The suspense is killing you, isn’t it?
This week brought about a new twist in my 34 years of toil and triumph on this 3rd rock from the sun: JURY DUTY. There’s no telling how I’d avoided so much as a summons until now, but in spite of groans of disdain from myself and my employer, I reluctantly injected myself into the main vein of the legal pulse of Clark County, Nevada on Monday to report for Jury Duty.
Not really knowing what to expect of traffic heading towards town, a choleric pallor set in when I arrived at my “court-appointed” parking garage over 45 minutes early. Chagrined with my overestimation on travel time, I decided to join the trickling of others sporting “SUMMONS” papers on their despondent anthill march down the parking garage stairwell.
Being a good little minion, I followed the map on my summons to the Clark County Regional Justice Center.
It seems that each time I’ve previously been in a courthouse, I spend money. No, it’s not like they’ve got a gift shop to rival MOMA or anything … rather, I’ve been tending to the business of “dissolving” something marital in nature and payola’s always proven the most effective means for pacifying a sullen (ex-) spouse. Admittedly, I was a bit amused at the prospect of whiling away the hours in this legal keep and only having to spring for the odd bag of M&M’s.
Day one in Juryville was more boring than anything. I spent some quality time with a new tome and did pretty much fuck-all beyond that. I was dismissed for a two-hour lunch break at 11:00, and made my way down to Freemont Street for some grub. The sun stated its intent as beads of sweat glissaded down my alabaster forehead, and I could feel more freckles contemplating homestead with each curtain of between-the-buildings sunlight I trudged through. Lunch was at Mickey Finnz – some Irish/mermaid/surfer-themed joint that a friend ran the electrical in and my food choice was an ill-advised pulled pork quesadilla with “killer slaw” that turned out to be innocuous at best. Sensing I was in for a frightful afternoon following my dairy-deep banquet, I made haste towards Walgreens for some remedy.
Walgreens had Lactaid…I’ll take a banana milkshake and a side of hallelujah, please!
Walking down Freemont Street, I glanced at the time while chewing my dairy-dilemma tablets and realized that I should get back to the courthouse (lest I be late to hurry up and wait). Walking by the Catholic sanctum on the corner of 3rd and Bridger, I was serenaded by a pealing of bells that made me wish I believed.
My spiritual remorse faded, however, after tripping on a sidewalk joint directly in front of the St. Joan of Arc Rectory and a virulent “Goddammit … Mother FUCK!” seethed from my lips. I dodged the inevitable lightening bolts from the bell tower and made haste back to the Jury Services division.
I was greeted as “counselor” by the police at security, most likely because of the spiffy suit/shoe/handbag ensemble, and noticed on my escalator journey the House Arrest division was on the first floor. The smart-ass side of me wondered if I should stop in and check on the naughty homes, but thought better of it because I was arriving 2 minutes past my 1:00pm deadline as it was.
No sooner had I sat down than my number was called to line-up for a bailiff to be delivered to a courtroom for possible empanelment on a jury. Tom the Bailiff (15 years a bailiff, works 7 days a week, wants to learn to rappel since he works on the 12th floor and fire ladders don’t reach that high) corralled us to the elevator bay and herded us up to the 12th floor:
I’ll cut to the chase here, as I could go on forever about my perceptions of the legal system and the process of jury selection.
Somehow, I got seated. I was going to serve on a jury.
Huh … how the hell did THAT happen?
Now, every one of you thinking that I should shut the hell up and stop trying to shirk my civic duty can go straight to hell, do not pass go, do not collect your parking validation for deciding someone’s felonious fate. I was actually a bit intrigued by my impending first taste of the American legal pie while it lay in pieces in the kitchen that justice built, still in the ingredients phase. Work be damned, I was to report back at 11am the next morning to decide which way the legal teeter-totter would rest when our defendant’s recess ended.
I will spare you the mundane when it comes to the trial proceedings. Rather, I’ll focus on the peculiarities that piqued my interest.
Scenario: Mr. X (defendant) drove his car into a median back in April on The Strip. Police arrive, detain defendant on suspicion of possession of a stolen vehicle and possible DUI. Defendant is placed in handcuffs. During search, defendant kicks and injures the searching officer repeatedly. Charge is battery by a prisoner on an officer, a potential felony. Our job as jurors? To determine NOT if he DID it, but to determine if he was, indeed, “in custody” by legal definition at the time of the battery.
After an opening statement by the DA’s office with body movements rivaling the best of Wimbledon matches, my vertigo subsided and the trial proceeded.
I will interject here with another one of what I’ll dub my “Asshole Abstracts,” and say that god forbid if I’m ever in need of a trial, I don’t EVER want to be judged by my “peers.” I mean for the love of the Hamburger Helper eating general public, there isn’t one person I sat amongst whom I’d consider my “peer.” I’m tempted to commit a carjacking and see if I’m set to be judged by a group of professionals or an unruly mob of those who can’t speak proper Engrish and gots “free” kidz they gots to take care of at home and a trophy wife who had just come back from vay-cay in Tahiti and couldn’t find a tampon on that fucking island to save her life. I’m an asshole, I admit it, and I embrace it. Standby, as later in today’s blog, I’ll eat a few of these words…for now, I’ll be the asshole.
