Jury Duty

Oh no. There it is. The dreaded JURY SUMMONS in the mail. They had to put it in all caps, too. On the flip side, in case you don’t get it, it says “OFFICIAL BUSINESS.” Despite all this, many don’t appear at all. They told us this during the selection process. Their first question was, “Why did you come here today?” Um, because I was SUMMONED for OFFICIAL BUSINESS, that’s why. Honestly it never crossed my mind that I could simply blow the whole thing off. And I’m not one to always follow the rules.

This was the third time I have been SUMMONED for OFFICIAL BUSINESS, or SOB. The first time I was working for the ACLU. I knew, and my co-workers confirmed, that I would not be selected – too liberal. To make sure, I spelled out “American Civil Liberties Union” on the questionnaire. I should have capitalized it. I was the first one kicked off by a peremptory challenge. That means one side can dismiss you without giving a reason. “It’s not me, it’s you.”

The second time I was SOB I was to appear at a regional court. I was brought to a courtroom for questioning and even though they are not allowed to tell potential jurors the specific facts of a case, it’s not hard to figure out. The defendant was there and I immediately pegged him guilty. He just had that look about him. We sit down and the first question the defense attorney asks is, “Do you ever think it’s OK for a man to hit a woman?”

That’s an easy one, I think, eyeing the guilty party smugly. I knew you were an asshole.

The attorney says, “Let’s start with juror #1.” I sit back and relax, confident in her answer. After all, it’s not a hard question and only requires a one word answer.

“Well…Ya know…” She starts.

NO I DO NOT KNOW.

“I mean…” she pauses for effect. “Like, I guess if someone was coming at you with a sledgehammer.”

WHAT? Am I on candid camera? I look around the room. By now juror #1’s got the room “thinking.” And one by one each referenced the crazy. “Well, yeah, I guess maybe in that sledgehammer situation,” someone would say. This went on in some variation until it got to me, juror #16.

“No.” I said.

And just to make sure I was clearly understood by these idiots, I added,

“I do not think it is ever OK for a man to hit a woman.”

They thanked me for my service and sent me home (it’s not me, it’s you.) They selected juror #1 for the jury.

The third SOB’s a charm. But first I have to do time in the jury waiting area. I sit down, pull out my kindle, and that’s when I hear it. Smooth jazzKill me now. Do they want us to find everyone guilty? But that was just to get us started in a foul mood because it was only piped in for the first hour or so. After lunch they played theme songs to old tv shows. Dragnet, the Andy Griffith Show, Bonanza.

It might as well have been the theme song from the Twilight Zone.

I get called to a courtroom and this time I’m confident I’ve got it made; I know how to get myself off a jury. Just be “normal” and slightly rational. But what I didn’t know is that it’s also a simple numbers game. I was randomly picked as juror #11 so I sat in the jury box during voir dire. Voir dire is when they ask their leading questions and “inadvertently” tell you all about the case. This time none of the questions applied to me nor were they directed at me so I figured I was home free; they didn’t know a thing about me. But if they don’t remove you for cause or as one of their peremptory challenges, and your number is 1-12, YOU ARE ON THE DAMN JURY.

And so I found myself a juror for the first time. A civil case where the only issue we were deciding was how much money to award the adult children for the wrongful death of their mother. What a strange thing to deliberate with 11 strangers. We missed out on all the fun of deciding innocence or guilt and instead had to put a price tag on the death of a 78-year old woman. Specifically, how much care, companionship, guidance and love she would have given her children in her 10.5 years left of life. Yes, even how many years she would potentially live had been previously decided for us.

Because none of those four things (care, companionship, guidance and love) are quantifiable, the plaintiff’s’ attorney tried to play on our sympathies. They presented testimony ad nauseum as to how wonderful she was, how healthy, and how much care, companionship, guidance and love she had provided (and therefore would likely have continued to provide) her grown children. There was even a handy slide show to visually illustrate all the ways she was providing said things. In contrast the defense tried to show how “squared away” the children are anyway and how they didn’t really need their mother anymore.

The plaintiffs also tried to prove that the deceased experienced “emotional distress, fear and anxiety” in the 1.6 seconds before she was killed instantly by a semi. If they could prove that, then we were to also award damages to her estate.

Both lawyers were so annoying I found myself wishing I had a sledgehammer.

The jurors were allowed to take notes and I found myself writing things like “WE GOT IT” and “STOP TALKING.” Since we weren’t allowed our phones or a TV in the courtroom and I had finished picking at my fingernails, my thoughts wandered. I thought about something I had read years ago – alleged transcripts of testimony from court cases. One of them in particular:

Q: “Doctor, before you performed the autopsy, did you check for a pulse?”
A: “No.”
Q: “Did you check for blood pressure?”
A: “No.”
Q: “Did you check for breathing?”
A: “No.”
Q: “So, then it is possible that the patient was alive when you began the autopsy?”
A: “No.”
Q: “How can you be so sure, doctor?”
A: “Because his brain was sitting on my desk in a jar.”
Q: “But could the patient have still been alive nevertheless?”
A: “It is possible that he could have been alive and practicing law somewhere.”

Finally the plaintiffs rested and the defense promptly followed. Apparently they couldn’t be bothered to call a single witness. They dismissed our alternate juror (#13) who I named “tan juror” because she looked like a young version of tan mom, but with hooker heels. She was out of place with the rest of us in our sweats and hoodies. I thought my name for her was fitting to begin with, but even better when I found out her name is “Sierra.”

"Tan mom"

“Tan mom”

The 12 remaining jurors went to our room to deliberate. We ranged in age from 20 to 80. Naturally the eldest of us volunteered to be the foreman.

Having no other options, we started throwing out arbitrary numbers. It didn’t take us too long to decide and we only needed 10 of 12 to agree. We had some spirited discussions and were all able to provide input but in the end the case was (as I imagine many are) decided in direct relation to our individual and collective desire to get back to our own lives. And since this case had been going on for seven years, hopefully allow these children who lost their mother to do the same.

Overall, I was happy to get the SOB. More importantly, the case got me thinking about my own mother and how much do I value her life?

Well … ya know… is she coming at me with a sledgehammer?

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