Jury Duty Fake-Out

About a month ago, when we drove down to the main drag to pick up our mail, I plucked a surprise out of our post office box.  In large red letters, the envelope announced JURY SUMMONS.

My first thought was “oh, what a pain.”  I am so busy at work and this will interfere with my travels to southern California to conduct the training classes that I’ve been planning for months.  My second though was “it will be fun and interesting to serve on a jury again.”

What did not go through my mind was the thought that everyone else seems to have in such situations:  “How can I get out of it?”  My wife tells stories of how her late father wouldn’t vote for fear of being added to county lists of potential jurors.  Apparently, he was not alone.  These days, I hear they use DMV lists for this purpose.  Lots of people don’t vote but, at least in California, almost everyone drives.

I believe there is a reason it’s called “jury duty.”  Serving when called is a civic duty, not unlike the obligation to pay taxes.  In both cases, failure to fulfill one’s obligation to society can land you behind bars.

I remember the first time I was called for jury duty.  This was back in New York.  I was in my twenties and hadn’t much of a clue about the process.  Then, as now, summoned jurors were expected to call the day before and listen to a recording to hear whether the group number on the summons was called to report.  Sure enough, my number was up right away.  I reported to the courthouse, sat in the jury assembly room for a couple of hours and was eventually called to voir dire in a civil case.  The twelve jurors were selected, and I was up for one of the two alternate spots.  Now, I had no intention of sitting through a trial just to be sent home without the opportunity to sit in deliberation with the other jurors.  Being young and foolish, I viewed this as a waste of time instead of the integral part of the process that it is.  Fortunately for me, I knew one of the people on the witness list and hoped that mentioning this fact would get me excused.  When one of the attorneys asked if there was any reason I would be unable to serve as a fair and impartial juror, I got out exactly one word of my answer.  “Well,” I began, and was immediately cut off by the judge who asked me not to say anything further.  Excused!  I suppose they were concerned that I would say something that would prejudice the other jurors.

Years later, I finally did serve when I lived down in the Central Valley.  It was a criminal trial involving lots of drug charges and a group of people who had a nice little business running a meth lab out in the sticks.  I was so glad when we were able to convict those miscreants.

Last weekend, I dialed the number on the jury summons to see if my group had been called.  The message said to call back after five on Monday.  When I did so, my group number was up for Tuesday.  I texted my boss to let her know that duty called.

My wife dropped me off at the courthouse downtown, an impressive six-story edifice reached from the street by means of two flights of stairs and walking across a plaza.  For those of us who have mobility issues but are not in wheelchairs, this can be daunting.  As it is, the traffic was bad downtown and we had a heck of a time navigating the maze of one-way streets leading to the courthouse.  I was already late and we were not about to drive around some more looking for the correct one-way street that might lead to a side of the courthouse that would have a handicapped ramp.  Gripping the railings,  I slowly pulled myself up all those steps, carrying my little Whole Foods bag packed with enough food and water for the duration.

After being scanned through the metal detector, I headed for the elevator up to the jury assembly room.  Riding up with several others, one of my fellow occupants of the lift remarked that she smelled popcorn.  Another said that all we needed now was a movie.  A third assured us that we would indeed see a movie shortly.  I rolled my eyes.  Probably a little five-minute flag-waving video about the important part that jurors play in the judicial system and the democratic process generally.  I had no idea of what was to come.

Exiting the elevator, I was confronted with a mass of humanity.  A large open mezzanine with what seemed like hundreds of seats was completely full.  I learned where the start of the line was and was shocked.  The line snaked around and around the mezzanine, eventually turning into a hallway and then into the jury assembly room, where it again snaked around several corners.  I could not begin to estimate how many people were present.

Fortunately, the courthouse was a cool respite from the 100 degree plus heat outside.  However, I questioned whether I would be able to stand on my feet long enough to reach the end of the line.  I was pleasantly surprised by how quickly the line moved along.  In less than 15 minutes, I was able to collect my badge holder and show my summons to the clerk behind the window.  I was told to take a seat.

