Thursday, January 19, 2012

Voir dire (fancy talk for jury selection)

I had jury duty this week... again.  Wanting desperately to avoid being stuck on a trial, I attempted something I've never done.  I sat in the back row and didn't say anything.  It was hard.  But guess what--  for the first time in 38 years, I managed to go unnoticed and escaped what was sure to be torture in the form of public service.

Wednesday morning, I was late to jury duty.  I hate being late anywhere.  First we had to juggle the kids on a school closed snow day while attempting to avoid a warrant for my arrest.  Then I had to make it across town, late, with the crazy snow drivers.

Arriving at the courthouse, I was immediately aware that the jury duty waiting room is kinda like DMV, except everyone is dressed up.  Well, they try.  This is one of those places that makes me feel incredibly attractive and super stylish.

Numbers were handed out to the potential jurors.  My number was 32.  I immediately started talking to the guy next to me- we'll call him wore-my-hunting-hat-to-the-courthouse.  I excitedly announced that 32 was my son's football number!  That was the moment when I realized if I was going to get out of there today, I needed a low profile.  So I sat there.  For ten minutes.  I didn't start a conversation with anyone.  It was weird.

The bailiff instructed us to the courtroom.  On the 5th floor.  She advised the elevators were small and slow and we should take the stairs.  It was a single file line, slowly moving up five flights of turning stairs.  It felt like march of the penguins.  Near the top, comb-over-man announced "this reminds me of 9-11, but we're all going the wrong way".  Nice.

In the waiting area, I sized up what this slice of America looked like.  Mock-turtleneck-with-cheap-suit guy.  Gonna-finish-my-knitting lady.  Bejeweled-and-bedazzled-constant-texter, OMG.  I'm-holding-my-juror-number-upside-down man whom mistakenly thought he was #9.

To the side of the courtroom door were the friends and family of the defendant.  I try not to judge people by the way they look- but c'mon!  Black jeans with holes, a stretched out t-shirt?  Good advice in life-- anytime you enter a courtroom, please at least attempt to brush your hair.
Inside the courtroom was the defendant's mother.  Let's call her Elvira, and she couldn't stop crying.  She also couldn't stop talking.  Even after the court officers continually shushed her.
The judge was interesting.  He looked like Dauber from Coach.  Kinda sounded like him, too.  I was in a courtroom being addressed by a gray haired, robed man that sounded like Spongebob's sidekick, Patrick.

Questions were asked.  People spoke.  The only time I responded (remember, low profile) was when asked to raise your number if you've been on a jury before.

I was sitting in the back, hardly moving, hunched down.  I had lots of opinions, but for once I kept them to myself.  So did my two neighbors, old-lady-hums-when-she-breathes and teeny-tiny-OCD-ADD girl.  I'm not making this up about her.  She announced this to me in a whisper like she was singing the alphabet. 

Old-lady-hums-when-she-breathes was nice enough.  But... she hummed every time she took a breath!  My students and children will tell you the thing that makes me crazy-- repetitive, annoying noises.  At one point, while I calmly sat there, the inside of my mind was screaming-- jump up, scream, run out of the courtroom!  Announce to the world this old lady makes a hum sound every single time she takes a breath!

Sitting in the back, I was directly across from the 8 person revolving circus there for the defendant.  One man kept picking his nose, looking at it, and wiping it on his jeans.  Not even making this up!  At one point, he actually used his tshirt to wipe his nose, exposing half his torso to the courtroom.  Grandma-home-perm, clearly Elvira's mother, handed the grown man some tissue.  He threw it to the ground in protest, making a sound I have heard many times before---from my 5th grader!

This group also continually and randomly kept filing in and out of the room.  They had a plastic container that I thought contained nuts which they kept handing around.  At one point, a guy seemed to be opening a candy wrapper and was catching looks from everyone.  When he stood up to leave, I realized what the noise was and what was in this mysterious plastic container.  Held between his thumb and forefinger was an unsealed, hand rolled cigarette.  He was rolling a cigarette in the courtroom!  And he carefully carried it out of the courtroom before sealing it up!

It's interesting being in a jury selection.  You have all these ideas prepared in your mind of how you are going to beg your way out of it.  When the time comes, however, you are afraid to breath.  You feel like you're in trouble.  The assortment of law officials seem so stoic and scary.

A few brave souls did attempt a plea to be released.
First attempt:  Nice young engineering major at WSU, in his junior year, only second week of classes.  The judge simply said that sounds inconvenient, but no.

Second attempt:  Fourth grade teacher man that announced it was hard to leave a classroom for several days.  What an idiot.  Lawyers love having teachers on their jury, they know you aren't missing pay, and they know you have perfectly capable substitutes on call.  That man, of course, ended up on the jury.

Third attempt:  Pale, sunken woman takes the microphone and announces she has the flu.  She was excused immediately.  As she handed the microphone back, I noticed the bailiff stifle a sickened look, and attempt to wipe the microphone on her jacket.

I dreaded this part.  The trial was for rape and assault.  Ugh.  Clearly no one is comfortable with this, but when asked if anyone would be too upset to focus, several people were stupid enough to raise their hands.  What followed was a line of questioning that drew out confessions of past events to friends and family that I really didn't need to hear.  One of my roommates boyfriends held us by gunpoint, and then stole my Dodge Dart, and took our laundry money...  Thanks for sharing.

Um, also... if you seem jaded by the event, even though you say you aren't, the prosecutors are going to want you on the trial!  Duh.  Of course, the main story teller was, in fact, a chosen juror.

I will end this tale with cigarette rolling gentleman in the back, that seemed to have somehow bonded with me.  Lots of eye contact and smiling.  As I left the courtroom, sandwiched between old-lady-hums-when-she-breathes and teeny-tiny-OCD-ADD, he mouthed thank you to me.  Creepy.

As I drove away from the courthouse, grateful to be released, I noticed a man standing on the corner smoking.  It was my friend from the courtroom, with one of his rolled cigarettes.  He waved.

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