So this one time, I had jury duty.
The letter arrived without warning one day in the mail and explained to me that I had been selected. I then brought it to work, bragging to everyone I saw. What's not to love? An excused day from work. A day with lots of quiet waiting- so I would have to read a book! I'd actually have time to read. But my excitement was only met with groans and moans. Everyone that I spoke to that had jury duty before could only tell me how much they hated it- how boring it was.
Surely, they had to be wrong. What could be more American, besides voting, than serving on a jury? After all, Americans are bestowed the right to a fair and speedy trial by their peers. My mind drifted off to Law and Order, Boston Legal, and OJ Simpson...
Finally the day came. I picked out my best jury duty outfit. Something not too trendy- one that said I'm serious, but fair. I'm up-to-date with modern ways of thinking- but I am a responsible citizen that makes good choices. (most of the time) And of course, I was sure to dress in layers, as court rooms always appeared cold.
My long day began by my going to the wrong court house. When I arrived, I waved my magic paper in the air that notified the security guard that I had been specially selected. Security did not think it was as exciting as I did. He simply requested that I put my purse on the scanner and to "please stop waving that godforsaken paper in my face, ma'am." I was quickly directed across the street to the proper location. At least I knew my bag would pass inspection. (I had spent the night before removing anything questionable- lighters, razors, AK-47...)
I was not to be discouraged though. I leapt up the stairs, into courtroom number 1 and found a seat in the middle, front row. I wanted to see everything.
A couple of girls sat next to me and naturally, they became my new friends (my selection process isn't too rigorous). We chatted and waited. We got hushed for talking too loudly.
Then they showed us a movie about our 'duty as American citizens'. I mentally took notes.
About half way through, new friend #1 pulled a water bottle out of her purse and took a long, hard swig off of it as if it were a flask of whiskey on a Texas ranch. But before she could put it down, a large white haired man with a county emblem on his jacket (the bailiff?) came running at her.
"Ma'am! There is NO drinking, or eating, or chewing gum in the courtroom! Your water must exit immediately." It was as if he expected the water in violation to walk out on its own.
Slowly Friend #1 lowered her water. Friend #2 whispered, "Just hide it in your purse."
Mr. Food Police then quickly turned to a gray haired woman sitting behind us. "You there! Is that gum in your mouth?"
Her face turned pale as the 60-some year old woman replied in a hoarse voice, "No Sir, it's just a cough drop. Are we not allowed to have cough drops?"
"No COUGH DROPS!" and he turned and walked away.
I was beginning to realize how hardcore this stuff really was. The courtroom looked just like Judge Judy's. It smelled musty but felt historical and polished. There were paintings of angry men hanging on the walls throughout. They all appeared to be former judges. Perhaps famous. Some maybe not so much. But they all had a furrow upon their brow that simply said, "I judge you. Therefore I am a judge." As if it was unconstitutional for them to crack a smile.
I could hear Jack Nicholson yelling, "You can't handle the truth!"
Soon the Judge herself walked in as Mr. Food Police instructed, "All rise."
Following her were the prosecutors, defendant, and attorneys. I waited, half expecting to hear a narration of a completely irrelevant story in addition to why they were here- just like on Judge Mathis. “The Plaintiff likes to eat cheeseburgers on Tuesday nights and ended up getting a catholic girl pregnant. He is suing the Defendant for late rent money.” However, the narration never came.
Instead, the Judge explained that this was a criminal trial today rather than a civil. The Defendant was accused of second-degree rape. I was unsure of what the degree meant- but I figured I could Google it later on my lunch break. I suddenly felt anxious. Holy smokes- this was the real deal.
What followed next was about as long and drawn-out as the movie Lawrence of Arabia. We began the process of jury selection. Did anyone know anyone involved in the case? Was anyone in the jury a felon? An illegal immigrant? (because I'm sure they would run up and tell the judge)
We got to hear all about crimes that everyone's family members had committed and/or if those around us were involved in or witnessed a crime.
Someone mentioned a vandalism case and suddenly I was having a conflicted conversation with myself. I recalled the time I had my iPod stolen out of my vehicle. No, no. That's not a big enough crime. But you called the cops and they did a police report. No, no. There were no arrests made. It was a mini crime. And mini crimes don't count. I'm sure. So I didn't say anything.
And then they brought the accused out. My first instinct was to judge. How could he commit such a horrible crime? He's wearing a wrinkly shirt without a tie. How unprofessional. He probably never owned a dress shirt- so I'm sure he's a hoodlum. But then something about his face seemed so young and innocent. Was he being falsely accused? Cases like these are so he said/she said. Suddenly I was worried about having to make a decision that will ultimately decide the fate of this young man.
"If it does not fit, you cannot acquit."
All of the famous trials came flooding into my brain. And then I began to feel light headed. Not because of the pressure, but because it was nearly 1 o'clock and we had not eaten lunch yet. This was a big deal.
As the lawyers discussed technicalities with the judge, my stomach began to rumble in the near-silent courtroom. Loudly. My mouth was parched. I was literally starving right in front of them. I clenched my abs trying to stop the noises to no avail. Friend #1 and #2 began nonchalantly glancing my way. Oh crap. They probably thought I was gassy. I wanted to whisper, "It's not gas- I'm just very hungry." But that felt even more strange.
I glance up at Mr. Food Police. He had his back to me, so I took the opportunity to rifle through my purse for something with some calories. Anything.
I found some gum and quickly popped it into my mouth. Mr. Food Police glanced my way. I did not chew the gum, but began to suck every last bit of sugar I could get from it until it felt like a piece of squeaky rubber in my mouth. Discretely, I folded the used gum between a piece of paper- careful not to look obvious. I pretended to wipe my face with the paper. I continued to do this with three more pieces until I felt somewhat satisfied with the few bits of sugar I was able to get. It wasn't much- but I figured it'd hold me over for a little while anyway.
The judge asked everyone to line up in single-file when their number was called- as if it were a police lineup. The Prosecutor and Defendant went through and looked at each person. Then they whispered. Then they would either say seat or exit- meaning a stay or go. For the life of me I could not tell what basis they were using. I simply could not predict the outcomes. They were judging the jury! One person must have looked sympathetic. Another person looked somewhat angry- maybe with the law.
And then what happened- I did not see coming. Not by a long shot. They selected 12 jurors and 3 alternatives. And then…
They told the rest of us we could go home.
That was it?? All this time for that? It was after 2 o’clock! I've never experienced anything so anti-climatic in my life. Six hours straight in a court room. And now I'll never know what happened? I mean, unless I read it in the paper.
So I picked up my magazines and gum wrappers and slowly made my way out of the courtroom. I’d have to wait 3 more years for another chance to be a juror. And then, I finally realized why people moan and groan over jury duty.