Um, where?  I did not see a single seat that was vacant.  I peeked into an adjoining room.  Also full.  I walked up and down the aisles until I found a seat that was occupied not by a person but by a cell phone and a bag.  “Is anyone sitting here?” I asked.  I figured that the owner of those belongings had probably run to the rest room and would be right back.  Luckily, I was wrong.  The occupant of the adjacent seat picked up the items and I was able to sit down.  Whew!

By then, I was the one who needed to use the rest room.  I was reluctant to abandon my seat, however, for fear that I would not find another.  I noticed that several people were standing, leaning against the walls.

The jury clerk welcomed us over a microphone that could be heard both in the jury assembly room and out in the mezzanine, where the snaking line continued to deliver more potential jurors to the window.  “We’re going to have a party!” the cheerful clerk announced.  Oh, brother.

The assistant presiding judge came in, took the mike and thanked us for participating in the judicial process.  There were 580 of us today, he announced.  He could just as well have said 5,080 and I would have believed.  Men, women, young ones, old ones, guys in T-shirts, guys in suits, women in jeans, women dressed to the nines.  People working on the jigsaw puzzles set out at four stations.  People talking on cell phones, reading the newspaper, texting, playing games on iPads, doing homework while balancing laptops and textbooks.  People staring off into space.  People chatting with each other.  People ignoring their neighbors.  People with their eyes closed, seemingly asleep.

I texted work, checked email and then put my phone away for fear that I’d run out of charge.  No outlets in which to plug a charging cord were in evidence.  The clerk announced that the courthouse plaza was being used in the evenings as a homeless encampment and that the court could not vouch for the cleanliness of the picnic tables and benches outside.  Then she told us she’d put on some movies, but that they were all rated PG.  Sounds about right for a courthouse.

There were two flat screen TVs in the jury assembly room, on which a steady stream of Blu-Ray movies were shown all day.  I wondered whether they showed the same movies over and over, day in and day out, and whether the clerks ever got bored with them.

The first movie was a kids’ flick with Billy Crystal and Bette Midler, Parental Guidance.  The premise involved a washed-up baseball announcer and his wife taking care of their spoiled rotten grandkids for a week.  I actually watched most of this unfunny comedy, at least until it became to stupid to bear.  Then came Zookeeper, which I think was supposed to be a romantic comedy, featuring a talking lion, giraffe, gorilla, monkey and other assorted members of a loquacious menagerie.  Appropriately, I suppose, Adam Sandler was the voice of the monkey.  I guess I made it through about half the film before I couldn’t take the stupidity.  That was followed by You Again and several others, by which time I had totally zoned out and stopped paying attention.

Every so often, the clerk would pause the movie to read off a list of names of those who were to report to a particular courtroom for jury selection.  She urged us to say “Here!” nice and loudly when our names were called so that she, or her counterpart with the hundreds out in the mezzanine, could be checked off the list.  She began to read the list.  With each name, I heard the cry of “Here!” either close by or faintly off in the distance.  As to the unseen masses sitting out in the mezzanine, we’d here a loud “Chirp!” to announce that the person called had acknowledged his or her presence out in the other room.  I assume that the chirp was issued by a handheld device used by the clerk working the mezzanine.

Three panels were called, but my name was not.  Then an hour and a half break for lunch.  Most of the crowd left, but I stayed tight and pulled out my sandwich, carrots, grapes and bottles of water.

Thanks to the lovely medications I take, I had to use the rest room several times throughout the day.  The first time, I waited as long as I possibly could until finally making a mad dash for the men’s room before my bladder burst.  Upon my return, to my surprise, my seat was still vacant.  Well, what do you know!  And I didn’t even have to yell “spot back!”

The second time I wasn’t so lucky, but managed to find a seat closer to the door and farther away from the squawking Blu-Ray movies.

