David Beck-Brown - Writer - 3-Strikes is a Trick

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David Beck-Brown

  Political Cartoon by David Beck-Brown
(Political Cartoon by David Beck-Brown)

3-Strikes is a Trick

By David Beck-Brown

A New PATH (Parents for Addiction Treatment and Healing) Newsletter
October, 2010

The hat-trick is an illusion where a magician uses sleight-of-hand misdirection to pull an item, out of an “empty” hat. Imagine my surprise when I showed up for jury duty and saw the props for the hat-trick displayed behind the courtroom bench. I thought the judge was attempting to put potential jurors at ease by setting the stage for levity. Now I’m thinking he had a different agenda up his long, black sleeve.

To the dismay of some of my friends, I am a conservative and a registered Republican. As a contemporary artist, a liberal image can be an illusion posing an anomaly. Let’s just say I’m familiar with the term “Rhino-Republican.”

Working in law enforcement has been a family tradition. My mother worked for a past San Diego District Attorney, before working for a State judge. My father (a Chief Engineer with the telephone company) worked on highly confidential communications with the FBI. There are many more examples.

The Honorable Judge Earl B. Gilliam stayed at one of my family’s homes while vacationing in the Netherlands. He was the first African-American Municipal, Superior and Federal District Judge in San Diego County. A bronze ball relief of him is permanently displayed in the Hall of Justice. I have worked with the Federal Witness Protection Program and within the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

People involved in law enforcement tend to be a loyal bunch. We are civic minded and show-up for jury duty.

Some experts believe 85% of cases litigated are won or lost in the jury selection phase. Once the jury is chosen it’s impaneled. When a jury is in the process of being impaneled, both sides of the court are allowed to ask voir dire questions to interview jury candidates.

After my jury pool completed a written questionnaire, we sat awaiting the next steps in the process. I listed my occupation as “artist” and have served on several juries. Before beginning the voir dire process, the judge informed us, “This is a burglary trial.” During this time the defendant and his parents were in the courtroom. Caldean, their son appeared to be not much older than 21. The judge stated, “This is not a murder case.” For some reason, this remark evoked smiles and nervous laughter from everyone, including the defendant.

When it was my turn to face the judge, the defendant’s parents had already left the building. With 11 jurors in the box, I was the final (12th) person to be questioned. Toward the end of my Q & A session, I raised my hand and told the judge, “I can’t serve without knowing the defendant’s priors.” The judge became visibly annoyed. I continued, “I can’t serve if this is a 3-Strikes trial. I work for Corrections and I’ve seen too many people sentenced to 25-Life for minor infractions.” The judge turned beet red and glared at me. The bailiff stood up. Tense silence was broken when the judge yelled, “Get out of my courtroom!” The last thing I saw on my way out of his courtroom was the prop for his rabbit-in-the-hat-trick. The judge’s attempt to create a light & magical atmosphere had suddenly become dissonant by the chord of truth.

Magicians hate it when people tell how a trick is done. Besides, I can’t be stuffed into a top hat. Je préfère un béret.

The truth is, in California, jurors are forbidden to know whether or not they are serving a 3-Strikes trial. My concern with this policy is that even a minor felony can land a defendant 25-Life in prison. I can’t bear seeing another kid sentenced to Life. It was sold to us voters as applying to vicious and heinous crimes. We were twice deceived. As long as 3-Srikes remains in its present form, I can’t serve on a California jury.

Anyone reading my articles for A New PATH is aware that at age 60, and having no prior criminal record, I was falsely arrested in June 2009 and faced two “serious & violent strikes” (2-Strikes). My arrest was based on lies reported to the authorities by an unidentified assailant.

His knowledge of the law indicates to me that he’s a con, a narc, a protected city employee, or an undercover cop working the Little Italy District, where the alleged “crime” took place. He knew too much to have set me up so smoothly as an “Estes Robbery.” The resulting “Hot Stop” became a multi-jurisdictional circus with dozens of guns pointed at me and a “kill shot” aimed at my car passenger, Sharon.

Sharon is a disabled elementary school teacher of the deaf and the Secretary of A New PATH. I too was disabled at the time with a broken leg, a torn leg ligament and chronic pain from a recent arm surgery. Sharon was handcuffed behind her back, against the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and was told she was being “detained.” I was similarly restrained and arrested. No charges were filed against either of us. But, the damages to my car (by the thug), an outlandish bail fee at $130,000. Attorney fees have cost me nearly $20,000 as well as a night in jail sleeping on a cold concrete floor.

The good arising from this police incident that’s it galvanized my respect for the Bill of Rights and to be proactive when law enforcement over-steps its bounds.

It’s been fourteen (14) months since my false arrest. Our Category I complaint with the Citizen’s Review Board (CRB) is currently held up in Internal Affairs. We relive the incident 24-7 and will until closure is obtained by holding the officers involved accountable. It takes one bullet to kill a man. I was taught not to aim a gun unless I intend to use it. I know without a shadow of a doubt that if one cop had fired his gun, the rest would have followed suit. Our case has been submitted before the County Law Enforcement Review Board (CLERB) as well, but we have yet to hear a response. All the players in the complaint process have been informed, “We are not going away.” Facing a multi-strike arrest was real.

It can happen to you.
Any law enforcement official willing to enter the bully pulpit to amend 3-Strikes has my respect. I have witnessed the emotional trials that A New PATH leaders, Gretchen Burns Bergman and Caroline Stewart, have endured from the incarceration of their children for “non-violent” infractions. Politicians and law enforcement officials have expressed a willingness to amend 3-Strikes.

They don’t have to resort to illusions to impress their constituents. When the magician teaches an apprentice his tricks of the trade, he uses three terms: practice, performance and patter. Some politicians, as Sheriff Bill Gore, have mastered the first two. I hope he chooses to focus on the third (3rd) by putting action behind his patter regarding amending 3-Strikes. Only then can I consider throwing my hat back into the jury pool.

Every citizen deserves the right to a speedy and impartial trial by peers. It is every citizen’s duty to uphold the 6th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

  • David Beck-Brown is a Community Ambassador for A New PATH.
  • He has worked with inmates from 1977-2009 at state, county and federal lock-ups, including the federal Witness Protection Program.
  • His commentaries have appeared in the LA Times, the San Diego Union-Tribune, the Daily California and several other newspapers and magazines in the USA and the EU.