Yesterday, for the first time in my life, I had jury duty.
Before going in they advised that I watch the orientation video online so that I wouldn’t have to come in early to watch it at the court.
The orientation videos were full of helpful/completely obvious information like:
- Dress appropriately. No tank tops, shorts, crop tops or hats. Don’t wear baggy pants and a T-shirt that says GUILTY. (That one is a direct quote, which means I guess my I’M WITH A MURDERER —-> shirt is out of the question.)
- If someone calls your house and says they’re from the court and they need your social security number DON’T GIVE IT TO THEM. THEY ARE LIARS.
- While in the courthouse don’t post pictures or status updates to myspace, flickr or four square. (Also don’t go back in time to 2006 when those sites were actually popular.)
- If you are one of the FORTUNATE jurors selected (they really stressed the word “fortunate”, they almost convinced me there) you will receive up to $15 per day for compensation, and whatever is behind door #2 (spoiler: it’s .35cents per mile you drove one way).
- You are not allowed to investigate the crime on your own outside of the court. In particular, do not try to visit the scene of the crime and look for clues. (BUT THEN HOW AM I GOING TO TURN THIS INTO A RIVETING THRILLER MOVIE STARRING RACHEL MCCADAMS AND BEN AFFLECK?!?!)
- Then a woman came on giving a testimonial in which she said: ”Yeah, I was scared at first, I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. But then I bought a book on the importance of jury service and now I’m excited to do my duty to my country.” It almost made me go out and get a book on the importance of jury service, then I decide I’d just wait for the movie adaptation instead.
Yesterday morning I arrived bright and early at the courthouse in downtown LA. After joining hundreds of other jurors in a non-air-conditioned room to wait, I was lucky to be assigned to the very first trial that came up.
I’m not sure how much I can say about the actual trial, so I’ll be vague. I was given a number that put me in the top 16 jurors, which, I later realized, meant that I would be put on the jury, unless either the defense or prosecution vetoed me as a candidate.
The judge spent the first two hours giving a history lesson on US government and the court system. He seemed like a nice guy, but also something of a talker. Then we broke for lunch.
After an unpleasant experience in the “snack shop”, which resembled a dirty, dingy gas station snack shop, I vowed not to eat lunch in the cafeteria. We had an hour and a half, so I walked down to Grand Central Market, a recently somewhat upscaled building full of food vendors.
"I have plenty of time," I told myself, as I strolled the floor, checking out the options. I chose a pupusa stand and after waiting in a long line to order, and then waiting another interminably long time for my food, I realized I only had fifteen minutes left in which to eat and get back to the court. I ran back, scarfed my food down in a tiny park, and hurried into the courthouse.
In my rush I turned the wrong way down a hallway and barged into the wrong courtroom. I had forgotten the name of the judge on my trial, but he was Japanese and I could see that the nameplate of this judge read Judge Ito, so I thought I was in the right place, until I looked around and realized I didn’t recognize a single one of the jurors. I rushed out and hurried down to the other end of the hall, where I found the correct courtroom.
After we reconvened, our judge made a joke about sidebars.
"Don’t worry, I won’t be taking sidebars every five minutes, like in the OJ trial. Not that there was anything wrong with that. Lance Ito was my mentor, actually. He still works right down the hall."
Which means… I was in Lance Ito’s courtroom! I hadn’t seen him, but I had seen his nameplate. I had been in his place of judgement. It was like a brush with incredibly strange celebrity.
The juror selection continued and I easily picked out several people that would be vetoed from the jury. There was a woman who had a lot of history as a defendant in trials and said being in the courtroom was giving her a panic attack. There was a pregnant woman who started crying at the mention of photos of a dead body. (This came after one of the prosecution’s stranger questions to the jurors “Would anyone here consider themselves a huge fan of CSI?”) There was a woman who claimed not to speak english, while speaking it very well, and the woman next to me, who’s english was so bad she could barely understand the question. There was a lawyer, and a boy in police officer training. There was a man who continuously argued with the judge that if the defendant pleaded the fifth he was definitely guilty. All of these losers have got to go, I thought to myself. They’d make horrible jurors.
I was convinced, however, that I would be put on the jury. Who would veto me? What cause would they have? I would make an excellent juror. I would be fair minded, non judgmental, and unbiased. I would listen to all the evidence and weigh all the facts before making a decision.
Keep in mind, I didn’t want to be chosen for the jury. No one wants to be chosen for a jury. The judge even told us this trial would take at least two weeks, and if the judge’s two hour lecture on the American government was any indication, it would be a horrendously boring two weeks.
Still, I was proud that I was going to be chosen. I was also curious about the case, since the small bits of information that were released made it sound like a doozy.
The juror interview portion came to a close and the judge said it was time to determine if they could assemble a jury from the first 30 people chosen. The defense and prosecution would take turns vetoing candidates. I was familiar from this process from the book/movie A Time to Kill, so I was ready to get started.
The first few were pretty obvious. All of the people I’ve mentioned were let go, along with two women who seemed like complainers. I knew that if anyone was to veto me it would be the defense. I was wearing glasses, my hair was in a ponytail, I had admitted that I had been mugged before. I looked like someone who would be a hard ass on crime. So when the defense finally said “we accept this jury” I was already considering which food stand I would choose to eat lunch at tomorrow.
It was time for the prosecution to either accept the jury or make their final veto. ”We accept this… No, wait. Actually, can we have a minute to discuss?”
"Of course," said not Judge Ito.
They discussed for a bit, pointing at a bunch of post-it notes laid out to mimic the jurors seating arrangement. After a few moments they turned back to the jury box.
"We would like to release juror number (well I can’t tell you the number… but it was me! They were releasing me!)"
I looked around at all the selected jurors and my first thought was WHAT DO THESE JURORS HAVE THAT I DON’T HAVE??? There was a girl whose brother had been arrested for gang violence and a guy who was clearly somewhere on the autism spectrum and had announced that he had a hard time paying attention to or retaining information. There was a woman with those gross dangly earlobes you get when you wear ear gauges for years. For God’s sake, had they really chosen her over me?
I returned to the juror waiting room where I met up with all of the other possible jurors who had been released from my trial. When I walked into the room they clapped and said things like “Congrats” ”Good for you” and “We got out of it!” But I didn’t really feel like celebrating. It felt like when you’re talking to a guy and you both know you’re clearly out of his league but there’s something about him you like so you’re flirting with him anyway, and then HE REJECTS YOU. That’s it, I felt rejected.
"Vetoed by the defense, right?" the rejected lawyer asked me.
"Yeah…" I muttered, not really listening to the question.
"Makes sense. It was clear they didn’t have a very strong case, and I think they were also getting rid of anyone from the west side."
"I’m sorry, did you say the defense? I misheard you. I was vetoed by the prosecution."
"Why do you think they vetoed me?"
"I don’t know."
"WHY?? TELL ME WHY? WHAT DIDN’T THEY LIKE ABOUT ME? WHAT DID I DO WRONG???"
"I don’t know, maybe they just really wanted whoever was going to take your place."
"But they could have vetoed the gang sister, or the autistic guy or ear gauge girl! Why me?"
"I don’t know!" At that point I’d freaked him out so much that he decided to take the stairs instead of waiting for the elevator with the rest of us.
On the uphill hike back to the parking lot I continued to remind myself that it as a good thing. If I had been chosen I would have to make this hike again tomorrow, and then the day after, and the day after, for at least two weeks. It didn’t really make me feel any better though.
I fought the law and the law dumped me for someone hotter.