After lunch, two more panels were called, but still my name was not heard.  Finally, about 3 pm, the clerk announced that the courtrooms had confirmed that no more jurors would be needed that day.  Those of us remaining would be excused in groups.  When our group number was called, we were to report to the window, turn in our badge holders and receive a slip acknowledging our service.  Under California’s “one day/one trial” rule, we were reassured that we would not be called again for at least 18 months.

I texted my wife to come retrieve me and went out to sit just inside the front door of the courthouse.  It was 105 degrees outside and I did not relish the thought of sitting on a step in the broiling sun while my wife navigated the downtown traffic.

I was a bit disappointed that I was not called to sit on a trial, but also a little relieved.  Now I could return to work to prepare for my upcoming trip down south.

But if summoned again in 2019 to do my civic duty, I plan to answer the call and once again show up at the courthouse to sit all day with masses of my fellow Sacramentans.  After all, I do appreciate the freedoms that we Americans enjoy, including the guarantee of a trial by a jury of our peers.  So, as I see it, it’s the least I can do.

 

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Protecting the Protectors

While I am rarely at a loss for words, I don’t know what to say about the recent rash of murders of police.  How can I adequately express my anger, frustration and fear?  I think of economist (and New York Times contributor) Thomas Friedman, who more than a decade ago warned of the dire necessity of enacting reasonable gun control laws to combat our insane epidemic of firearm murders.  As protesters chanted back in the sixties and seventies, “the world is watching.”

I go online and am greeted by commenters from many nations shaking their heads about the violence that is coming to define the United States.  If you’re not murdered by a family member or in a home invasion or carjacking or mugging, you may be the victim of a drive-by shooting or you may be shot dead just for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.  My wife likes to watch “The First 48,” a homicide investigation television show, in the background while she is working.  I try to drown out the sound with music over headphones, but the images of death and devastation on the screen are difficult to ignore.  It’s a stark reminder of what I’d like to wish away because it’s just too horrible and heartbreaking to bear.  John Williams’ soaring orchestrations only go so far.  Eventually, one must return to reality.

I hold little hope that either of the major presidential candidates will achieve improvements in this area.  Clinton is, despite her rhetoric, mired in the status quo.  She will get nowhere fast with the Republicans in Congress, particularly considering the apparent effectiveness of the Tea Party and other right wingers.  As for Trump, well, he brags about having a concealed carry permit.  Money is the only thing he loves more than the Second Amendment.  So, looks like we’re plumb out of luck.

Wow, this is sure turning out to be a depressing post.

To return to my subject of the murder of police, at face value it seems like a blatant disregard for authority, laced with a liberal dose of anger and blind lashing out.  Clearly, such conduct cannot be tolerated in a nation of laws.  The question, however, is how to prevent this disaster from occurring time and time again.

Some focus on swift and severe punishment, both to ensure that the offenders are unable to repeat their violent acts and to assuage justifiable public outrage.  Donning my sociologist’s hat for a moment, I happen to believe that attacking law enforcement is a symptom of Émile Durkheim’s anomie, a moral vacuum that perverts the social contract and may even encourage anarchy.  I have to assume that murderers take no regard of the effect their actions will have on the families (their own and those of their victims), never mind on the rest of us.  I still haven’t gotten over the murder of two of our local sheriff’s deputies by a married couple back in October, 2014.  Time is supposed to heal all wounds.  Life goes on, right?  (Not for their families, I am sure.)  But then it happens again and again and again.  Let’s rip open that wound, shall we?

Back in law school, decades ago, my fellow criminal law students would frequently have the “bad or mad” debate.  My view is on the “mad” side.  Not “mad” as in “angry” (although that is certainly in play these days as well), but in the British sense of “mad” as “crazy.”  I believe that those who do not care about the effects of their actions on others, and on society as a whole, are suffering from some form of mental illness.  Case in point:  The cop killer in Dallas was taken out by police after they got nowhere in negotiating his surrender.  Police say the murderer was laughing and singing.  You can’t tell me this guy wasn’t crazy.

Nevertheless, more than a few of my contacts in the legal profession believe that I myself am “mad” to think this way.  I am told that those who have the ability to abide by the law, but choose not to do so, are willful, disobedient “bad” children who need to be taken out behind the woodshed (or incarcerated for life because no one took them out behind the woodshed when they were young).

