Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Hello, my name is Juror #0034

My exciting adventures in life continued today as yours truly was summoned for jury duty. For those of you scoring at home, the past few days have seen me venture to Milwaukee, Newark past 10pm, and even San Fran for 24hrs.

This was my first time in jury duty and the experience was odd, funny, painful, and unexpectedly enlightening at the same time. Sorta like 6th grade.

A couple of quick takeaways before my thoughtful and emotionally moving conclusion at the end

  • I always used to think that peers, as previously defined by my school and work included other kids in AP classes, those of the same year, or even those from Southern California. Now as I look at the masses that would constitute a trail by my peers (if I should ever go to court) it would include all people between the ages of 18-75, many of whom display a deep love for wearing plaid, one individual who has a minor issue with touretes, and a man with a skull and crossbones bandanna (perfectly good juror attire if you ask me)
  • The juror intro included a speech by Hispanic woman followed by a 20minute video on the role of a juror in the court system. For anyone who ever missed those old science or social studies videos from high school, this is your chance to get back in touch with your roots. The video shown to my jury pool of 200 people had it all: strange characters, weird clothing (mostly fashion from the early 80s) , overly dramatic acting during the fake courtroom scene, and terrible background music. The last time I had seen something so spectacular was when I saw the famed drivers ed video, "Blood on Asphalt." (where the promise of seeing a gory crash scene is thwarted by the reality that you really just see red ink on asphalt at the 30minute vignette's climax)
  • The best quote from the videos was "Unlike TV dramas, the action in a court room is not as exciting!"

The case I was selected on for the first day was a doozy. I was sorta expecting typical cases revolving around traffic incidents, maybe disruptive neighbors, or a dramatic divorce proceedings…you know typical stuff you see on Judge Judy or The People's Court.

Not quite.

The judge immediately let the jury pool know that it has the chance of going a week: the case was surrounding a guy who was accused of selling heroin on a schoolyard. Shits. What's next, are we gonna tackle some federal wiretapping issues? Maybe we would also examine Turkish atrocities to Armenians during World War I.

As the jury pool thinned out, each one of us was called to individually get interviewed in front of the judge, the other 50 jurors, and the (accused) heroin dealer. While half the questions were related to thing issues of whether we were predisposed to be biased about certain issues, the other half were things about our lives. The judge was literally asking each person what they liked to do for fun, favorite TV shows, where your hometown is. Thus a very weird thing started happening: as much as I wanted to get out of this week-long case I wanted to share all these funny jokes that were developing in my head. I could see it now:

Judge: What do you like to do for fun?
Me: You mean besides jury duty?
Audience: bursts into laughter
It was going to be awesome. As each juror was getting interviewed the anticipation was building. This was going to be the greatest moment in the history of jurisprudence since Brown vs. The Board of Education (1954). After 40 grueling minutes they finally got to me. The lights dimmed. The crowd was ready. My moment had come...and yet...

...Before I had a moment to say any of my one-liners the judge dismissed me as a potential juror based on my response that I was biased against a defendant who decides not to take the stand. My moment was gone. The sun had set. The funny thing is I sorta knew there could be a few answers which would make me seem biased as a juror and I was debating on changing them just to get to the fun-answer-round. The grand prize of course: a week long heroin trial.

Anyhoo all jokey joke aside, the thing which really struck me was how much people were giving up by being in court. At the beginning of the jury selection process you're given the opportunity to mention any issues with the scheduling of the trial with your life. Sure I needed to be at work, but there were people who were concerned about missing work on their second jobs or people who couldn't afford a babysitter for more than two days.

It made me feel pretty pathetic for wanting to simply say "Um, I just have to be back at work for an important meeting." So I just sat on my hands for that part. And with that I've gotta say the whole experience was good to me. On my second day today when the woman in the jury room (the pool of 200 people) announced that everyone could go home early the crowd bursted into cheers. I mean these are like grown adults yelling and hollering like kids let off for summer break.

Who says the law can't be fun?

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