Monthly Archives: October 2013

Unadventurous Times of a Juror

They found me. 

Holding the envelope and reading in bold “Jury Summons,” I flipped it over and over in the hopes of discovering it to be a weird advertisement flyer.    It was legit.  Cheers to citizenship.

I packed my Kindle, my folders from work, and an insufficient supply of snacks to the Los Angeles court house in downtown LA.

My fellow citizens and I were herded into a giant room stocked with uncomfortable chairs to wait for our name to be called.  After hours of nothingness my mind simply warped into a strange funk.   It was akin to waiting for a delayed flight at the airport but without Starbucks and Book Stores…or a flight.

Could this be purgatory? Am I in a dream?  Maybe no one knows that I’m actually here.  Could that be a fortuitous oversight?

But then it happened.  I heard my name over the loud speaker instructing me to report.  It was 3:30 pm and I had been sitting there since 9:00 am.

Nearly fifty of us shuffled into the court room, shoulders slumped, because the possibility of jury duty inevitably compromises one’s posture.  However, the real injustice was the sign at the door forbidding drinks.

Twelve people were called to sit in the jury box, and my inner voice “hooray-ed” that I wasn’t on the list.  Perhaps I could go home now?

No such luck.  The judge informed us that we must return the following day.  He also alerted us to the nature of the case, a criminal trial involving a convicted sex offender.  A collective audible groan escaped from the potential jurors.

I started in on bargaining mode with God:

Dear God, I’ll stop teaching Hume and Bertrand Russell if you get me out of this and I’ll finish all of my grading on time…for life!  

I’ll return student emails in a timely fashion.  

I’ll stop stealing pens from the office. 

I’ll consider your existence a possibility. 

The next two days I navigated through city traffic, bad coffee from the cafeteria, and general grumpiness that could rival PMS.  I’d never pined over my day job more.  On the bright side, I had yet to be called into the jury box.

By the end of day three, my luck ran out.  My friend texted me the following sage advice:

photo 2

When my turn to be questioned arrived, the lawyer noted my background in philosophy and he said: “Philosophy. Big ideas.  Deep thinking.  Could you simply apply the law given the evidence presented?”

Defensively I huffed: “Yes!”

Oops. I sealed the deal.  In retrospect I should have answered “What is law?”

The case, it turns out, was over a technical question.  Part of the conditions of the defendant’s parole for being a convicted sex offender was that he needed to register his address whenever it changed.  The defendant claimed to have become homeless and that was why he failed to register.  We needed to determine if he knew that being homeless did not mean he could shirk this responsibility.  The prosecution held up evidence of a series of forms the defendant had signed that clearly stated he acknowledged he must always let the police know his location even if he became transient.

Listening to this testimony made me wonder if this was Karma for every time I’ve bored my students.

My 8:00 am Philosophy Class's response to Aquinas

My 8:00 am Philosophy Class’s response to Aquinas

One of the more depressing aspects of the trial occurred during the testimony of the officers in charge of registering sex offenders.  There are a whopping two people in charge!  Those two officers are responsible for approximately 600 registered offenders.  When asked how often they verify if the offender lives where he/she says they live, the officers said “Maybe 5-10 a month.”  In other words, the majority of offenders register addresses and there is not enough time or resources to see if the addresses are real.

How did the defendant get caught?  Well, he claimed that he sometimes stayed at his in-laws and that was the address listed on his driver’s license.  Another part of the LAPD served him a warrant at that DMV address.  When the sex offender registration officers noticed the address of the arrest had not been listed as required, they brought the defendant in for questioning.  Here is the other point at which the ball was dropped: the interview was not recorded.

Jury deliberations, a.k.a. an introvert’s hell, opened the door to another rather deflating reality.  The twelve of us needed to agree.  Only eleven of us did think the prosecution proved the defendant knew of his obligation to register, and one juror believed the defendant simply didn’t know.  After two days we could not change her mind.

“So, we’re going to let him go because he signed these documents, consulted with a parole officer, but says he didn’t know,” one juror angrily said.

“You don’t know what you don’t know, and I believed him when he said he didn’t know,” the dissenter replied.