What’s for certain is that during the entire trial, we spent more time in recess than we did in session.
Assemble at 11am
Lunch from 12:15pm-1:30pm
Court wasn’t ready, so call it 1:45pm
Trial reconvenes at 1:45pm until 2:30pm
Recess from 2:30pm until…3:40pm!
Trial reconvenes, Prosecution rests, Defense says no new evidence (!!!)
Jury retires to deliberate at 4:00pm.
I’m going to be an asshole again. (startling, I know)
The defense committed 2 major faux-pas during the closing argument stage:
1) using a Power Point presentation to sum-up a 2 hour trial;
2) crying during her closing argument (no shit).
You’ve got to be kidding me.
I’m certain as well that the judge and I shared a synchronized eye-roll followed by a chair slump as she thrashed her way through the unfamiliar web that technology wove with her laptop caught in the middle like a helpless housefly. I’m personally offended by the mere presence of a Power Point presentation, so I was trying to be fair and unbiased while I hated every fucking bit of her summation in blue and white media brilliance.
Finally, we were allowed to adjourn to the jury room to deliberate. As it wasn’t a “who dunnit?” and purely a “what is it?” kind of case, I didn’t see things being too complicated. Trophy wife offered to be our jury fore(wo)man, and so we set about the business of voting.
On our first vote for guilty or not on the felony count, we came back 11 guilty and 1 not guilty. Un-fucking-believable. Who’s the hold out?
“I feel bayd for him, ’cause this is somethin’ that’s gonna stay with him for the rest of his liiiiiiiife.” (in her best East Texas drawl)
After several members of our jury remind her that it ain’t about how she FEELS (bayd or guuud), but rather about the laws that govern this oddly-shaped duck of a case, tell me honey: was he or was he NOT in custody at the time he kicked the living shit out of Mr. Po-lice-man?
I have to admit, though, that the juror with the “free” kidz at home was very adept at getting everyone around the table to shut the hell up and vote. She came down on one guy like he was the stepchild of her third husband who’d just gotten caught drinking milk straight from the carton. I’m sure the Clark County legal system could use her mediation skills in a professional capacity, but she appeared to be much more interested in getting downstairs to get her parking validated than pursuing law school.
The next vote was unanimous, and though we had to listen to our Fore(wo)man’s lamentations about convicting someone of a felony, I did my part by offending a few jurors with a chirp of “woo hoo!” when we’d reached a verdict.
Apparently that’s not appropriate?
Whatever. I came, I saw, I listened … I had to watch a goddamn Power Point presentation, watch a DA bounce around like Ludacris’ balls on the MTV movie awards, and see the Public Defender cry.
I’ll “woo hoo” if I damn well please.
We finally were ushered back into the courtroom by Tom the Bailiff and rendered our verdict. I felt like I was in the middle of a John Grisham novel as we were polled by the court, and then the convicted was taken into custody and removed from the courtroom.
Surprising, though, was the thanks bestowed upon us by the court and the attorneys alike for our service that day. The air inside the courtroom became much lighter as we all gathered our things to leave and made yet another ant-like procession down to the third floor to sign-out.
While I’m thankful for the fact that I only had to serve on a one-day trial (which is quite rare they told us), I’m even more thankful for the inside and participatory glimpse at the scales of justice weighing their load. My previous experiences with the legal system had rendered me a seasoned professional in the realm of “asset alleviation.” This time, I actually left the courthouse with not only a healthy respect for those who make the system work on a daily basis, but an extra $80 in my pocket for my efforts. I like jury service more than divorce proceedings already.
As I recounted my experiences as Jennie Juror to a dinner companion that evening, I realized right off that I wanted a glass of wine. I had convicted someone of a felony earlier that day, and it had suddenly dawned on me that I was a component of that decision. I guess part of the beauty of this country is that we’re each an integral part of the legal system, but there was a gentle pressure on my shoulders that smelled of responsibility taken too lightly as I rambled through the humorous aspects of my “doodie” days.
I opted for a syrah to offset the air of responsibility. Sip by sip, I allowed myself to relax and enjoy a lovely dinner filled with lots of laughter and topics that transcended my experiences-du-juror. I’m not big on self-medication, but on occasion I do find that better living is possible through chemistry.
Did he do it? Yeah. Guy was guilty. I have no remorse about the decision or how I came to it during the trial. There’s a tinge of guilt, however, from perhaps going into this process with the attitude that my jury duty fell into the category of pedestrian and burdensome and was something I should try to get out of doing. Is it possible that our juries are comprised of those who could care less about the duty and more about the $40 a day? As well, is it possible that those who know how to work the system and get the exemption are those who are best suited in some cases to represent the true peers of an accused?
I’m left with many a question, and one parting humorous anecdote from my 2 days in the service of Clark County:
While in the Jury Services division with all of the 400 others who’d received summons for that day, I wandered into the jury break room for a sugar fix (I was craving M&M’s) from the vending machine. After retrieving my chocolate prize, I noticed several of my fellow potential jurors huddled around the television, their eyes affixed in a broadcast-induced blind stare.
They were watching Judge Mathis on the WB. I can only assuming they were training.