Saturday, October 10, 2009

Jury Duty - a Recap

Running on little sleep isn't the best way to start a drive, nor is it the best way to approach the idea of sitting in court all day. Like any event, however, the prospect of jury duty had my mind racing Thursday night. What would it be like? Would I see anybody there I knew? Would I know the defendent or the victim or the witnesses? What would happen if I thought one way and the rest of the jurors thought another? And just what does one wear to jury duty in a rural community?

What can I say, once my mind latches onto something, it's damn the torpedos and full steam ahead.

Anyway, I threw on some clothes, climbed into the car and headed out. After getting some much needed fuel (gas for the car and coffee for me), I hit the open road. Other than having to drive into the sun, it was a nice trip. No real jerksticks on the highway, and thankfully, no snow. (Last night we got snow, but that's best left to another post.)

I arrived at the courthouse with about ten minutes to spare. I thought I got there early. Early enough to at least get a parking space, that is, but after driving around the lot with no luck, I parked up the street and around the corner. Good thing I decided to wear sneakers and not my high-heel boots. I wasn't chic, but I was comfortable.

After locating where I was supposed to be (What is it with people not giving clear instructions?), I got into line with the rest of the jurors for the trip through the metal detectors. No big deal unless you happen to be standing next to a guy who makes a joke about all the guns he had to leave in his pick-up. You should've seen the look on the officer's face.

"I don't know this guy," I said, with a half-smile on my face. (Okay, yes, I did know him, but if it's a choice between denying my acquaintance and getting frisked, I'm disavowing all knowledge.)

I made it through the metal detector without further incident, only to have them take away my coffee. How's a gal supposed to sit through jury duty without a hot cup of French Vanilla cappucino?? And it was at the perfect sipping temperature, too. I really think that they should've warned us not to bring beverages. The notice said no cell phones and no pocket knives, so why not say 'no beverages', too? I wasn't the only one who lost out, but I should take comfort in the fact that my coffee had company on the lonely table where we were forced to say goodbye.

By the time I got into the courtroom, it was packed. Lucky for me the people of this community seem to have an aversion to the front row - like it was a classroom and sitting in front would get them picked sooner. Feh. I slide onto my own personal bench and commenced reading before the big show began. I made it through the acknowledgements before three large farmers pushed past me and lowered their bulk onto the seat. (And the wood wasn't the only thing groaning in protest, let me tell you. I tried to make myself thinner, but positive thoughts and exhaling only get a gal so far.)

With the jurors uncomfortably ensconced in our judiciary pews, a man looking like Santa Claus after a hard night of drinking took center stage - right in front of me. He began explaining the video we would have to watch about the process, and I was overcome by a wave of halitosis the likes of which would curl the hair on a skunk's butt. I started chewing gum just to convince my nose it wasn's so bad.

So here I am, squeezed between Clem the farmer and a hard oak bench, with Pepe the Baliff hitting every breathy consonant he can manage. Thank goodness the video started before I lost consciousness. Most of what was given in the video could've been gleaned by watching one episode of Law & Order, but I did learn a couple things. 1) If during the jury selection process, you're asked a question you don't feel comfortable answering in public, you can ask to answer it in private. 2) If you have a question for any of the witnesses, you can write it on a piece of paper and hand it in to the judge, who will ask the question for you.

Half an hour later, and the video is over. (And they didn't even hand out popcorn.) At this point I'm starting to be glad they took my coffee away because I have to use the bathroom, and I don't know when they're going to give jurors a potty break. The baliff tells us to relax for a few minutes while the officers of the court finish preparing. Fine by me. I break out the book - hoping in the back of my head that after the defense attorney sees the title, he'll veto me for the trial. (I really didn't think about what a book called Make Her Pay would mean when I took it. It was just next up in my TBR pile.)

Two paragraphs later, the judge arrives and the sheepish look on her face was enough to tell me something wasn't quite right. Then the lawyers arrive, and they all look embarassed. The only person up there who looked at all happy was this skinny guy in a denim shirt and blue jeans. Once the judge proceeds to tell us we're being dismissed, and the prosecutor explains that the victim decided not to testify - locked herself in her house, in fact - I realize why the jeans guy is so smug. He's the defendant.

Objectivity went right out the window after that. Thank goodness I didn't actually have to decide the fate of that guy. His whole attitude seemed to exude 'Neener, neener, neener... you can't catch me'.

Of course, my take on the situation could be wrong, but on the drive home, I concocted the whole scenario of a date rape wherein the woman is too ashamed to testify against her rapist, and the asshole gets away with it. Wouldn't be the first time something like that has happened. On the other hand, he could've looked smug because he was in the right all along and his accuser couldn't face up to the lies she told. After looking at his attitude, though, I'm more inclined to think the former is true.

The best thing about the whole experience was I got some first hand knowledge of what the process is like, and I got some good character studies that may be useful in future stories. The baliff could definitely find his way into a book, and the defendent may work as part of an amalgam to give depth to a villain. Even the prosecutor - who couldn't have been older than 25 - would make a great secondary somewhere along the way.

With names and faces changed to protect the innocent and the not-so-innocent, of course.