Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Juror Number Seventeen

I sit in the quiet room, filling out my questionnaire. It is a quiet room of despair, filled with rows and rows of comfy leather chairs, arranged like a movie theater, facing two flat-screen TVs.

There are a lot of us in the room, and we are all sitting the required one seat apart from each other to maintain a somewhat social comfort level. As comfortable as you can be while awaiting your doom.

The tension in the silent air is palpable. There is a faint ray of hope every once in a while, as the thought comes over you, “Maybe I'll be excused and get to leave soon and not have to come back.” Then the cold reality of the situation squashes that dream. No, you will be here all day, and you will have to come back forever. Someone will replace you at your job and you will never see your children again.

The jury notice said to arrive by 8:30 A.M. People are still showing up at 8:40. New rule: People showing up late should have to be on the jury. Anyone who was early should be dismissed. I will talk to the judge about the idea. He or she should probably go for it, since it makes good sense.

We have done nothing other than fill out our jury questionnaires in the foreboding silence. At 8:50, the woman who checked us in at the front desk comes in and tells us we have a ten-minute recess. Recess from what? We haven't done anything yet. So, you tell us to be here at 8:30 and then we don't start until 9:00? I have a bad feeling you do that to make sure all the late people get here. Further good evidence why my "late people are the jury" rule should immediately be put into effect.

A guy’s phone rings. He silences it without answering. No one will break the silence of despair.

There are signs up at the front of the room warning us to beware of jury duty scams. What the hell could a jury duty scam be? I must read the sign, but I will not get up from my seat of despair and break the utter stillness in the room.

Suddenly, a motivational video springs to life on the flat-screen TVs. A former juror tells us it will be great and we'll learn a lot. We learn that California is the greatest state in the union, but sometimes we have issues. Many times, we don't trust only one person to impart justice. That's where I come in.

There is some mention of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Former jurors tell us that we, as Americans, don't want professional jurors, and that regular people like us serve on juries every day. Another former juror tells us that common sense, an open mind, and impartiality is all it takes. She also tells us that when she was on a jury, she brought a book, so it wasn't bad when she had to wait around a lot. Also, the people in the courtroom will tell us what to do, so we don't already have to know anything about how the courts work. That’s a relief.

We learn that the attorneys may ask us about our personal thoughts, and it's nothing personal if a lawyer doesn't pick you, so we shouldn’t be sad. OK, I’ll try to remember that. We learn the shocking reality that if we’re picked for the jury we’re not allowed to investigate the crime ourselves, so we can't go to the scene and check it out on our own. Bummer.

In a moving reenactment of a real-life court scene, the witness on the stand reported seeing a blue flash at the moment of impact. We are left wondering what in the hell that was all about. A former juror then tells us that they thought the deliberation with twelve perfect strangers was the best part. They probably didn’t get out of the house much before the trial.

There is a crescendo moment in the video where “The decision of the jury has been made. Justice has been served!” Duh da duh daaaa.

We then learn that jury service is often a deep and moving experience, and many jurors stay in touch after the trial! One man felt good about himself afterward. He had brought common sense to the table, and he felt great about that.

The parting shot of the video is a fade away on the blindfolded, scale-holding “Lady Justice” statue. She is showing some boob. That seems unnecessary.

Surprisingly, no one applauds. The video ends, and we all just stay put, easily slipping back to our original quiet despair. No one seems more pumped to be on a jury now. I don't think the video worked like they wanted it to.

An older lady on the other side of the room begins wheezing to break the silence. A nice lady asks if she needs help. She seems to have asthma of some kind and she has forgotten to bring her inhaler. One lady goes out to tell the clerk, and another lady offers her an albuterol inhaler from her purse. She refuses it politely, claiming she uses "the round one" instead of that kind.

Now Asthma Lady gets to leave the room. I smell a rat. Dammit. Why didn't I think of that? Maybe I'll fake a heart attack. No. They’ll probably hook me up to a portable defibrillator. If I don’t die from that, they'll probably just make me come back next week. Never mind.

Some lady with a badge comes in and collects Asthma Lady's stuff for her. She's not coming back. I wish I had asthma.

I do a rough headcount while trying not to look like a stalker. I would say there are about 65 of us in this room. So, my rough odds of getting on a jury are 12/65ths. That's not that bad. I'd even go so far as to say those odds are good. A glimmer of hope cracks through the cloud of despair.

A lady comes in and makes us swear that we would do everything fairly, or something. I’m not really listening, but I say I do. I'm sure I do.

Then the lady reads a clipboard and calls me by name. So much for those good odds. I am the second to last of the first eighteen prospective jurors. Lucky me. I am now being referred to as “Juror Number Seventeen.” Cloud of despair: 1. Glimmer of hope: 0.

We exit the room and there is Asthma Lady sitting comfortably in a chair, not wheezing anymore. I hate her.

We enter the courtroom and I am now sitting in a row of chairs out in front of the regular jury box. I want to try to trip the defense attorney if I get a chance. I probably swore not to do stuff like that earlier, though, so I won't.

The judge explains to us that it is a privilege and an honor to serve on a jury, and if we try to get out of jury duty we are un-American and we're disrespecting all the veterans who have served and died for us. He may be right, but I still need to pick my kids up from school.

The judge really enjoys hearing himself talk. We have done five minutes of actual business in the last hour. My butt is falling asleep.

We meet the defendant. He smoked pot and drove his car, and he's pleading not guilty to DUI for some reason. Apparently his parents have more money than common sense. This little idiot is going down.

The judge goes through our questionnaires one by one. He chats with each of us as if he doesn’t have a care in the world. He loves being here. He is the only one.

The judge likes the fact that I'm an author. I don't think I can leverage that in any way to help me here. Oh, well. Maybe he'll buy some of my books.

We break for lunch. We need to be back in an hour and a half. That seems efficient.

After our relaxed lunch, the defense attorney asks us ridiculous questions about how we feel about marijuana. He wants to know if we think we can put aside our opinions and judge whether someone can have it in their system and not be "under the influence." He doesn’t like my answer to his idiotic question. He also has annoying shoes. I might try to trip him if he gets close enough.

Now he wants to know if the testimony of a police officer would carry more weight with us than the testimony of a civilian. He doesn’t like my answer again.

Potential Juror Number Four, Mr. Anderson behind me, won’t stop interrupting everyone to ask inane questions that pertain to absolutely nothing. He is also an idiot.

The defense attorney with the ridiculous shoes wants to know how I feel about “medical marijuana.” I tell him it’s one elephant shy of being a full-blown circus. He doesn’t like that answer either.

The prosecutor seems to like all my answers. Mr. Anderson interrupts him with stupid questions also.

Questions are over. The lawyers confer with the talkative judge. We have been here for six and a half hours. I hate Asthma Lady even more now.

The defense would like to ask the court to thank and excuse Potential Juror Number Eight. The former mayor of a small town near here leaves the courtroom with a smile on her face.

The prosecution would like to ask the court to thank and excuse Potential Juror Number Four. Goodbye, Mr. Anderson. I take it all back. You are obviously a genius.

The defense would like to ask the court to thank and excuse Potential Juror Number Seventeen. That’s a good call, Silly Shoes. I would’ve canned his little stoner ass.

In terms of sheer euphoric joy washing over you, being excused from jury duty and walking out of the courtroom is probably rivaled only by heroin. Or maybe really good weed... Hang on, I'll go back in and ask the defendant.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2015 Marc Schmatjen

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