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.

About unsolicitedtidbits

Philosophy, books, coffee, Mexican food enthusiast. View all posts by unsolicitedtidbits

11 responses to “Unadventurous Times of a Juror

  • girlychristina

    Wow. That sounded like so much fun…not!! I’m glad you survived jury duty =) I’ve never been (knock on wood!) but I understand that it’s not fun at all!

  • bronxboy55

    It’s a terrible system. When I say that, I always feel that I should have a suggestion for a better one, but I don’t. I’m not sure anything would work the way I imagine it should. Even the idea that they make you sit there for six hours before they even call you in. What is the purpose of that — to sharpen your thinking skills?

  • severalfourmany

    I don’t know why they call it a “Justice” system. I hope someone, somewhere is doing something useful on a jury but I have yet to experience it.

    My big jury experience was the result of a disagreement between two very wealthy neighbors. Neither one seemed to do any useful work and they were bothered that the other interfered with the perfection of their leisure lifestyle. As they could not have a sensible conversation with each other–or just get over it–these bored socialites were suing each other.

    This, of course, required three full weeks of idiotic testimony that interrupted the useful lives of a dozen hard-working people. By the time it was over I wanted to send them both to the electric chair.

    • unsolicitedtidbits

      Oh wow! That sounds truly awful. I do wish the system could improve. One of the biggest problems I noticed was that all of the jurors wanted to get the deliberations over with, and that sort of rushed attitude couldn’t be good. On the other hand, I wouldn’t advocate to eliminate trial by jury. It is a conundrum. Thank you for reading.

  • Damyanti

    That sounds like excellent research for a short story. Um. For me, everything sounds like the beginnings of a short story.

  • Aussa Lorens

    Dang, I would be titilated to find out I was summoned for jury duty. That’s right– titilated. Which is apparently not a real word. Maybe you can expound on “real” for me.

  • Timothy Murray

    Ah, Aquinas is not that bad! I’m assuming you did not assign Summa Theologica for one night’s reading! Though, I did read Homer in a day and a half once, without sleep; and yes, I was cramming! But I read it nevertheless!

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