I had jury duty today. Most people I know hate jury duty, but I actually like it. Granted, this is only the second time that I’ve ever had to report, and the first that I’d been chosen to appear in an actual courtroom to be screened for a case. Still, I think it’s fun. I love to people watch and there is no better place to see a cross section of society than when stuffed in a room with several hundred of your “peers.” Today was no exception, even though there were only about 40 of us who were asked to report to the courthouse. It was a good 40. The best of the best, really.
The juror lounge is an expansive, bleak, sad looking room. The carpet is a washed-out grey. The walls, which are completely bare, used to be off-white, but are now dingy and slightly yellowed. It’s got rows and rows of grey and blue plastic chairs that are all connected together. Kind of like the chairs at an airport, but more abused and less comfortable. Not that airport chairs are comfortable. They just suck slightly less than these chairs. All of these chairs creak with even the slightest amount of movement from their occupant, making the room a sort of awkward, squeaky symphony, particularly when the room, which seats about 500, is filled to capacity. The only things to look at, other than your fellow prospective jurors, are the giant projector screen and podium at the front of the room.
I arrived at 7:40 am, about twenty minutes before the orientation process began. After checking in, I scoped out the room, which was nearly empty, and did what I always do: I grabbed a seat at the end of the aisle in the very last row, right by the door. It’s the prime people watching spot. You can scope out everyone coming in, laugh at the dumbasses who are unable to follow simple directions at the check-in table, watch the constant flow of traffic to and from the bathroom and vending machine area, and of course, have a clear view of the small sea of people in front of you. Now that is strategy, people!
Anyway, I grabbed my seat in the back and waited for orientation to begin. Seated across the aisle from me was a chubby gentleman with long, frizzy, curly hair. He was sweating profusely, even with the AC practically blowing ice shards down on us, and he couldn’t sit still. He was squirming and fidgeting in his seat like an overgrown toddler, and his poor abused chair was crying out for help with a chorus of screechy death rattles. I had hit people-watching gold! Then he started talking. He was more or less talking to himself, but it occasionally appeared to be directed at other random people walking by. I watched person after person jump when startled by his sudden outbursts, then saw their faces turn to looks of quiet discomfort and concern as they shuffled as far away from him as possible. Then the orientation video started and he shifted his focus and began yelling at the screen. This guy was my new hero.
“Oh, I already know alllllllllll about the legal system!”
After the video concluded and our official court designated babysitter went over all the rules, we were sent on a break. Sadly, when I returned, my new crazy buddy had migrated to the other side of the room to harangue the good folks over there. In his place was a tiny, frail, octogenarian in a bright blue Members Only jacket, black high water slacks, thick black socks that were slouched around his tiny stick legs, and bulky sneakers that looked like something Frankenstein would have worn if he had been really into footwear. He may have been old as dirt, but he was just as attached to his iPhone as any modern day teenager. It was actually kind of impressive. My own grandmother, who is around his age, can barely operate her flip phone well enough to call the four or five people whose numbers are stored in it. This guy, however, was texting up a storm. I know he was texting because he had the text alert set at what I imagine to be the absolute highest volume setting. The guy was a gem.
But then something happened. An odor most foul started wafting across the aisle. Then there were sounds. And more odors. Oh God! This guy just shit his pants! This fine gentleman audibly shat himself without even batting an eye. He barely even shifted in his seat. And, he obviously was in no hurry to do anything about it. No time to change this soiled adult undergarment! I’ve got texts to send! Even though he was assaulting my nasal passages with awful scents, I respected him. He set the bar for not giving a fuck. That dude had absolutely zero fucks to give. Forget what I said earlier about Captain Fidgets being my new hero; Shits McGhee was my hero now.
A few minutes after Operation Scat Man took place, the overhead PA system crackled to life and began calling out names and room numbers. My name was called, so I followed the herd out the door and through the halls. Shits McGhee and Captain Fidgets were marching along with me. It was a jury duty dream come true. We all congregated on benches outside of our assigned courtroom, waiting to be let in. Shits made good use of this time and disappeared to the restroom for a spell. He came back smelling fresh(er) and I was grateful for it. Soon, the Deputy appeared to do roll call and led each of us to our assigned seats one-by-one.
The case we’d been assigned to was for a young kid, who was maybe 22 at most, who’d been charged with DUI and driving without a license. Based on the line of questioning that his lawyer used to screen us out, their line of defense was that the arresting officers did not conduct a full, comprehensive investigation.
Because of the nature of the case, the judge, the prosecutor, and the defense lawyer asked a lot of questions about the prospective jurors’ affiliations, past experiences, feelings, and potential prejudices when dealing with alcohol and/or police. These were general questions posed to the entire group. If you had an experience that aligned with a scenario given, you were to raise your hand and the judge would call on you to explain your experience, your feelings about it, and whether you felt it would affect your ability to remain unbiased in this case. And so began the freak show that would unfold over the next two hours.
Captain Fidgets was very vocal, as expected. He was everything I’d hoped he would be: outspoken with an abundance of arrests spanning about 15 years of his life. He raised his hand at one point to indicate that he’d had negative experiences with and feelings toward law enforcement officials. When the judge asked him if he thought this would prevent him from being impartial, he responded with, “I’ve been arrested a lot, so I’m biased against cops, but I feel that I can be impartial.” I’m not certain that he knows what impartial means. Later, we were told that the jury deliberation room was small and windowless. Fidgets raised his hand again to indicate an issue and then informed the court of his claustrophobia, which “may become an issue if we’re in there too long.” None of this was surprising. What was surprising was learning that he’s a Registered Nurse at my hospital of choice. Never mind the criminal history and how that got past the background checks; I cannot imagine this guy being assigned to take care of me. Then again, that’s a job that I could never, ever do, so maybe he’s perfect for it. Who knows?
But Fidgets wasn’t the only goofball in the room. We had a lot of people with past substance abuse issues or who had people close to them with substance abuse issues. Also, lots of past arrests, many for DUI. We had people who proclaimed their love of drinking, people who were in AA, and one guy who thought that everyone who has ever imbibed was morally corrupt. That guy was let go first. Next to go was the girl who sobbed as she spoke of her alcoholic father. After her, it was the eighteen year old girl who had a lot of pent up hostility toward her older brother, who had been arrested for DUI, amongst other things, several times over the last year. For two hours, the room was swirling with tales of drinking, driving, crashing, going to jail, and going to rehab. It was amazing. Almost everyone was over-sharing.
It was obvious that some were just trying to get cut. I decided to go a different route. I shared nothing. I said nothing. I responded to no questions whatsoever. The only information I gave was the required demographic info in the survey, and I even kept that as vague as possible. They got my name, that I worked in market research, and that I felt I could be unbiased. That was it. Nothing else. When the attorneys for each side asked questions of specific jurors, including a few others who’d also kept quiet, I was missed.
It came time to narrow the selection down to the final 12, plus 2 alternates. Shits McGhee, who is a Psychiatrist, by the way, was dismissed early. Captain Fidgets surprisingly hung in almost until the end. There were about 15 or so people that the attorneys found less desirable than him. Go figure. I was dismissed with just two eliminations to go. Knowing nothing about me made me a risk, so I got to go home, while the more vocal folks will now be hearing the case through Wednesday or Thursday of next week.
In the end, jury duty is a game of strategy. Sometimes you win. Sometimes you lose. Sometimes you yell a lot to let the crazy out, and sometimes, just sometimes, you unabashedly shit your pants in public just because you can. But, most importantly, you are always reminded not to fuck up, because these crazy fuckers could be the ones deciding your fate.