Thursday, July 2, 2009

Jury Duty: Wheels of Justice

I've been busy lately because I've been called to civic duty. Last week I told you that I had to be at jury duty early Monday morning. I was scheduled to be there at 8 in the morning, but I got to the courthouse at 7 because I wanted good parking; preferably under a shady tree. The trees were at the far end of the parking lot, but given the heatwave and drought we're experiencing, I wanted to come back to a cool car, not a hot one. Of course, this being the gov't, jury duty didn't really start til about 8:30 am. The wheels of justice turn slow.

After the swearing in by the judge, we were randomly chosen into panels. I was the third person to arrive at the courthouse out the 150 people who showed up. However, I was the fourth to the last person to be picked on a panel. I found myself wedge between two Rubenesque women--and given how old and grumpy they were, they were probably original models for Rubens.

The one on the left was reading a Bible, preaching to the man on the other side. I pretended to be engrossed in reading so she wouldn't talk to me about Jesus. The one on the right was talking out loud about her dogs, that she needed to be home because a dog was pregnant--as if somehow her absence would cause the dog to suddenly stop being pregnant. I really didn't want to be stuck on a jury with these people.

I was hoping that since I was among the last few chosen, I'd be sent home. Unfortunately, we were informed that with all the court cases pending, we'd all be needed. Then to make matters worse, after waiting around for hours, we were told that we were on call and had to come back at nine the next day. Sigh.

Before I went home, I stopped at the mobile lab in front of the courthouse and donated blood. Might as well do something nice. I got a T shirt, cookies and juice, candies and a coupon for a free burger.

The next morning, I showed up early again to find good parking; but all the tree spots were taken. Dammit! Our panel had to wait before going up to the courtroom. Once again, I was wedged between the two big women. Bible lady on the left started preaching to the man next to her again, but he got up and went to the restroom. Smart fellow. I pretended to be reading again. But it was hard to ignore Bible lady's side fat pressing into my left arm. I could feel the rolls of body fat under her armpit jiggle against me as she flipped through her Bible.

Meanwhile, Dog lady on the right was going on about her dogs again. She was loud and annoying. I could smell the stench of cigarettes under the heavy perfume she used. Dog lady was bragging that this was one of her many times being called to jury duty, and the last few times, she had been picked. She reasoned that she was going to be picked again. This got Bible lady's interest, and she, too, began to brag that she also got picked a lot. It annoyed the hell out of me how they raised their voices to talk, just so other people could hear them. I was so thankful when the bailiff showed up and took us up to the courtroom.

At the courtroom, the judge and lawyers started to question us, trying to find out who would best serve on the jury. The judge was an old fellow, who started lecturing us on the history of the US judicial system and its roots in the Magna Carta and the French Indian War, the Last of the Mohicans movie, and the court systems of France, Argentina, and the Norman invasion of 1066. It was quite the history lesson and commentary. It was interesting, but I was thinking, Um, what does all this have to do with the case?

When he finally got back to the case, the lawyers took over and started to question us. Now, it was hinted that the case involved alcohol. Of course, this set off some people who were against alcohol, including Bible lady and Dog lady. Then, a few of us were questioned individually, including me! They asked about my job and they thought it was interesting how I had filled out the jury summons.

The judge really liked my answer. On the question of RACE: I put down 'American'! I told them, "Hey, that's what I am, that's who we are. We should be proud of being Americans. And if we go outside our borders and visit other countries, they know us as Americans, not African-American, not Asian-American, nor Hispanic-American. We're just Americans, period."

We were excused, and I was so sure my over the top show of American pride would disqualify me. Jurors who express strong opinions usually don't get picked to serve on a case. Bible lady and Dog lady announced confidently how they were sure they were going to be picked. Bible lady even dared me to bet against her being picked. How strange, I thought, Bible lady is against drinking alcohol, but not against gambling.

And when we came back in, I almost laughed out loud when Dog lady and Bible lady were passed over! The look of disbelief on their faces was too funny! Unfortunately, it was me who got picked to serve! Dammit! I should've lied and said I was against alcohol! Now I had to come back to actually serve on a jury. The wheels of justice just ran me over!

I was not happy to serve on a jury, but I showed up early, ready for the trial. I thought about wearing a tie, but then I didn't want to be mistaken for a defendant. The case took all day. I was happy for our hour and a half lunch break. The arguments were very persuasive on both sides. The witness testimony was compelling, as was the video evidence.

When the closing arguments were over, we went inside the jury room and discussed whether we vote Guilty or Not Guilty. Of course, everyone else formed an opinion in ten minutes. Not me. I was the hold out! I made them fetch evidence and sat there for an hour while I pondered my decision, going over the evidence. I was not going to rush into judgment. This was a serious case, and I needed to be sure that I would vote honestly and fairly. The scales of justice were in my hands. My decision to wait caused the other jurors to rethink their positions, and we started arguing our different views, as well as acted out some of the testimony. It was exciting and intense. Everyone was forced to examine their reasoning and really look at the evidence.

Within two hours, we finally came to an agreement. Did I think the guy did it? Probably. But there wasn't enough evidence. The testimony was compelling, but the video showed something completely different than what the prosecution argued. There just wasn't enough evidence, and since I had reasonable doubt, I voted Not Guilty. After we gave the judge our answer on document, the judge read the verdict, then thanked us, and court was adjourned. The lawyers wanted to ask us some questions afterward, and they were both curious as to why we took so long and requested the evidence. We gave them feedback and then left for home. It was all ready after 6 pm.

It had been a long day, but I have to admit that I was glad that I was able to serve. I took part in the workings of gov't. I had done my part to uphold the law and ensure justice. It was the perfect way to remind myself that democracy works when the people make it work. And I can look forward to celebrating the 4th of July, the birthday of our nation, with great pride, secure in and proud of the knowledge that I have done my part to make our nation stronger and little bit better.


  1. I was given a notice to show up for jury duty, but once I did my services weren't needed. It was still an interesting experience, though, to be in the courtroom.

    Haven't given blood in awhile (I get very weak with or without a snack, and have been close to fainting a few times), but they never gave out T-shirts! Hmmph. ;)

  2. a perfect example of our democratic system, sugar. and an even better explanation for that most human of constructs: race xoxoxo (i think i'm in love with you!)

    have a fantastic 4th!

  3. Impressive, Mr Swings. I hope someone like you is on the jury if I ever get done.. it'll be something minor... like dyson abuse.

  4. It sounds like Twelve Angry Men.

    Or rather Eleven annoying people who don't grasp reasonable doubt and one man who temporarily teaches them, but it's not so catchy as a title.

  5. Tara, This was my third time being summoned, and the first time I got asked to serve--I guess the third time is the charm. I should've bought a lotto ticket that day!

    Would you believe that this is the first time in years that I've given blood? I used to give at least twice a year back on the East Coast, but then I moved here and never quite found the time or the place to donate. The T shirt was a plus :)

    Savannah, Ah, shucks, thank you! I do admit that while it seemed inconvenient to be summoned, I'm really glad that I did my part.

    I do like putting down 'American' for race; because really, that's who we are, Americans--out of many, we become one. But sometimes, I write down 'Human' :)

    Scarlet B, Even those accused of abusing household appliances deserve a fair and just trial. Innocent until proven guilty.

    No Justice! No Peace!

    Kapi, It did get tense a few times, but overall, we managed to work through it and put our biases aside to deliver justice!

    But the lawyers were kind of nervous and curious, wondering what was taking us so long and why we asked to see the evidence.