Two advocates for the legalization of drugs who have refused to report for jury service in the District were found in contempt of court yesterday and soon could be facing hefty fines.
David Borden and David A. Guard, leaders of an advocacy group that runs the Web site StoptheDrugWar.org, say they will not participate in a criminal justice system that makes drugs illegal. Yesterday they found out the consequences at a hearing called by Rufus G. King III, the chief judge of D.C. Superior Court.
Starting Monday, Borden, the group's executive director, and Guard, the associate director, will each have to pay $100 a day for every court day they refuse to report for jury duty. The ruling by King stunned the two men, who said they expected that they might be sent to jail for a few days and even fined -- but not indefinitely.
"We were taken by surprise," Borden said.
After the hearing, sitting in the courthouse cafeteria, Borden and Guard contemplated their next step.
"At this point, we don't know what will happen," Borden said.
They could ask the judge to reconsider the contempt finding; they could appeal his decision; or they could start paying the fine, which would be paid into the Crime Victims Compensation Fund. They also could report for jury duty, but they did not seem inclined to do that.
In recent years, D.C. Superior Court has redoubled efforts to make sure people heed jury summonses. It is a measure of the importance of those efforts that jurors who fail to show up ultimately end up before King, the court's top judge.
With one of the busiest dockets in the country, D.C. Superior Court needs lots of prospective jurors, and an average of 236 people a day, or more than 46,000 a year, report for service.
But with so many short-time residents, relative to other cities, D.C. presents unusual challenges in pulling in a pool of jurors large enough and diverse enough to conduct trials fairly and promptly.
Borden and Guard say that they understand the importance of jury service and that they respect people who participate. But they say the effects of the drug war -- namely the incarceration of hundreds of thousands of people on drug charges -- demand radical action.
"I saw this as a necessary act of civil disobedience," Borden said.
Called for jury service last year, the two men have been exchanging letters with the court and with King for several months, with the activists explaining their refusal to report and the court explaining its unwillingness to accept such an excuse.
Given their history of advocacy, neither Borden nor Guard would likely be picked to serve on a jury in a drug case. But they say the issue is broader and not simply a matter of whether they would be picked to serve. It is about spurring change in a system that has so far resisted it.
"At a certain point, merely advocating at the legislative level and educationally as I've done for 10 years is no longer enough," Borden said.