I find it interesting that, nowadays, this debate seems to have subsided.  That’s because it doesn’t really matter anymore.  In the case of the murder of police (as well as for multiple murders of civilians), it has largely become a nonissue because the offenders generally kill themselves or are killed by police at the scene.  The issue now is how to protect those who are sworn to protect us.

There is an argument that the most dangerous person is he who believes he has nothing to lose.  Those who do not value their own lives cannot reasonably be expected to value the lives of others.  Unfortunately, our officers of the law often become targets because, in the demented minds of criminals, they serve as a reminder of their own shortcomings and stand as a symbol of every disappointment they have ever suffered and, indeed, of everything that is wrong with their lives.  They may well be willing to go out in a blaze of “glory.”  Too often, their only concern is how many they can take out with them.

Some say that we have now reached the lowest common denominator, that now that police are constantly in danger, there will be an increased appreciation of the fear that the rest of us have experienced for so long.  I cannot believe that it has come to this.  In my line own line of work, we are always fretting over who will train the trainers.  Well, who will protect the protectors?

It is my hope that the devastating events of the past few months will fuel a robust return of the gun control debate and will spur Congress to enact some sane laws on the subject.  The recent Democrat-led sit-in demonstration by members of Congress (“no bill, no break”), minimized by many as an ill-advised publicity stunt, is a step in the right direction.  While more symbolic than anything else, it shows that at least some in Congress are as frustrated as the rest of us and believe it’s high time that we found a way to stop the madness.

Yes, blue lives do matter.  We need a diplomat to engineer a cease fire right here in our own country.  We need an expert in détente, a brilliant negotiator to encourage all parties to put away their guns.  The public must stop killing police and police must stop killing members of the public.  As the clergy will be quick to point out, the only answer is love.  If we cannot love one another, then I fear that all is lost.

News stories tell me that there has been an uptick in firearm purchases recently.  I fear for the utter breakdown of society that could develop in a world in which everyone feels the need to carry a gun for protection and the final arbiter of any slight, however minor, will be who is quicker on the draw.

Please, Congress.  I don’t want to reside in the OK Corral.  And I know you don’t, either.

Wild Animals Do Not Belong in Captivity

Over the past week, there has been a great deal of media coverage of the Cincinnati Zoo’s decision to kill a young resident of its Gorilla World exhibit, Harambe, after a four year old boy deliberately slipped past a fence and fell into a moat surrounding the great ape’s enclosure.  Many of the comments online are filled with emotion and invective (see Twitter hashtag #justiceforharambe if you don’t believe me), either supporting or castigating the zoo for its actions.  Some even lash out at the boy’s mother, criticizing her parenting abilities to the point of calling for social services to get involved.  Others go even further and would have the child’s parents prosecuted under the state’s criminal law (for what offense I have no idea).  The Cincinnati Police is supposedly investigating.  (I love this!  They can calm the fomenting rabble by agreeing to investigate while they know perfectly well that there is little they can do.)

I have no idea whether the zoo was right or wrong to kill Harambe.  After all, I wasn’t there.  Some of those who were on the scene describe Harambe dragging the child around and repeatedly banging his head on the concrete.  Others point out that the child was examined at a hospital and was found to have suffered no serious injuries.  So you can take your pick there.  All I know is that if a 420 pound gorilla were to drag me around and repeatedly bang my head on concrete, I wouldn’t be here to write these words.

Supporters of Harambe have suggested that the zoo should have used a tranquilizer dart or should have distracted the gorilla with treats such as pineapple.  Some say that the gorilla would have wreaked irreversible damage on the boy by the time a tranquilizer took effect, while others point out that the zoo allowed ten minutes to elapse before making its decision to use lethal force, time during which a tranquilizer could have been taking effect.

And, of course, there are those who insist that the zoo’s decision was a no-brainer, that “a human is always worth more than an animal.”  (Although not everyone agrees with this proposition.)

