I first got my summons about, I don’t know, April. A friend of mine suggested I could throw it away — that if the government doesn’t directly hand me the letter, they can’t prove I actually got it. That reasoning was not enough to assuage my anxiety (ignored things never simply go away when you are paranoid like me), and also a case in the Federal Court sounded really important and potentially very interesting. I followed the instructions, which I don’t even remember now, and expected to get a followup.
Well, I never got that second letter. Likely it got buried under other mail, thrown out by someone else, or I missed it in some way. I mean, letters? In envelopes? With stamps? The only time I care about such things is when I’m expecting a love letter from San Francisco <3
Oh, also, I was probably at Burning Man.
One of the days I happened to answer the phone, a reasonably flustered federal employee asked, in kinder words, WTF happened Samantha? She let me postpone my service ’til December and I promised to pay attention to the mail this time.
I did but… I forgot to call in. They called me! Awesome. Call Sunday night, they said. So I did. Show up downtown tomorrow at 7:30am, the robot said.
I fell asleep planning my excuses. I’m an independent contractor: I won’t be reimbursed and jury duty will make me broke (um well not really but, they don’t need to know what a diligent money saver I am and how I can easily afford time off of work). I refreshed my memory on Jury Nullification, because previous research and life experience shows that if you hint that you disagree with the law itself, the judge and/or the attorneys will keep your butt off the jury bench. Don’t believe corporations are people (and don’t want to serve)? Mention it in voire dire.
During voire dire, I was
surprised in reverent awe by just how much truth my fellow potential jurors chose to share. Several had experienced or witnessed trauma related to issues in the case, and could not honestly be impartial. Microphone in hand, many of them were moved to emotion. Others had truly difficult living circumstances that would be dire to disrupt by going to court every day. The judge was empathetic, and dismissed nearly all of them. People are fucking amazing, I thought. When it was my turn to speak, my desire to shirk jury duty seemed petty and I only told the truth.
Of course, service was not 100% solemn. I thought of us as the “slacker jury,” because a lot of us had similar stories of forgetting to respond to letters or postponing service as long as possible. December seemed like the month for total flakes. (Heh, snow flakes. Ok shut up not funny..) We laughed, judge included, at least once during the trial, and lots in the deliberation room. Still, we argued earnestly over the verdict, which we knew would seriously affect the defendant’s life.
THE CASE: Now that it’s over, I can share as many juicy details as I like. Our defendant, a Mexican national, was caught crossing the border with several pounds of crystal meth in his car, disguised as various automotive fluids and a bottle of tea. During the case, he would be treated the same as an American citizen. We had to determine if he knew about the drugs, or if, as he described the day he was caught, he was haplessly duped by a new acquaintance of his named Chael.
DUuuuuuudddeee Chael was a shadyyyy trickster. He spoke spanish with an interpreter, which meant he wasn’t as quickly interrupted as english-speaking witnesses when he totally tried to bullshit everybody. I mean, though he had special immunity for his testimony, he did not seem capable of telling the truth. Even the prosecuting attorney was getting IRRITATED as a wasp stuck in a bikini because he couldn’t get him to answer nearly any question in a straightforward way.
And the prosecuting attorney was kind of adorable. He was soft-spoken, kept messing up what he was saying, and one time didn’t have his notes for a particular witness. “Uh, I’d like to request a sidebar..” he said when he realized he didn’t have them, “It’s kind of embarrassing…” During his opening and closing arguments, he belabored the analogy that circumstantial evidence is like catching a kid with cookie crumbs on his mouth and inferring he stole treats from the cookie jar. Ok, yes, I get it but there were not enough cookie crumbs to convince me. Or like, any.
You see why I was having fun? This is like a dramatic performance. I got super excited when the dingball canine officer was nervously jiggling his feet during his testimony. I sat forward in my (nearly identical) chair like he did and decided such a jiggle was unnecessary. OMG I’M LIKE THE CSI I CAN TELL HE’S HIDING SOMETHING. I’d already become bored with the fact that he got so thrilled that the “tea” he found (actually, liquified crystal meth) didn’t look like tea to him and obviously thought he was a genius for his discovery. Hello, “white tea” exists and it says blanco on the bottle; you are not not uncovering important clues you are just dumb lucky.
When I got back from lunch, I noticed the canine officer’s involuntary facial tick and realized he’s just a jiggly person, not a liar. Seems I’m not that clever, either. Dammit.
Going into the jury room, I felt fairly certain the defendant was Not Guilty. He just seemed like a dumb kid (like, really, not smart enough to plan a crime) from a small town who got swept up by a richer, more popular friend-of-a-friend who saw the opportunity to trick him into smuggling drugs across the border. The recording made the day of his arrest seemed truthful to me, not like lying. I mean, I thought he might have an inkling that Chael was connected to some illegal stuff, but that this was sort of a “the less you know the better” kind of situation and he was not told about the meth scheme to take place in his own car. I also figured he was too much of a pushover to question Chael. Regardless, I didn’t think the prosecutor had enough evidence of guilt, and it’s “innocence until proven,” right?
Whoa-ho-ho, apparently not. Most of the jurors thought he deserved a guilty sentence! Luckily, there was another holdout like me (I don’t know if I could have done it alone) and we returned a hung jury. We were finally allowed to talk to the attorneys, and I met them outside to give them feedback. I found out after the case that he’d been tried before, and that hung jury had 8 Not Guilty votes and only 4 Guilty ones!! Oh shit, Edson (that was his name) sorry to scare you like that. Hope there isn’t another trial, but if there is, better luck to you and I hope you can get back to chillin’ at the Tecate beer garden ASAP and be done with jurors like me.
In summary, courts are full of real people with real personalities and your decision as a juror affects real lives. I’d recommend anyone who is summoned to think of it as a meaningful diversion from your daily life, and something that could even make you feel grateful. I thought of it as the most important vacation I took all year.