It was an exercise in futility.  We agreed to tell the judge we had a hung jury.  All of us prayed it would be accepted because after almost two weeks, no one wanted to discuss it further.  I was surprised to find my own sentiments at such a degree of frustration.  In the beginning, I didn’t want to be there, but once I recognized the gravity of the responsibility, I wanted to fulfill my duty.  The defendant was guilty.  After hearing testimony about the lack of resources for registering sex offenders and the failure to record an interview, we as a jury were the last bit of the justice system and we were also, I felt, letting the proverbial ball drop.

When the judge excused us and thanked us for our service I initially thought, Wait?  Did I have a choice?  Then I drove home ruminating on the entire ordeal (L.A. traffic gives one plenty of time for thinking between periodic horn beeping).

I am so disappointed that I participated in something that, from what I gathered by the evidence, amounted to a futile exercise.  My only hope is that the verdict initiates change and/or reflection on the departments in charge and the organization of evidence by the prosecution.  I don’t think I’ll serve on a jury again if called.  I never want this….dirty feeling of having been part of something that seems a bit of a ruse.

Next time I’m asked if I could apply the law, I may go into philosopher speak and start up a lecture on Aristotle.


A Simple Claim, A Major Assumption

My ears perked up and I set my coffee mug down when I heard the following claim thrown into a discussion  over the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare):

Young people don’t need insurance.  Barring an accident like skiing or being attacked by a panda, they don’t get sick.

Normally, my coffee and I are inseparable especially in the morning.  This means the comment not only alarmed me intellectually but also got in the way of me enjoying my coffee and that is just annoying.

I don’t wish to indulge in the debate itself; however I would like to bracket this claim.  I’ve heard the comment about three times now and it forces my eyebrows to knit my forehead into premature wrinkling.  Rather than reach for the anti-aging moisturizer I’ve decided to blog.

There is something missing and assumed in the claim.  Do you see it?

In the 1940’s, philosopher Simone de Beauvoir rocked the establishment with her publication The Second Sex.  The central thread to this work evolved around the notion that normal and human were equated with man.  Woman, in contrast, was “other.”  I dare not delve into a lengthy thesis here, but I would be remiss to not mention that her writings delighted me and forged an impression that underscores some of my views.  She is my “Spidey-sense,” if you will: my “Beauvoirian-sense.”

Back to the claim that elicited my Beauvoirian-sense: Who are these “young people” not needing insurance?  Who are the youth involved in dangerous activity that might rush them to hospital?  Close your eyes and try to envision the “young” person of which the naysayers speak?

Do you picture a young man?

Again, my intention is not to debate the pros and cons of Obamacare, but only to examine the implication of this claim, for I believe it thoughtlessly casts aside the realities of women’s health.  The unsaid assumption is that the “young” are men, and it reeks of the very sort of thinking Beauvoir tackled in the 1940’s.  Women are not part of the equation in the claim.  They are “other.”  The “norm” is the young man who never gets sick.

It is quite possible that women’s health, upkeep, exams, and everything that has to do with her “parts” is simply unfamiliar.  Women themselves don’t exactly share stories about doctor visits.  It’s all hush hush.  One doesn’t announce, “I need the afternoon off because I’m going for my pap” quite the same way one freely says “I’m going to the dentist for a cleaning.”

Women do go to the doctor and not necessarily because they are sick.  From the age of 21 to 30, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommend a woman sees a doctor every year for an exam (pap smear and pelvic).  These exams detect the early stages of cervical cancer.

Aside from these exams, do you notice anything else about young women with respect to seeing a doctor?

If women are pregnant then they usually seek medical attention.  If women do not want to get pregnant then they visit a doctor for birth control which requires a prescription and regular examinations.  In addition, birth control is sometimes prescribed for other health reasons such as Polycystic Ovary Syndrome.

Gentlemen, maybe you did not see a doctor in your youth but that cannot be the standard of measurement for all people.  If we view “youth” to include young women, then the answer is a resounding “Yes” to the question of whether or not they see a doctor.

Where are women’s voices in this debate?  The medical community?  The Gynecologists? Please feel free to comment and share below.


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