As you no doubt realize by this point, I am more than a bit amused by the forceful arguments in support of or in opposition to the Cincinnati Zoo’s action.  That’s the wonderful thing about a free press in the age of the internet:  Everyone gets to express his or her opinion, vastly enriching the marketplace of ideas.

We are all such good Monday morning quarterbacks, now aren’t we?  This is what my mother always referred to as “20/20 hindsight.”  Unfortunately, those faced with an emergency don’t have the luxury of time to allow the case to be argued in the court of public opinion.  We see this all too often when police make a split-second decision to use deadly force in order to protect themselves or others from being killed.  First walk a mile in that guy’s moccasins, then come talk to me.

As for the mother’s culpability, I cannot escape my legal training that has taught me to argue both sides of the question.

Legally, a non-human animal is considered chattel, mere property.  This has been the common law at least since Blackstone, Coke and the other great British legal commentators published their treatises centuries ago.  As a supporter of animal rights, I am not happy about this fact, but there it is.  Accordingly, if I were representing the Cincinnati Zoo in civil litigation against the mother, I would argue that her negligence resulted in the loss of valuable zoo property and would demand restitution forthwith.

Just think of the approbation and liability that the zoo would have suffered if it had allowed Harambe to kill the boy!  The lawyers would have descended, demanding millions of dollars in damages, far more than the property value of a gorilla.  One internet commenter pointed out that the value of a boy is so much more than that of a gorilla because the latter has such limited capabilities, while the former could be the discoverer of the next cure for a deadly disease.  That is certainly a possibility.  Typically, however, the courts greatly limit the value of a child’s life, as it cannot be known whether he would have been the next Einstein or a criminal in prison for life.  While a gorilla is unable to discover the cure for cancer, neither is it able to engage in genocide or embezzle the retirement funds of thousands.

Now, if I were representing the boy’s mother, I would argue that Harambe’s enclosure represented an attractive nuisance to a young child and that the zoo therefore has no one to blame for its losses but itself.  Think of it:  You’re four years old. Ooo!  A big gorilla to play with!  And water to splash in on the way!  Your mom is momentarily distracted with your brothers and sisters.  What would you do?  Uh-huh, thought so!

In its defense, zoo director Thane Maynard claims that its fences at Gorilla World are more than adequate, that they have been approved by the relevant governing bodies, and that they have never experienced a problem before in the nearly forty years that the exhibit has been open.  Kind of what I would call an “innocent until proven guilty” defense.  But Maynard also admits that “the trouble with barriers is that, whatever the barrier is, some people can get past it.”  Uh-huh.  Little people, for example.  Like, uh, maybe a four year old?  And just what audience do zoos cater to anyway?  Families!  Children!  School groups!  It’s fun for all ages, it’s educational, bring the kids for a day out at the zoo!

This, I believe, is the crux of the problem.  Rather than second guessing the zoo’s on-the-spot decision, we need to step back and take a bigger picture approach.  Let’s admit that safety considerations are just one of many reasons that animals should not be maintained in captivity.  Wild animals belong in the wild.  And as long as the courts refuse to extend the writ of habeas corpus to non-humans, we will continue to experience unfortunate incidents involving the death of captive animals or the humans who come into contact with them.

After all, boy and gorilla were each doing what comes naturally.  The fault is not theirs, but ours.

 

North Carolina is a Disgrace

I’m a married, heterosexual male and I like it that way.  But my gosh, I cannot believe the discrimination against the LGBT community, and against transgender individuals in particular, that still exists in this modern day and age.  It makes no sense to me whatever.

There are undoubtedly some who remain unpersuaded by arguments for tolerance based on love.  In other words, there will always be some who prefer to hate.  I thought things had begun to change, perhaps only because that’s how it looks on the surface when political correctness drives ugly attitudes underground.  So it’s disappointing to me when the black crud deep in some of our hearts shows up in the light of day.

That’s exactly what happened in North Carolina last week when the legislature rammed through House Bill 2 and the governor quickly signed it into law.  As my mother would say, “you should be ashamed of yourselves!”

