Justice Served on Silver Platitudesby Natalie Jacobs April 3, 2017
The first thing they tell you in jury duty is this will not be like the tv shows or movies you’ve watched your entire life, or the crime novels you continue to love even though you know they’re terrible.
“So this will not be like Law and Order?” No. “How about CSI, CSI Miami, CSI Las Vegas, NCIS or Criminal Minds?” No, no, definitely not. “Not even THE WIRE?” Sorry, no. “But kind of like a John Grisham book, right?” Ugh, no!
This is real life, multiple judges remind you. What they mean is, there will be a lot of waiting in hallways, windowless rooms, fluorescent lighting, only one belligerent defendant screaming “I FOUGHT THE LAW!!!” and a quiet voice in your head that repeats “Really? This is the foundation of our justice system?”
“Yes,” the judges will telepathically commune, “really, and if you don’t stop all this sarcastic rambling I will find you in contempt of court.”
Later, the attorneys will admit that reality is subjective and they’ll say, “The reason we’re gathered here today is to help you figure out what is the most believable scenario that played out at a time and place where you and your 11 fellow jurors were not present, when in fact you weren’t even aware that the defendant existed. Now that you can see the defendant in front of your face, you are responsible for his freedom. Please pay close attention to everything we say for as long as we say it. You may have questions, but you cannot ask them. We will tell you everything we want you to know. You are not to consider anything we have not told you, because as we already made clear, anything is possible and your tax dollars are only paying for so much of our time.”
After the testimony where you’ve tried to retain as many details as possible but you have to admit there were a few times when the yellowy brown hue of the room blended everything together and became so overwhelmingly oppressive that you blacked out, the judge will offer further instructions.
“There are some words that have different meanings here than the meanings that are commonly attributed to those words,” the judge will read from a big binder. “You are to consider the meanings of those words as we’ve defined them here, not as they are commonly defined. In other instances, you can consider the common definitions of words. We will assess your grasp on this concept through a MadLibs worksheet that is included in your jury packet.”
In the next windowless room through a back corridor that is closed to the public, you will begin arguing with 11 strangers. It will be exhilarating, if only because you have spent two days not saying a single word for hours at a time.
“Throw the book at him and let’s get out of here!” someone will say.
“But the prosecution hasn’t met its burden of proof!” a do-gooder will retort.
“Yeah, where’s the smoking gun?” another will pile on.
“Ok, but define accident,” someone will diligently search through the jury packet.
With 15 minutes left in the court’s day, you will take a preliminary vote. 11 to 1. It will become clear why there are no windows in the deliberation room. One juror will get angry that he’ll have to miss another day at his important job to sit in this sweatbox staring at a bunch of Detective Stabler wannabes arguing over $228 worth of groceries. It will be unclear if 12 of you will leave this room until the juror who has been slumped in the corner starts humming “American the Beautiful.” By the lesser-known second verse, everyone will have calmed down.
“America! America! G-d mend thine every flaw, confirm thy soul in self-control, thy liberty in law!”
With the tip-tap of pilgrim’s feet echoing in your heart, you’ll bid the strangers farewell, and until tomorrow dutifully depart.