Saturday, August 22, 2009


Years ago I served on a grand jury panel for 3 months in Illinois. For those not familiar with the institution, it decides whether or not there is evidence to try someone for a felony. It doesn't decide guilt or innocence, since it only hears the prosecution side. In theory (and sometimes in practice) it can indict for crimes it discovered whether the prosecutor's office knows of them or not.

It was great fun. Once a week it was like being a police officer (yes, they supplied doughnuts!) without the beat or the paperwork. You found out all sorts of things about the town--and acquired a pretty cynical attitude towards newspaper reporting as you mentally compared the reported story with what the eyewitnesses answered you. We heard about an old ex-con blatantly shoplifting to try to get back in jail on a cold night, and a home being burglarized while the burglar alarm people were at work. We even heard testimony on a murder case (a gambling quarrel--and I shouldn't call it murder because the fellow was eventually found innocent). We had to inspect the jail too, which wasn't all that much fun, but only the last day really ground my gears.

A junior staff woman from the prosecutor's office described for us in gory detail for over an hour all the aspects of an animal mistreatment case. It was unpleasant, and I felt sorry for the horses, but after about 40 minutes I was starting to wonder when she was going to get around to detailing the felony for us. Luckily she ended before my courtesy ran out.

There was no felony, and it had nothing to do with us at all. It was a misdemeanor, and she'd apparently brought it to us in the hopes of winning support for making animal mistreatment a felony.

We didn't indict her, tempting though it was. I'm not sure "presumptuous stupidity" is actually on the books in Illinois.

Michael Vick doesn't sound like a very gentle sort of person, and he treats dogs abominably. But the college players I read about in the local police blotter commit very much worse crimes than he did--and get off lighter. Do we think dogs are more valuable than people?

No comments: