Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Jury Duty

Yes, it's that time again. I get called every three years like clockwork.

After a few hours of tossing and turning last night, worrying that I'd oversleep and be late for the 8 am orientation, I got up at 2:30 because I thought it was 6:30. I've been only semi-awake ever since.

Whenever I was lucid during the orientation video, I thought it was well done, but I couldn't agree with the former jurors they interviewed, who all said jury duty was fascinating, fulfilling, fun, and made them proud to be American. I'm proud of our system overall, certainly, but I dread being on a jury.

About nine years ago, I sat for a case where we were all convinced that the accused was guilty of raping a young teen but we couldn't convict him because we lacked sufficient evidence. Witnesses didn't show up, so the DA couldn't do his job, and the victim was vague and inarticulate on the stand. You can't convict someone on the basis of twelve finely tuned gut instincts and intuitions, and that's how it should be. But it felt rotten to let him off, so we spent a few days trying and failing to find a way around it. Afterward, we found out from the DA that the key witness, who never appeared — the accused's step-daughter — had also accused him of rape. I still feel bad about that.

Today I was impaneled. It's a civil case that will go on for about a week. I hope I won't be the foreman, which fell to me last time. In that case, one woman accused another of assault and battery over a boyfriend. I was given the evidence to pass around the jury table: a hank of bloody hair in a ziplock bag. We found the defendant guilty and it didn't take us long; we were creeped out by that bag in front of us.

I find judges interesting; they are a rare breed, often extraordinary thinkers and observers. The judge in the rape case had no patience with us because he knew we couldn't convict and wanted us to give up. But the judge in the assault case was an elderly doppelgänger for lawyer John Cage, "The Biscuit," from Ally McBeal. Remember how he'd whistle through his teeth and walk around the office barefoot as he prepared his closing statements? This guy didn't do any of that, but he had the same mild, intent expression in the same boyish eyes. And he'd get up during testimony, walk around to the back of his chair, and park his chin on the back, so that all we could see was his little, disembodied head. He was eccentrically Biscuit-like in his remarks, too. After the verdict, he spoke with each of us to thank us for our service and discuss the case. He took our jury service more seriously than even we did, and that was gratifying.

That's all I have to say about being a juror until this case is finished. I need to go to bed soon so I can toss and turn and worry about being late tomorrow.

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