Recently, I took part in the revered, time-honored, civic responsibility known as jury duty. It was everything I expected it to be—and more. The morning of the first day, I witnessed emotional breakdowns, people squirming under questioning, and outrageous lies. And that was just during the jury selection process.
It really was quite shameful how many of the individuals called for this privilege attempted to shirk their duty. In fact, if there hadn’t been so many people working so hard at weaseling out with their obviously phony excuses, I might have had one or two of my own left by the time the lawyers got to me. With no plausible excuses left, I settled in for the long haul.
Most people don’t realize that real trials are nothing like the trials you see on sitcoms, television dramas, or movies. The lawyers in the case I was on were not hostile toward each other in a vain attempt to mask their true, romantic feelings for one another. They were, in fact, quite civil toward each other, which was good because both lawyers were men. Another difference was that, during this trial, none of the bailiffs had to spring from their seats to physically subdue an out-of-control witness or defendant. The only things these bailiffs had to restrain were their own yawns. As for wrapping the case up neatly at the end of a short half-hour, one-hour, or, at most, two-hour time period, forget it.
So we the jury sat for three days taking notes on the testimony being given, rebutted, and reaffirmed. At least we looked like we were taking notes. It’s quite fascinating how many synonyms for boring one can come up with in three days. It’s also interesting to see how many creative lettering styles one can use to write said synonyms. But wasting time in such an obviously juvenile way was not all I managed to do during this time. I also exceeded my personal best at hangman, winning 17 out of the twenty-one games I played with jurors 11 and 13.
When the testimony for both sides was through, it was finally time for the judge’s instructions to the jury. The drowsy bailiffs handed out 13 fifteen-page packets containing the judge’s instructions, which the judge proceeded to read to us as slowly as possible. Apparently, his Honor mistook us for foreigners who, as everyone knows, understand things perfectly when they are spoken to ever-so-slowly.
When the judge was through, the lawyers started in on us with their closing arguments. The first lawyer put his spin on the testimony and evidence. Then it was the second lawyers turn. Both lawyers talked about the same evidence and witnesses but each had explanations and interpretations that were so far apart that it became clear to me that they were not actually arguing the same case. Another realization I came to was that closing arguments are actually just a grown up version of the “did not/did too” argument we used to have when we were kids: “Johnny did it.” “No he didn’t.” “Did too.” “Did not!” “You’re a doodyhead!” “No, you’re a doodyhead!” And so on. After several days of testimony, the doodyhead argument would’ve been much more entertaining.
Finally, it was time to send us to the tiny jury room for deliberation, where we were expected to mull over everything we had heard the past few days before finally drawing straws to determine whether the defendant did or didn’t do whatever it was he was accused of doing. Before we were led away, the judge had to excuse one of the 13 jurists. The title given to this individual is the “alternate.” People who really know the score call this person the “sucker” (what would you call someone who wasted three days and didn’t get to have a say in the fate of the accused?). As it turns out, I was the sucker…uh…the alternate. Any way, the judge was extremely gracious in dismissing me. At least I think he was. It was kind of hard to hear him while I was whooping it up and cart wheeling to the nearest exit.