We vote and even the moderate people are tired of it. I write "GUILTY" in block letters in the four blanks on the form and sign my name. I call the bailiff.

The guy in the Sheriff's uniform and gun shows up. We tell him we're ready. They have to clear the courtroom first. There's a trial in there. Some kid tried to blow up the local community college. They'll deal with him later. Right now, we have a verdict on Sanchez.

We file in and sit in the jury box. I raise my hand when the judge asks who's the foreman. I hand the bailiff the verdict and he gives it to the judge. The judge looks it over, hands it to the clerk who reads the painfully long preamble...in the case of the state of California, county of Santa Clara against Hector Sanchez in the charge of resisting or impeding a peace officer in the course of his duty when the officer was in uniform...blah blah.

She reads my word, written in green felt-tip pen.

Guilty.

Guilty, three more times. I'm shaking. The grandmother is crying. Sanchez has broken into tears. A well dressed Hispanic couple sitting in the gallery behind Sanchez begins sobbing. Sanchez's mother is in the gallery. She's crying.

Never before have any of the twelve of us done anything to cause so much pain. We feel like dirt. We want to take it back. Who cares what's right? Who cares if the law says possession of crank is a felony? Who cares if even breathing hard on a peace officer on duty is assault? Who cares if the slightest scratch on a cop is grounds for battery? Look at all these miserable people. Is this justice? Is all this pain justice?

The judge goes into a dissertation thanking us for our service. He fills in some blanks we haven't been allowed to know. Sanchez has a rap sheet as long as our children are tall. He pled guilty to a number of other offenses and went to trial on these on his laywer's advice because he thought he could beat them. The strategy didn't pay off. He should have pled on everything, is the implication. The other crimes pointed to guilt on these, is the implication. But it wouldn't have been fair to tell us that. We had to agonize over it for it to be fair. We had to guess, to go with our guts, to send a man to prison for life when we didn't know what was right or wrong.

We just want to get the hell out. The last phoneme from the word "dismissed" isn't out of the judge's mouth when I'm out of my chair and heading for the door.

The DA blocks my exit. Offers his personal thanks to all of us. Offers to tell us the rest of the story. The implication is Sanchez is a bad guy. The implication is we won't feel so bad if we know what else he's done. The implication is this happens all the time. Everyone lies, everyone cheats, nobody knows the truth. You go with what you have. You pray. You make up your mind and cross your fingers and maybe wreck somebody's life because you don't want to stay locked up in that room anymore.

The implication is we guessed right. The implication is we don't know any other way to do it.

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