Jury Duty – Sentenced!

8 Nov

You can’t avoid the envelope. It has that unmistakable crimson ink branded on jaundiced yet official looking “Penalty by Law” speckled government surplus paper! The kind of sad paper they use in prison bathrooms, inner city schools and Port-O-Sans.

Oh, joy! It’s your annual “Howdy Duty Time” greeting from the Superior Court of (insert any major city with a crime rate that exceeds its literacy rate.)

It reads: “Hi there chump! Here is your Summons for Jury Service. May your work schedule, social life and special travel plans be disrupted for the foreseeable future. Any slacker who blows this off, pretends to be dead or fakes a highly contagious disease will be fined $1500 (Penal Code FU-505.)”

“You may postpone your service for up to 90 days, but then we’ll really nail your ass on a long gruesome criminal case so why not just go ahead and eat the nasty frog?  After all, jury ‘duty’ is a privilege, not a punishment, right?

They’ve got you licked, so you buck up like a good citizen, put your life on hold and head down to the courthouse on the assigned date.

There is an hour and a half commute in rush hour traffic, a nasty battle for a parking spot, a security process that resembles a cavity search, and an elevator ride where you are sandwiched between beefy guys with gang tattoos plastered across their subway- train-size heads.

The jury room (termed “the pool” – short for cesspool?) is located in the bowels of the courthouse and is depressingly reminiscent of  detention hall in your recurring nightmare of high school hell.

The prospective jurors (“detainees”) are not happy campers. Most feel as if they have just been arrested themselves. Mournful sighs and expressions of “I never thought I’d miss my (insert job, kids, unemployment) so much” ripple through the bereaved bunch like a wave at a baseball game.

At some point (you’ve lost track of time) you’re sent to a courtroom hallway to wait – standing – for a few more hours with a group of 12 x 12 angry men and women.

In the “Voir Dire” (French for “say something Guano crazy and you get to go home”) the judge will ask if anyone has a significant reason not to serve on a trial. This is a highly entertaining opportunity to see just how creative (and desperate) your fellow detainees are – and how far they will go to be sprung from the joint.

A mousy woman peeps up, “I was arrested for an axe murder and it was a bad experience for me. I carry a buzz saw in my underpants. Wanna see?” (Bingo. Bye honey!)

“I hate all cops. They all lie. I wouldn’t believe any cop who told me anything, even if they just saved my twin babies from a burning car crash.” (Ding! You win the freezer. Adios, amigo!)

“I hate all (insert the race, gender, religion, political party of your choice.) The #!#@!#s  are all #!#@!# crooks and should all be executed. Let me flip the #!#@!# switch.”  (Don’t let the door hit your walker on the way out, granny!)

“I hit and run for a hobby. Helps me vent my road rage.  Got a texting teen on the way her!”  (Hmm, were you charged with that? If not, you can serve.)

And so it drags on, a tedious game of twenty dumb bunny questions in excruciatingly slow motion. There is a note taped to the jury box facing our seats. It says: “No gum chewing. No flip-flops. No alcoholic beverages allowed. DO NOT SLEEP!”

As hours and days drag by at a sadistic pace, you may bond inappropriately with total strangers who have been similarly randomly targeted. Affairs are not uncommon as there are more long bathroom and lunch breaks than any preschooler could imagine.

Call it Stockholm syndrome, but you may find yourself falling madly for the handsome judge who looks so sharp in those slimming black robes. Nobody apologizes incessantly for delays the way “Hugh” does.

Then, for no seemingly rational reason at all, it ends abruptly. You are excused. Free to go. Justice has been served. Ode to Joy! Never will you see mentally stable, cold sober folks act so ebullient in public. You’d think they just won fifty grand and a red Corvette on a game show. “Yippee! I’m free! Now I can make my root canal appointment!”

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