It’s that time again, the time to join 11 other angry men and women to serve my fellow citizens by sitting in judgment of one of them as their peer on a jury. Jury duty is a wonderful and sacrosanct tradition in which I gladly participate, completely devoid of the “how am I going to get out of this” deviousness that afflicts many so-called good citizens. I truly look forward to the experience, even though my most recent service has been largely on mundane county court panels that, in my opinion, have been a waste of time and money. Of course, the U.S. Constitution guarantees that we’ll do it, so we do, gladly and without regard to what it costs the public.
One of my county court cases involved a concrete finisher who had accused his girlfriend, a Hooter’s waitress, of assault and battery. The guy was about twice her size and had a previous felony on his record, as well as several misdemeanors. My comrades and I were treated to a re-enactment of the alleged crime at the behest of the respective attorneys, which was quite an entertaining show. Then, upon hearing summations and being given our instructions, we retired to our stark, uncomfortable jury room. We wise folks on the jury deliberated far too long, getting hung up on the legal definition of self-defense. So, we told the bailiff to have the judge assemble the players for us so we could ask him for the official definition, which he read to us. That did no good. We were hopelessly deadlocked. This stupid case would cost the county even more money, as the judge would declare a mistrial due to a hung jury.
The next county court case was an even greater waste of time and money. Some low-life punk stole a 12-pack of Heineken’s from the local Albertson’s. Such a clever scheme. Two guys came to the checkout aisle. One acted like he would pay, then the other took the beer to throw it in the back of the pickup truck while the other guy stalled the cashier by saying he thought the other guy paid. Meanwhile, the store’s general manager was accosting the beer guy in the parking lot as he tried to make his getaway. We heard testimony from the beer redneck and the store manager and retired for what I thought would be a pretty quick ipso facto guilty verdict. I was wrong. One woman didn’t want to send the poor boy to jail, believing that there was reasonable doubt that he committed the crime. I, who by the way was foreman, thought that she was considering the severity (or lack of same) of the crime as compared to the harsh punishment of 30 days in the slammer, or whatever the punishment would be. That was not up to the jury to decide. Ours was a simple matter of guilty or not guilty. It took us lots of cajoling to get her to understand that, maybe two hours’ worth. Finally, she caved. I hope the guy enjoyed the beer he stole.
Next, I thought I would finally get an interesting case, as I was called to serve on a circuit court panel. As it turned out, my number was drawn for a selection pool for a sexual battery case, which would involve far more testimony and intricate legal maneuvers than my previous two cases combined. The judge explained how voir dire works. The lawyers would question us either as a group or individually and use their challenges, either peremptory or for cause, to weed us out until they agreed on a satisfactory jury. They asked us a lot of questions about whether it was right for a man to hit a woman. One prospective juror said that it went against his religion and under no circumstances would it be acceptable. He ultimately got the ax. My response was that it was not pleasant to consider, but I could envision circumstances under which there would be sufficient justification to do it. (I didn’t tell them what I was thinking — when they pull some obscure shit out from five years ago that you’ve damn well forgotten about and hit you right between the eyes with it if it serves to support their flimsy argument, albeit out of context. But I digress.) That answer kept me in the game. Ultimately, though, I would perish, for whatever reasons the lawyers thought I was unsuitable. Perhaps the prosecutor thought that I was an old pervert who would side too much with the defendant. Who knows? I stayed in the courtroom as instructed, in case I was selected as an alternate. I observed that of the two students in the pool from our county’s community college, the dizzy blonde was selected but the serious young man who said that he liked to read the classical philosophers in his spare time was excused. That told me something about what they were looking for. At the end of the day, I was free to go, but it had been an interesting day of observing the legal process, a good day that I did not consider a waste of time, for a change.
Fast forward to now. Again, this time, the day after the Memorial Day weekend, it will be circuit court, so the potential exists that if I make the cut, the case will be interesting. At last year’s Springs Concert, an annual event in the recreation area in my community, a circuit court judge up for re-election was making the rounds glad-handing the electorate. I told him that I hoped the next time around I would get something more interesting than the concrete finisher or the beer redneck. He told me that all his trials were interesting and if I got on a jury in his courtroom, I would not be disappointed. Oh, sure, he was trying to suck a vote out of me, but on a different plane, I want to believe him.