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Janet Goes to Court

" About a month ago, my boss got called for jury duty. A couple of weeks after that, one of my co-workers got called for jury duty. "Ha ha," I said to them, "I've never been called for jury duty." A week later I came home from work to find my very own personal jury duty summons in the mail. Great, I thought. The way everyone talks about trying to get out of it, this is going to be sheer hell. I told practically everyone I knew that I had jury duty, and everyone relayed to me their various tactics that were sure to keep me from being selected: Don't wear your best clothes! Show your tattoos! Tell him that you think s/he's guilty no matter what! Tell them you're not able to be impartial! I told everyone that I didn't feel fit to decide some stranger's future. They all disagreed. "It'll be fine" they said. Sure, I thought, all anxiety-ridden.

Just what it was that I was worried about, exactly, I'm not quite sure of now. I thought I was doomed for certain when I was the first group picked to go into a courtroom, and then one of the first people chosen to sit in the jury box and answer all the personal character-type questions. The trial that I was eventually picked to be on the jury for happened to be a high-profile case involving activists (with a capital A) throwing pies at the mayor. The excitement surrounding the case may have been why I ended up actually –dare I say it — liking jury duty. I learned a hell of a lot about the legal process — all the stuff I studied in Junior High suddenly came to life! Wow! Actual application of knowledge, how novel!

I also learned that there are many, many, many people in the city of San Francisco that don't know how to speak English very well, if at all. So many people, mostly Asian, in the group that my jury was chosen from didn't even understand the questions that the lawyers were asking them, and spoke in very broken English. One Russian woman claimed that she didn't even really know English. All of these people were promptly excused. How fair is this? People immigrate to the United States, take advantage of all this country has to offer and yet will never have to fulfill their duty of having to serve on a jury because they can't speak English? How do these people even get citizenship in this country?

All in all, I had a very educational time. Courts are not like the ones shown on Ally McBeal. They're small and carpeted, not big and shiny like on TV, and the evidence isn't in little plastic baggies, either. And the whole jury selection process: I mean, I knew that they just don't pick 12 random people out of a crowd, but it was interesting to see just what kind of people they passed for cause, and what kind they excused. Fortunately, the people on my jury leaned toward the young side, so everyone got along really well for strangers joined together by fate. I really feel that people get along best when they're thrown together under adverse circumstances, like Customer Service telephone-answering, or jury duty. We got to do fun group activities, like go out for lunch together, guarded by two bailiffs who took us out a secret back entrance. But after discussing ourselves and our values and opinions and thoughts, not to mention the fates of the defendants, it just…ended. After the verdict was read, we all made a point to leave together in the same elevator as sort of a last group activity. In the elevator, the person we elected as foreman said jokingly, "Well, it's been pleasure; let's do it again sometime," and everyone in the elevator responded in unison, "Two years!" and laughed. Then everyone filtered out the front door of the courthouse, split up and went their separate ways. It was, to tell you the truth, a confusing letdown. And I may be overly-analytical or overly-emotional, but the whole experience really made me think. Gave me bad dreams, but made me think, and made me examine myself and what I thought, and how I thought of other people: as human beings or criminals, whichever the case may be. 

Posted in Observations.

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