Tuesday, January 15, 2008

on jury duty

today, my "gig" was reporting for jury duty. it's a "gig" because i got paid for it (even though it's about $10).

and i performed it with aplomb.

it was actually an enlightening and somewhat empowering experience. i had arrived to inpaneling assuming that my girl body with boy looks would immediately disqualify me from serving. i thought i would be home in twenty minutes.

the twenty of us went into the courtroom, with a judge, and attorney, and the defendant. the attorney (for the state) asked the room questions like: has anyone here gotten a traffic citation? does anyone here feel very loyal to police officers? does anyone here feel particularly against police officers? etc. i spoke once about the traffic citation i got a couple years ago, but that's it. i made eye contact with the judge--purely by coincedence.

then they sent us out of the court. ten minutes later, the nice bailiff (his name was neil) calls us back into the courtroom. then the judge called off six names. i was one of them.

i was very, very surprised. i mean, really. and even though i've been complaining about jury duty for the past few weeks, i actually felt kinda proud that i was "chosen." weird, huh?

we heard the case, it was a traffic ticket. kinda boring, but the facts were a bit jumbled. when we adjourned to the locked jury room, neil told us our instructions: elect a foreperson, decide guilty or not guilty, if guilty, decide a fine.

the jury was all female. when neil left, i just said, "okay, i guess we need to elect a foreperson." to which the woman across from me said, "how about you?" i said, "it gives me neither pain nor pleasure. is that okay with the group?" everyone nodded. so now, not only was i serving on the jury, i was the representative of it.

we hashed it all out. because the defendant's testimony and the officer's testimony differed significantly, it was really difficult to rule at first. but i kept at task. i reiterated, well, we might know that intersection, and we might empathize with one side or the other, but we can only use the evidence presented to us, even if it is incomplete. i surprised myself at how by the book i was.

when all of us seemed to express, a sentiment of, well, i understand the defendant's feelings, but it really seemed like he broke the law, i astounded myself by saying, "well, we've been chosen because we have shown a certain trust in the process. our charge is to adjudicate based on the law and procedure, even if we personally disagree with it." the one person on the jury with a different verdict than the rest started to say she was leaning the other way. i said, "it sounds like you are changing your vote. is this true? if it is, i want to be sure you are changing it of your own volition rather than because the rest of us are voting the other way."

at that point, one of the other jurors said, "what do you do? it must be the law!" and i said, "well, we can talk about that after the verdict."

we decided he was guilty. he defended himself poorly and didn't present convincing evidence, and the prosecution did fulfill its burden of proof. but because we were so ambivalent about the context of the violation, we lowered the fine from $100 to $50. i had originally proposed fining $1, but after brief discussion, we all agreed on the fine.

i confirmed the "guilty, $50 fine" verdict with a show of hands and signed the "guilty" form. now my signature will be permanently housed in the municipal court.

and i left with a strange sense of importance or maybe even pride. i never say it aloud, but the fact is, i am a patriot. i am cynical and critical of the system and the administration. more often than not, you'll hear me saying "i hate america" than the opposite. but the fact is, i hate america now because i love its potential. i believe in our justice system as an idea. i actually believe it is the best justice system in the world--in theory. the problem that i have with our justice system is its execution. i believe in the constitution and i believe in the declaration of independence. we just have not been treating either document with the respect they deserve. and that bums me out so much that it turns to bile. but today, i was a part of it. and i believe that i executed my duties with fairness, intelligence, and good faith.

so here i am, mixed race, gender queer "socialist." underemployed artist. and foreperson of a municipal jury. maybe i am just a "good liberal."

we sure live in a crazy country, tho'.

1 comment:

la rebelde said...

i love that you said "it gives me neither pain nor pleasure." that's awesome. it probably would have given you more pain, if you weren't the foreperson...just a thought. but i've never done jury duty before.