Jury Duty!

Yes, the letter of doom has appeared. Okay, not really. Unlike some, I understand jury duty as part of my responsibility as a citizen. I don’t exactly jump for joy when they call, but I don’t play the entitled spoiled brat game of complaining that jury duty is for all of those other people who’s time isn’t worth as much as mine. I go in when asked, I sit and answer questions when they want me to, and then I get thrown off by one lawyer or the other and I get to go home.

See, the last seven times I’ve been called in over the last 20ish years, I’ve been a preemptory dismissal by one of the lawyers. Why?

I guess I could say “ask them”, but that’d be a boring blog post. Some juries I’ve been ask to sit for I honestly haven’t wanted to be on, mostly because I (in one case, for instance) didn’t want to sit on a six week jury.  But in one case, it was expected to be a three day trial, and it was for solicitation at a massage parlor. How could I NOT do my civic duty? (she claimed entrapment, by the way…)

The problem is, lawyers don’t want people who think things through too thoroughly. Simply being a geek and a software architect seems to be enough for some. And a funny thing has happened along the way. I seem to have hit a point in the system where I get bounced by a lawyer for the simple reason that I’ve been bounced by all those lawyers in my past. One question asked at all jury selections is previous jury duty action. I dutifully answer how many times I’ve been called, and how often I’ve been dumped at the preemptory stage. And I’ve actually watched two lawyers now tick my name off on their lists as soon as I say it and dump me at the first opportunity. After about four in a row, it seems to have become a self-replicating decision.

Of course, if you don’t want to be on a jury, there are ways you can answer that are completely truthful but still put the germ of an idea in a lawyer’s head to go with the housewife instead of you. One jury, for instance, I noted my professions as both computer professional and fiction writer (true, I’m published), writing both science fiction and police procedurals. Which was technically true, because I’d started one because being called for jury duty gave me an idea, and I was hoping to use the jury time as research into the story. But evidently, lawyers don’t like amateur detectives on their juries. 

I used to have a hardcover first edition of Joseph Waumbaugh’s The Onion Fields that I carried to jury duty and read during breaks. On two occasions, I swear I saw lawyers do spit-takes when they checked my stuff out. Which they will quietly do, as they try to figure out how to build a jury that’ll work for their case. 

My most recent jury duty? In 2008, a case about [redacted] where the accused pulled out a [redacted] and [redacted] two people. he was a member of the Nortenos, a fact he displayed most prominently on his neck with one of his many tattoos. He was, however, going to be sitting in on the trial in a turtleneck for some reason. I thought about it, decided this was not the jury I particularly cared about being on, mostly because it was going to be a 3-4 week jury. So when asked if there were things material to the case the court should know, I disclosed that I’d been a financial contributor to the California Three Strikes initiative campaign. 

Best $50 I ever spent. The defense lawyer almost wet himself. We had a nice discussion about what that meant and if I understood the details of the initiative, and I was asked a couple of ways whether that would impact how I judged this trial, which I said it wouldn’t (and it wouldn’t). But as the defense lawyer assumed, someone who was behind that initiative would have specific opinions about whoever did the crime this trial was about. And he was right. And that was the idea. And I got to go home shortly thereafter. 

Unfair? It was the truth. Would it have been more fair to not say anything, when I was clearly not the type of person the defense lawyer wanted on the jury? (then again, I was clearly the type of person the prosecution DID want, but the joy of jury selection is neither gets exactly what they want, and then they have to make the mix work. In many ways, I find the politics of jury selection fascinating, which if I admitted to in court, would probably get me kicked off by both lawyers in unison). 

I’ve seen the men and women who play the angry bastard game and I don’t blame the lawyers a bit for getting those little balls of hostility out of their court, but man, I hate seeing them get away with playing that “how dare you interrupt my life you bastard” game and get away with it. 

Whatever you do, you don’t lie. Lying is called perjury, and that’s potentially really, really bad. But that doesn’t mean you can’t promote the reality that helps the lawyer make the right decision for all involved. After all, isn’t that what both lawyers are doing in the case, too? So I feel no guilt planting little seeds in the brains of the lawyers at times to encourage them that I’m not the person they want judging their case. 

If I end up on a jury? I do. It’s part of being a citizen, of paying back to this country that’s given me what I have. But if I get called in and sent home, that’s also part of doing your duty. No waumbaugh this trip, I think that joke’s a bit dated. no, a lot dated.

But just once, I’d love to have the guts to sit up in the jury box and look at the judge and see if I could say “but they wouldn’t have arrested him if  he wasn’t guilty, right?” with a straight face, just to see what they and the lawyers would do. Of course, there’s some chance what they’d do is a contempt charge, but heck, there are times when I’m really, really tempted… 

Here’s to jury duty. It takes a little time out of your life. That’s a small price to pay for what we have, and what so many take for granted.