HB 2 is North Carolina’s Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act.  Broadly, the law bans local governments, such as cities and counties, from enacting nondiscrimination laws.  Only the state can do that now.  The true purpose of the law was to void Charlotte’s city ordinance that allowed anyone to use the rest rooms and changing rooms of the gender with which he or she identifies.  Indeed, HB 2 specifically provides that people may only use public rest rooms assigned to their biological sex, defined as “the physical condition of being male or female, which is stated on a person’s birth certificate.”

So what does this mean for those transitioning to the opposite gender in North Carolina?  They can be arrested for using a public rest room reserved for the gender with which they identify.  Even those who have fully transitioned risk arrest unless they have had their birth certificates changed.

I am proud to say that I haven’t darkened North Carolina’s door in more than 20 years.  I hope I never do so again.  I find HB 2 to be full of hate, blatantly discriminatory and, most of all, devoid of common sense.  The yahoos in North Carolina’s state government think just the opposite, as is evidenced by Gov. Pat McCrory’s tweet to the effect that he had to stop Charlotte’s ordinance because it “defied common sense.”

I’m pretty sure that I’d be thrown in the slammer if ever I visited North Carolina.  As a man who, thanks to an unfortunate genetic condition, has breasts, I fully expect a fellow user of the men’s room to run out screaming and call the cops to arrest me for daring to use the “wrong” rest room.  I guess I’d have to walk around carrying my birth certificate as proof of my gender.  Of course, I could just drop my pants, but even that wouldn’t satisfy the requirements of the law.

A note to the sane Democrats in the North Carolina Senate:  We appreciate your good intentions, but it really did not do anyone a bit of good to walk out in protest and allow Republican bigots to unanimously approve this bill.  Yes, we know you would have lost anyway, but at least we’d have your “nay” votes on record.

In defending the law, North Carolina House Speaker Tim Moore referred to the need to protect women from sexual predators who would show up in the women’s rest room if Charlotte and likeminded cities were permitted to enact equal access rest room ordinances.  After all, we know that all sexual predators are men and that they will uniformly take the opportunity to claim that they are transitioning from male to female and identify as women for the sole purpose of stalking women in various states of undress.  I suppose this is borne out by former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee’s comments last year about his wishes that, back in high school, he could have claimed to identify as a woman so that he could shower in the girls’ locker room.  Oh, well, boys will be boys, right?  After all, as comedian Jeff Foxworthy astutely pointed out, the only things we men want to do is “drink a beer and see something naked.”

This patronizing inclination to protect women who are obviously defenseless (even in a gun-loving southern state) is a bit of gender objectification that reminds me of pre-Loving v. Virginia anti-miscegenation laws designed to protect “the flower of [white] Southern womanhood” from being sullied by black men.  I fail to see the difference in gravity between discrimination on the basis of race and discrimination on the basis of gender.

It’s all about fear, of course.  Hate of every stripe always is.  Lack of understanding, fear of the unknown, antipathy to anyone or anything different than we are.

Hopefully, the American Civil Liberties Union, which has been quick to boo North Carolina’s deplorable shenanigans, will see to it that the federal courts find HB 2 unconstitutional.  While the lawsuit is making its way up to the U.S. Supreme Court, however, any Tar Heel State obstetrician who takes seriously the Hippocratic Oath to “first, do no harm” should commit to refusing to fill out the gender portion of any birth certificate.

That’ll royally screw up the state’s vital statistics.

North Carolina deserves nothing less.

 

That Homeless Guy in Your Living Room

So Homeless Guy #1 is finally out of jail.  For how long, I have no idea.

I gleaned a fairly good idea that his release was in the offing when I phoned the court last week to find out whether his case was on the docket for his scheduled trial.  No, the clerk told me, the judge had granted a motion to continue the trial due to the unavailability of witnesses.  I then asked whether the court had heard the motion in limine that had appeared on the calendar the day before.  The clerk didn’t know, but informed me that #1 had a whole string of motions set for hearing that afternoon, one of which was a motion for ankle bracelet monitoring.

