Wednesday, January 9, 2008

The Jury Is Out

They needed 14 of us, and there were about 50 people crammed into the room. My odds of being selected seemed slim. A few days off work wouldn't affect me much, and this was likely to be the only time I would ever get to see the inside of a courtroom, so I was curious.

I spotted the defendant right away. He was looking around at us with his jaw clenched and his fist tapping the arm of his chair. He looked away, and back again, and I tried to form some impression. Did he look guilty, or just scared?

I stopped that line of thought right away. Whatever it was he was accused of, my job was to assume he was innocent. The State's Attorney would have the job of proving the case, and I wondered what kind of case it would be. Theft? Assault? Maybe something terrorist related? Could I be part of stopping some evil plot? Would I be able to protect an innocent victim of an over-zealous government? I was ready... I thought.

The judge told us right away what the charge was, and my heart sank. Child molestation and rape. This was going to be difficult, no matter what the circumstances.

There were a lot of questions: anyone here feel they would not be able to be impartial in this type of case? A handful stood. I sat still. Anyone here likely to believe a police officer's testimony simply because of his position? A few more stood; I sat, having known too many police officers to think they aren't fallible. Anyone here likely to disbelieve a police officer's testimony simply because of his position? A few more - different from the previous bunch - stood. I sat, having known enough police officers to know that they deserve better than that.

The questions dragged on... I stood when they asked if any of us had family employed in law enforcement. Then they called everyone who had stood up to the bench, one at a time, to explain why we stood. My uncle was a Deputy Sheriff in Maricopa County, AZ. Isn't that where the sheriff put prisoners in a tent city and made them wear pink underwear? Yes, your honor; Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Gotta love that! Yes, your honor.

At last, after a drawn out elimination process, there were 12 men and two women left in the box. I was Number 8.

I'll spare you the worst of the details. You know my sense of humor goes to many places it shouldn't, but it doesn't go there. There was nothing remotely funny about what we heard, and it isn't something I like to dwell on. The girl, now 12, testified first, then her mother; then we were recessed for a night of less-than-stellar sleep and upset stomachs.

The next morning, we were stuck in the jury room waiting for other procedures for nearly three hours. I said it wasn't funny, and the case itself wasn't. The jury room was a slightly different story, though.

I have to warn you: for those about to be locked in a room for two days with 11 other dudes, I do NOT suggest taking a book that will give the wrong impression of your basic character. If you either don't know, or haven't cared enough to figure it out, I'm a borderline pacifist who isn't really all that "into" weapons. This is both why I choose to enlist in the Air Force (as opposed to the Marines) and why I got out (in May 2001, or as I like to call it, "the nick of friggin' time".)

However, when came the day for Jury Duty, I selected for my magic time-passing talisman a book entitled Use of Weapons, by Iain M. Banks. I read Banks because I like his world building; I like the Culture, LOVE the ships, and am fascinated by the layers of character and the always-interesting structure of his books. But the other fellas saw "Weapons" in the title, and had heard me identify myself among military veterans, thus I was stuck talking about War Movies, hunting, guns, and football .... when all I wanted to do was read my book!

And did I mention that I really, really don't like football? Not to the roomful of angry Ravens' fans, I didn't!

We survived the boredom, the awkward lulls, the snoring guy, and the occasional flare-up about who the new Raven's coach will be, and eventually got under way. The Doctor that discovered the "smoking gun" testified, followed by the social worker who had recorded the "forensic interview", which was intended to determine whether the child was lying or mistaken.

I'll just tell you outright: we convicted the bastard.

Deliberation wasn't easy, though, because the one woman in the group had decided out of nowhere that "he was covering for somebody", and that "no child would let that go without saying something to her mother." We tried to figure out what she had heard that made her think that, and she kept telling us we were "thinking like a bunch of men." it took two hours to get across to her that, yes, that is how children most often behave in these situations, and that no one -- not the State, and not the Defense -- had so much as hinted that anyone else had done this. The child had pointed to one person, and there was no reason to disbelieve her.

Like I said; we convicted the bastard, but I don't think anyone felt particularly good about the whole thing. It didn't feel like a victory; there was only a sense of relief that our part was over, and we had done what we had to do.

And we are excused for at least three years. Amen.

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