Thursday, May 21, 2015

Tales of a Rejected Juror

Unexpectedly, my last name and juror number are called in the very first pool, within an hour of arrival in the early morning. I follow a circuitous, winding, frequently halting course from room to room, sometimes pausing to rest for a few minutes here and there, only to swiftly move on elsewhere. I feel a bit like a mouse being guided through a very large maze. We are shuttled methodically from place to place in this alternate universe. Then we are seated once again, awaiting further instructions from the judge. The deadly seriousness of court proceedings initially reduce words that would ordinarily hold shock value in any other context to merely emotionless descriptions of conduct.

It is expected that lawyers and witnesses, once the trial begins, will add local color to fill in the gaps. But until that comes, those of us waiting to be oh-so-briefly interviewed by a judge and two sets of attorneys try to make sense of those abstract concepts with almost no evidence. We have only our imagination to rely upon and perhaps a previous time of service upon which to measure today's proceeding. Speculation is rampant, but kept inside, not shared with others.

Much to my surprise, the prosecution and the defense attorneys look more or less interchangeable. All are female. All are young. One is black. Three are white. Like me, they appear to be in their mid-thirties. I wonder if the defendant felt that if the prosecuting attorneys lining up against him were both young women, then maybe he ought to get two young women of his own. This is merely imagination, fictive fiction. Much I do not know about the proceedings, or at least not yet.

What follows will be a particularly intense description of accused crime. Read the charges yourself in the same way I heard them, provided aloud by the mouth of a judge, a no-nonsense, but compassionate black woman in middle age. Now read these words on a page yourself, words given voice and spoken aloud for others to hear.

Older African-American male accused of sexual assault, kidnapping, and assault with a deadly weapon. The accused, his former girlfriend, Caucasian, a woman who was much younger than he. Prior to the violence, the two were lovers and had consensual sex. We are told these details as fact. Later we will be asked if any of those facts bother us, or might sway our decision.

I expect to be sworn in individually, but we are collectively sworn in as a group. Because I am a member of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) I do not swear that I will tell the truth, rather I affirm it. I am not to swear oaths of any kind. One of the attorneys, I think a prosecuting attorney, hears the discrepancy among the voices and flashes a shocked look in my direction.

But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one. -Matthew 5:37

I'm not sure if her response is because I've said something different she can't place, or whether she worries about something she can't understand. I suppose if it bothers her enough there's always a way to ask me directly. As it turns out, that question will never be asked.

Because I was not part of the final jury of my peers assembled for the purpose of hearing this case, my version of the story mostly ends here. But what little I have heard is more than gruesome enough for me. These are serious charges. They point to outcomes I do not want confirmed as complete truth, then denied as complete fiction, then mine to make a week hence.

She, the accuser, did not even bother to show up today. We saw him, at least, each of us peering intently to see if he fit the profile of a man who kidnaps, who assaults sexually, who injures his former lover with a deadly weapon. If first impressions prove anything, he looks pretty normal to me.

My father used to be in law enforcement. No matter how much I might feel that I want to be on this jury, I have to truthfully answer the questions provided me. My father was a state trooper fresh out of high school because he felt that being part of the system might make him less likely to be sent to Vietnam. Then he was integrated and promoted even further within the criminal justice system and became a prison warden. Back then he was far younger than I am today, younger even than the four young attorneys overseeing this case.

He enjoyed the job, but my mother did not. She raised a fit, stating in no uncertain terms that none of her children would be raised next to a prison. We would have also had to move every two to three years, and Mom was opposed to that, too. Dad went into business, instead, and made a ton of money in the 1980's. Lots of people in business made a ton of money in the 1980's.

Dad left law enforcement, but question 4, as expected, asked that same familiar inquiry. I doubt it is ever not posed to potential jurors. After waiting for several minutes inside of a jury deliberation room with a conveniently located men's room and ladies' room, I was called before a judge and both sets of attorneys. I stated my situation with deliberate haste and three minutes later I headed back to the appropriately named deliberation room. No matter how I answer the question, the result is still the same. I honestly state that this fact does not and will not affect my decision, but it always matters to them.

They make me sweat it out first. The defense and then the prosecution eliminate, replace, eliminate, and then replace again. I wait for thirty minutes for my juror number to be called. A pool initially interviewed yesterday goes first. They are seated on the left hand side of where I am seated, but to the right hand side of the judge, the stenographer, and everyone else of any consequence. More elimination. More replacement. One by one, people stand up, then sit in the jury box. Now they reach my side.

I was not told to sit in seat number seven, recently vacated by a young black woman. Nor was I told to sit in seat number one, directly on the end, recently vacated by an older white man who appeared to be in his sixties. When it was my turn, I was deliberately pushed aside from the rest of the pool with an energetic hand gesture, asked to sit across the aisle with the first pool of jurors. I knew instantly what the gesture meant. Rejection. Not under consideration.

I will never know any of the answers of the questions to follow. Would I have even wanted to serve on this jury? Nothing about it would have been easy. The fellow jurors in my pool were not immediately friendly, but they could have been seeking to make sense of a serious situation much as I was myself. Did I want to see pictures of bruised and bloody body parts? Kidnapping is a serious charge and so is assault with a deadly weapon.

How did consensual sexual conduct change to non-consensual? What were the circumstances of the alleged kidnapping? How did they meet? Does the age difference really matter to anyone? It must have mattered to someone because we were asked if it would sway our votes come decision time. I don't care about age differences. Some of my own partners were much older than me, though I never was accused of physically attacking them.

But as I leave the courtroom, I am not sad, not really. I do not really want that kind of responsibility, do not want a week's worth of deliberation, do not want a mere $34 per day, and secretly despise any absence from my routine. Though I would have served, if called, I did the right thing in being truthful. I flee the courtroom at 3 pm, like I flew the coop somehow, like leaving school every day of my childhood, running outside into the warm, bright sunlight. Free.

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