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Sunday, January 20, 2013

Losing My Jury Box Virginity

Well, I had this nice rant all fired up and ready to go.  I was angry, and I do some of my best writing when I'm angry.  The issue was the treatment of pregnant women, a perpetual issue with me, and something that happened in Alabama, and this court case, and--oh, never mind.  I'll just have to get all fired up about it next week again, because while all that was going on, I got picked for jury duty and everything just spiraled out of control.

I can't figure out what lawyer in his or her right mind would want me on a jury.  I'm jury box poison.  I'm mouthy, opinionated, sarcastic and I won't shut up.  On top of that, I'm a paralegal, and somehow anybody who knows anything about the law isn't anything you want on your jury.  Why, I'm not sure.  I guess they confuse ignorance (of the law) with malleability (they'll vote my way).  Well, this much I've learned from the other side of the bar: Juries may be ignorant but they are not stupid, and if you treat them like they are, the outcome may not be pretty.  Last time I was on jury duty, the guy next to me leaned over and whispered, "If the state loses this case, it'll be because their attorney pissed everyone off."  Kinda not the best way to start out.

Well, this one started out with me feeling safe because I was Juror No. 34.  I mean, they never get up to 34.  They start with No. 1 and skip the ones they don't want until they have twelve.  So they'll call, "1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 8..." like that.  First they ask lots of questions of everybody, such as, in court, please rate where you take the word of a police officer from a 1 (least trustworthy) to a 5 (most trustworthy). At one point they asked if we could think of any good reasons why a defendant might choose not to testify.  They called on me fourth.  All the good answers were taken by then, so I said, "He might have a girlfriend."  The attorney turned an interesting color and said, "A girlfriend?"  "Yeah," I went on, "and maybe while he was supposedly robbing the liquor store he was actually with his girlfriend, and if he testified on his own behalf he'd have to admit being with his girlfriend."  "And why would that be a problem?" the attorney wanted to know.  "Well, it'd be a serious problem to his other girlfriend."  "And then we have a murder trial," said a guy behind me.  Everyone, including the defendant, laughed at that one.  Except the defense attorney, who looked powerfully unhappy.  I thought for sure I didn't need to worry about getting on this jury, but when they started calling numbers it was "1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 8, 31, 34..." And I blinked several times.  I mean, this does not happen.

Fifteen minutes later I'm in for another shock.  The bailiff shows me to the jury lounge.  I sit down at the head of the table and upon realizing I was at the head of the table I quickly said, "Just because I'm sitting here does not mean I'm in charge."  A big black man, whose name was Vincent and whom I came to like very much, said, "Honey, we all know you goin' be in charge."  A few minutes later I was elected jury foreperson.  Talk about adding insult to injury.

So we listened to testimony and we reconvened in the jury lounge to vote.  It only took about half an hour.  For this guy to be guilty, the state of Texas had to prove three elements.  It proved the first two, no problem.  We got stuck on the third element.  For about 20 minutes we went around the table.  I said, "Here's my problem with this element," and laid it out.  "Somebody explain it to me."  Somebody did.  And after that I was ready to vote with everyone else.  Nobody was rude.  Nobody shouted.  It wasn't Twelve Angry Men or anything.  Everybody was respectful and we got the job done.

We found him guilty.  I wasn't happy about it.  I don't think anyone else was either, but the way the law was written, there wasn't a choice.  It was just a stupid charge.  It was like getting sent to prison for driving without insurance.  Fortunately the Judge came back after the trial and told us she was giving him probation.  He wasn't going to jail.  That was great.  Bad enough my name's on that verdict for all of recorded time.

So after that, I went home to get a bite to eat and maybe lie down a little while.  Instead I ended up falling asleep.  As in, I didn't go back to work. Until the next day, when I had 68 emails and 8 phone calls to return.

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