That told me he was coming home.  But to what?  How do you parole a defendant to house arrest when he has no house to go to?

In this case, I suppose the court either didn’t know or didn’t care, as #1 had provided his mother’s address as his own.  He forgot to mention that his mother won’t let him in the house.  Oops.

Well, you know what?  I wouldn’t mention that fact either if I knew it might stand between me and (relative) freedom after being locked up in the pokey for three months straight.  Sleeping under the stars has to be a whole lot better than sleeping in a jail cell.

Homeless Guy #1 used to pitch a tent on the grass near the back edge of his mother’s property.  He had a sleeping bag, a Coleman stove and all sorts of stuff.  I have no idea what happened to his worldly chattels during his recent period of incarceration.

Given the circumstances, my hope was that perhaps his mother would give him a second (or 97th) chance and allow him under her roof.  I hear that a small pile of blankets has been seen out on the rear section of his mother’s lawn.  So much for that idea.

My guess is that house arrest doesn’t mean he actually has to stay in the house, just that he’ll be on the property.  Then again, it must not even mean that, as #1 has been seen wandering about the area.

A few days ago, as my wife and I prepared to head out the door at 6:45 in the morning, Pastor Mom got out of bed and started talking about how she should handle the situation.  The church is located just the other side of the fence from the verdant spot where #1 makes his bed in the great outdoors.  We knew he’d be showing up at the door of the parsonage.  And then what?

Pastor Mom told us that she had been praying about this and that what came to her was “innocent until proven guilty.”  I rankled at the very thought.  The man has been charged with a violent sex crime!  Yes, I believe in the American justice system, but I also see its imperfections.  Homeless Guy #1 is out on the street not because he’s innocent (although he may be), but due to the serendipitous intersection of a successfully argued motion and the jail overcrowding situation that we are currently experiencing here in California.

Sure, I like to think that he didn’t do it.  Homeless, mentally challenged people are easy targets for everyone, those who would like to take advantage of them as well as those who are charged with protecting them.  But what if he actually did commit this crime?

It’s possible that #1 will ultimately be acquitted due to lack of evidence, particularly if the district attorney fails to bring his witness back here from out of state.  My support of our justice system is not because I have confidence in its ability to distinguish guilt from innocence, but because it’s the best we’ve got.  I’ve yet to read about any superior system of justice.  The truth in this case is known only by God and the parties involved.  And I’m not so sure about the parties involved, considering that both of them have severe mental challenges.  I am not convinced that even they fully understand what did or did not happen.  After all, the allegations were made by a third party, not by the alleged victim.  I believe it is entirely possible that #1 may be convicted of a crime he did not commit or acquitted of a crime he did.

One thing we decided for sure is that #1 will not be permitted to enter our residence when our little grandniece is present.  That’s a risk we are not prepared to take.  Pastor Mom’s concern was about what we will do when he shows up at the door asking for food, coffee, water or ministry.

To me, it’s not about “innocent until proven guilty.”  We will never know what really happened.  In my humble opinion, however, it doesn’t matter.  When a homeless person is hungry, lonely or in need of spiritual guidance, I believe it is our duty to provide for his needs regardless of the sins of his past, present or future.  I’m pretty sure Pastor Mom would agree.

On Friday evening, I arrived home from work exhausted from the week, and walked through the door dragging my lunch bag behind me by its handle.  Lo and behold, there was Homeless Guy #1, relaxing in our living room.  He greeted me immediately and asked how my new job is going.  “Tiring,” I replied, “very tiring.”

As I headed into the kitchen to unpack the remains of my lunch, it occurred to me that #1’s misfortune could happen to any of us.  You never know what you could end up involved with.  Anyone can make a stupid mistake and end up in jail.  Anyone can find himself or herself in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Anyone can make a series of bad decisions or suffer a run of bad luck and end up homeless.  There, but for the grace of God, go I.

That homeless guy in your living room could be me.