Monday, July 17, 2006

Jury

“I just got out”. That was a common response for me last week when I met up with people I know. Most of them knew that I had been called for jury duty, and the item of interest in my life, for a week anyway, was how long would I last before I got kicked off. I had no doubt that I would be kicked off, the only question was when. It’s not anything like how I imagined it would be, the jury selection process I mean. Being kicked off was everything that I have ever imagined and also experienced with rejection.
I was certain that I really wanted nothing to do with jury duty at this point in my life. And by the way, it is a duty, or so I was told repeatedly throughout the process. I was thanked repeatedly from the court and the attorneys for taking part in this process and giving time out of my life, almost like I had volunteered for this. I was coerced. Actually I was threatened. My summons told me that to ignore this “duty” would be a crime carrying with it a fine and everything. Believe me, I considered testing this. On the other side of the experience I can’t help to imagine that if I were ever caught and prosecuted for “jury avoidance” that I would never be convicted by a jury of my peers. They, after going through the process, would certainly have been sympathetic towards me. It’s not anything like “Law and Order” or CSI. It’s not like “Runaway Jury” either.
It is more like “Ishtar”. It’s hours of meaninglessness and waiting for an end. I realize that the justice system was rolling along somewhere in a parallel universe while I waited in purgatory, but on the juror end time stood still.
I was told by the judge that this was serious business. Because of my background and history I had a personal interview with the judge and the attorneys. I was informed that I could speak to no one about any aspect of the case, being a criminal case, but that at the conclusion I could say anything I wanted, even to the media. This is as close to the media as I wish to come. It was a great experience for observation though. I kind of think that somewhere behind two way mirrors there are undergraduate Psych 101 students taking notes regarding human behavior during maddening circumstances. The jury selection process basically divides people up into two distinct groups of people. There are those who read and become islands unto themselves for hours at a time. It was interesting to watch as people, almost in a paranoid sense, would ignore the reality that they were surrounded by dozens of their same species in a nondescript room filled with out of date magazines and readers digest versions of the classics. Everyone staring straight ahead or at the floor or into anything that was moving slow enough to read. Then that brings me to group two. I think that these were the people who couldn’t read. At least I imagined that they couldn’t read because they insisted on talking to whoever was around them about whatever seemed to wash through their brain. I scoped these people out early and tried to avoid them for the duration. My conscience told me that they might need Jesus too. My sanity took over and secretly feared that if I talked with them that they might find Him at my church. We were a community for four days. Not a willing community mind you, but a community all the same, all waiting for our number to be called. If your number was called you might get dismissed or called to a panel. Either way it meant that you were not forgotten. My number was called. I was juror 37. Walking to the jury room and then into the courtroom, in the presence of bailiffs, attorneys, and a judge, I couldn’t help but wonder why it was that I felt guilty. The judge couldn’t have been nicer or more professional. I trusted him immediately. He seemed to be the epitome of fair. The prosecuting attorney was polite, professional looking and engaging. The defense attorney was a bit more aloof. I could tell that engaging was a chore for him, probably because of a career dealing with criminals. The defendant was present, but as they questioned me I was feeling that I was on trial. I felt sure that they were going to kick me off early. It wore on for 2 more days though and I was still there. I was feeling important. They like me I imagined. I was significant in this pool of humanity. It was like the ring, I both loved and hated the idea of being on a jury. I had so much other real work to accomplish, but I was important here.
It was interesting as we got into the phase where the attorneys were able to make their final cuts. They didn’t even have to tell why they were cutting someone loose. I watched as jurors were dismissed. Some of them seemed confused when their number was called. They seemed, even though they were instructed not to, to want to say something in their defense. Just leave! I thought to myself that they ought to feel relief, they were free to go. They could join the rest of the world where magazines were current and they didn’;t feel compelled to ignore everyone around them. “Juror number 37, your dismissed with the court’s appreciation”. It came unexpected. I didn’t see it coming. I was sitting in the box, the official box. I was already getting comfortable in my chair. It swiveled. Now I know where they got that idea that they should say something. My instant response was “What?, what’s wrong with me, I could make a good juror, maybe even a great one.” They could make a movie of my case. I loved and hated the jury process. This tug of war continued as I exited, back through the metal detectors, out the door into the sunshine that I had looked longingly at for the past four days from the windows upstairs. Even as the car started and I drove back towards the interstate, I felt rejected, just another chewed up and spit out by the system. But, looking back, at least I was free, which was more than I could say for the defendant.

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