Prelutsky for the prosecution

Burt Prelutsky
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Posted: Aug 25, 2006 1:24 PM
I suppose I should be relieved. After all, this past week I was on call every day to perform jury duty, and the call never came. But, oddly enough, I’m not relieved. Instead, I’m disgruntled. It was an entire week during which I could hardly make a lunch date. The way it works, starting on Sunday night, you phone a 1-800 number, punch in a nine-digit I.D. number, and a recorded voice lets you know whether or not you have to show up at the courthouse the following morning.

Now I’ll be the first to acknowledge that the present system is a major improvement over the way it used to be, when you had to actually show up and sit around a huge, noisy room most of the day, waiting to find out if you were going to be impaneled.

I’ll also acknowledge that I’m not the busiest guy in the world. It’s not as if I make all that many plans, and those I do make, by and large, I can make after that 6 p.m. call. In that case, you well might wonder, why do I care that next year I’ll have to go through this whole rigmarole all over again? Would I so dread having to do my civic duty? Not at all. In fact, I think I’d find it an interesting experience. At least so long as they didn’t make me drive all the way downtown.

The problem is that not in a million years would I ever wind up on a jury. No defense attorney in his right mind would ever let me slip by. For one thing, I wrote for several TV crime shows, ranging from Dragnet and McMillan and Wife to Diagnosis Murder, and I never had any qualms about doling out justice to the bad guys. In fact, on one memorable occasion, I found myself at loggerheads with Dragnet’s producer- director, Jack Webb. In an episode I wrote involving a young women who had abandoned her newborn baby, Webb argued for an ending in which the infant would be placed in her arms and the woman would undergo a transformation from monster to madonna in five tearjerky seconds. “Jack,” I still recall saying, “she dumped her baby in a dumpster. I’m not letting her walk. She’s going to do time!” You’d have thought I was talking about an actual person. In any case, Webb backed down, and we gave her two-to-five.

Even now, when my own TV writing career is over, the only things I ever watch on the tube, aside from baseball games and old movies, are “Monk,” re-runs of “Columbo,” and, occasionally, one of the shows making up the “Law and Order” franchise. As you may have noticed, these are all series in which nogootniks, no matter how rich and clever they are or how wily and underhanded their defense attorneys, get their just deserts just before the final commercial.

As if that weren’t bad enough, I once wrote an article in which I confessed that one of the few things ever written by Alan Dershowitz that I accepted as gospel was his contention that over 90% of all criminal defendants are guilty as charged.

And, finally, at the point during voir dire when I’d be asked if I could vote for acquittal if, in spite of a preponderance of evidence, the defense could show that the police had committed a technical error in making the arrest, I’d have to chuckle at the very notion and admit that I couldn’t imagine ever doing anything that stupid.

So far as I’m concerned, if the cops make a simple human error, that in no way entitles the criminal to walk free. If, on the other hand, the cops make an intentional error, I would put the cops on trial, but I’d still be unable to grasp the logic of letting the felon scoot. I mean, short of planting evidence, employing the third degree in order to obtain a confession, or committing perjury, I fail to see how the behavior of the cops should ever affect the outcome of a criminal trial.

As you can plainly see, I simply am not cut out to be a juror. On the other hand, I think I’d make a hell of a judge.