By Gene Weingarten
Sunday, January 24, 2010; B04
Last week I was a juror in the trial of a man accused of selling a $10 bag of heroin to an undercover police officer. At the end of the two days of testimony, I concluded that the defendant was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. I also concluded that he should be acquitted.
In my mind, it came down to a simple, unsettling question: Is it worse to let a drug dealer go free, or to reward the police for lying under oath?
As it turned out, my question became moot. At the end of criminal trials in D.C. Superior Court, but before deliberations, the judge discloses to the 14-person jury which two of them had been randomly selected to be alternates. I was one of the two, so I was dismissed. I never got to do what I had planned, which was to hold out for acquittal. I'd assumed my stubbornness would hang the jury, because I assumed the others would want to convict. Manifestly, the guy did it.
The case involved a routine "buy-bust" operation; according to the testimony, hundreds of these occur each month in Washington under almost identical circumstances. In this case, an undercover officer drove to a street corner in Northeast D.C. that is known for being an open-air narcotics market. He was approached on the street by a woman who was acting as an intermediary for the dealer. She took his order and his money, and then walked away from the car to meet the dealer out of sight of the buyer. It's a system designed to stymie any police surveillance.