18 July 2014

Law and Order: My First Time On Jury Duty

A few weeks ago, I received my first summons for jury duty. Just like any other outstanding citizen of the United States, I prayed I wouldn't be chosen. Nevertheless, my number was called.

As instructed, I showed up to the courthouse early giving myself enough time to find parking and navigate security. I pulled into the suggested parking lot, found a space and paid my $6.00 "earlybird" fee. Much to my good fortune, the parking kiosk was jammed and out of paper. It sputtered at me, laughing at my civil misfortune. Rather than moving my car like the others, I decided I wasn't going to let those precious $6.00 go to waste. Instead, I stuck it to The Man. I scrounged up an old receipt from a late night pizza stop and wrote "Don't give me a ticket, I paid! Not my fault your machine is defective" and left it on my dash.  

I chucked my purse onto the rotating belt and proceeded through the metal detector that promptly began beeping as I walked through. The line built up behind me as I was given a series of pat-downs and directed through the detector an additional three times. Security somehow decided I wasn't much of a threat and finally let me enter the courthouse. Once inside, I was directed into a large room of forward facing chairs. Just like flying Southwest, I was able to choose my seat. (It's the little things in life that give me so much pleasure.) After surveying the crowd, I found a home next to two older women that seemed less amused by their fate than myself. I cozied up next to them and popped open my book, Where'd You Go Bernadette.

Thirty minutes later, screens dropped from the ceiling and the lights dimmed. An outdated movie about the judicial system played, explaining our role as "selfless" and "heroic" citizens. (Too bad the only reason we were all there was because we had to be, not because we chose to serve our system in the name of justice.) We were then given bland instructions from a short woman who reminded me of a saltine cracker. A series of numbers were to be called out with a corresponding court room number. If our number was not called at all, we were free to go. I crossed my fingers in hopes of the latter, while simultaneously repeating "4925" to myself. I have this weird fear that I'll somehow go brain dead and forget my name, birthdate or the number that's written on a piece of paper directly in front of me in high-stress situations like this. Just as I began the usual dialogue - "Mallory, your number is 4925...4925...4925...oh shit, what number am I?! oh yea... 4925...or is it 9452?!... Mallory, calm down, you are a smart girl your number is 4925.... or is it?! -Mrs. Saltine said, "number 4925... number 4925....is number 4925 present?!" Excited that I had remembered my number, I jumped out of my seat, screaming, "here!" Just like a soldier reporting for duty, I marched with a group of 25 people to courtroom C25.

Although I was upset about having been called onto the next round, I decided to make the best of my situation. You see, I love to people watch and there is no better place to do so than public venues like airports, amusement parks and court houses. People from every walk of life gather here, so I decided to sit back and enjoy the show. Just as I reached C25, a middle aged man burst out of a courtroom down the hall followed by a group of police officers. Kicking and screaming, he was forced to the ground as more police officers flocked the scene. Handcuffed and cussing, the man was escorted past us where his sad eyes met each of ours. A young British man opened the doors to C25 just in time to see the tail end of the drama. He looked at all of us and said, "welcome to jury duty" in a sarcastic tone. "Follow me this way..."

We were individually escorted into the court room based on our number, giving me a second wind of "brain dead anxiety." The first 15 people were seated directly in front of the judge. The rest of us were packed in the wooden pews next to them. The judge, a Brian Williams lookalike, introduced himself and gave us a brief overview of the case. I crossed my fingers for something juicy like a murder, drug bust or anything Law and Order SVU worthy. Instead, the case involved a plumbing company and a missing wad of cash....

The judge and lawyers began the questioning process, putting each of us on the spot. Questions were asked, answers were given and jurors were dismissed. Similar to musical chairs or Survivor, the ill-suited jurors were kicked off the island and replaced by the seat's successor. One thing lead to another, and I found myself sitting directly in front of the judge. I was asked to introduce myself and give any information that would make me unsuitable for this case. I wracked my brain for any life event that would give me an easy out, but I was stuck. The judge asked the lawyers if they had any further questions for the jury, and that was it. I was officially juror number five out of twelve on a criminal case.

The twelve of us were an odd group. Juror #1. An elderly man with horn-rimed glasses as large as he was tall. Juror #2. A Harrison Ford doppelgänger who opted to take notes on his disposable coffee cups each day. Juror #3. A tired southern belle with hair the color of watered down orange juice. Juror #4. A stunning 22 year old mother studying forensic science at a community college. Juror #5. Yours truly. Juror #6. A nearly albino college student with a literary mind. Juror #7. A quiet latino father of four. Juror #8. A young, rotund disciplinary officer with rings stabbed through her nose, eyebrow and lip. Juror #9. A health enthused, middle aged emergency pediatric doctor. Juror #10. A librarian type woman with thick hair, hushed voice and outdated slacks. Juror #11. A short man who made up for his height in leadership. Juror #12. A Chaco loving, granola chewing, environmental studies college graduate. As odd and different as we all may have been, we each showed up on time every morning and gave the case the respect it deserved. It was with those twelve people that my confidence in the average American was renewed.

Unlike the juicy Elizabeth Smart case I was hoping for, the trial we were placed on was about as bland as high school math. We were given receipts to analyze and contradictory statements to sort through. It was like watching a Rosanne marathon, entertainment based on the woes of the working class. Although I was disappointed by the case logistics, I learned some valuable lessons throughout those three days in court. One of the first questions we were asked after having entered C25 was how we would rate our judicial system on a scale from 1-10. We constantly read about racial and economic unjust alongside a never-ending list of flaws that can be found in any US courtroom. Every single one of us were hesitant to give anything above a 6.

After closing arguments and deliberation, we did not find the defendant guilty beyond reasonable doubt. After the verdict was given, the judge asked to meet the jury one final time in the conference room. He thanked each of us for our time and asked us to once again rate our judicial system on a scale from 1-10. Sitting in that room with my eleven fellow jurors, knowing we had reached a fair decision, I couldn't help but be reasonably proud of our system. Going around the room, each of us confidently gave a proud and honest an 8 or 9.

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