the further adventures of

Mike Pirnat

a leaf on the wind

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Jury Duty Complete

Well, it's official--I even have a shiny certificate to prove it!--I am done with my week of jury duty! Whew! Who ever thought that sitting around all day waiting for something to happen would be so exhausting?

This week I was called to three criminal trials. The first (on Monday) was a laundry list of Bad Decisions (burglary, kidnapping, rape, crack cocaine, etc.) that didn't even get into voire dire; I'm fairly certain the defendant, who had a forlorn look and the most frightened eyes I've ever seen, plead out after having a whole crapload of white people looking at him while the charges were read. I was empaneled on the second (Tuesday/Wednesday), a two-count indictment of felonious assault that was practically lifted straight from an episode of Jerry Springer: a fight in a trailer park over a matter of $10 that may or may not have involved the use of a hammer. Unfortunately the only vaguely credible witnesses were a police officer who only showed up after all the good stuff was done, didn't speak with the victim, and then left to secure a landing zone for the Life Flight helicopter, and the alleged victim's fiancee's sister, who seemed to serve as a sort of guardian angel for her trailer park dwelling sisters. Testimonies were inconsistent--even internally!--and the evidence was flimsy at best, so we were unable to do anything but clear the defendant on all counts. The third trial (Thursday) featured the same prosecutor and the same courtroom as the second; I was dimissed during voire dire, along with three of the four others who'd served with me on the previous case. Obviously, the prosecutor wanted to get rid of as many of us as he could, since we'd already disappointed him. Today I sat around, filled out the post-service surveys, exchanged my stylish "JUROR" button for a "Good Juror!" certificate, and was released to my own pursuits.

I learned a lot this week, much of which was unexpected:

  • It's possible to get behind on email very, very quickly. (I'm now 104 threads behind on the TurboGears mailing list... Joy.)
  • There's not a single chair in the entire Justice Center that's comfortable if you're not a judge.
  • You're a much more credible witness if your tox screen didn't show you loaded up with cocaine, marijuana, and powerful, psychoactive anxiety meds.
  • Someone who's loaded up with cocaine, marijuana, and powerful anxiety meds can still get a prescription for Vicodin! Nifty!
  • I-480 takes surprisingly more pedestrian traffic than I had ever known.
  • When not on the record, judges and bailiffs apparently move at a speed approaching that of light itself, as we experienced a striking time dilation effect: any interval of time mentioned by a judge or a bailiff was orders of magnitude shorter than the actual time as the jurors measured it. "A moment" or "a minute" was anywhere between fifteen and thirty minutes, and "ten or fifteen minutes" varied between one and two hours; strangely, "right now" meant "right now."
  • There's a time and a place to chew gum, but it's not in court, especially if you're the judge! Ugh! (Yet another pet peeve acquired from Mr. Oliver's honors English class in high school: complete intolerance for gum chewing in a formal setting.)
  • You really, really don't want to interrupt the judge. Trust me on that one.
  • Five year olds who weigh 212 pounds, people on fire at gas stations, and wacky paternity tests--thank you, Maury Povich, for some truly mind-altering television this week.
  • Bringing reading material sounds great, until 500 pages later when your eyeballs are about ready to melt out of your head. Hello, eye strain!
  • The view from the Court Tower (I visited floors 19 and 16 during my duties) is amazing. I took a bunch of photos, so I'll probably start posting some to my flickr account this weekend.
  • It's really quite disturbing to find out who washes their hands at the end of a bathroom visit and who doesn't. When you're crammed into the jury deliberation room, and the only thing to do is sit quietly or use the can, you can (unfortunately) hear just about everything that goes on the tiny bathrooms that are connected to the jury room. Sometimes, the flush sound is quickly followed by the hiss of running water; other times, it's just flush and the door opens. For a while I kept track of who washed and who didn't, but it quickly became far, far too disturbing a hobby.

Despite a few niggles about the comfort of chairs and the general inefficiency of the process, I am still young and idealistic/naive enough to appreciate the value of active, engaged citizenship, and was quite happy to have an opportunity to take part in one of the pillars of our American style of democracy. Go go gadget habeas corpus!

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