And so, after the great grey hot dog debacle, I gave up and went back to the prospective juror holding pen. And I paced. I was done with sitting and reading.
The group of us who’d been summoned for the 1:30 trial included several middle-aged women, some denim-clad mustachioed men, a couple of girls who looked like they needed permission slips, and a guy who was sort of the lovechild of Craig T. Nelson and Jon Taffer.
We were led into a room that was both more and less formal than I’d expected. I know most modern-day courtrooms aren’t the ornate, wooden-veneered things of the movies, but this wasn’t just a church rec room, either. The judge’s bench in the corner put him sufficiently higher than everyone else, and there were special benches and enclaves, all seemingly different for the various positions.
Not to overwhelm us with reverence, two uniformed bailiffs virtually reclined in their chairs, hands folded behind their heads, half-amused at the proceedings, half asleep.
It was a DUI trial. Two lawyers on each side, plus the defendant—a pretty young blonde girl. I felt embarrassed for her at first and then later kind annoyed with her for instigating all this contentiousness. Conflict bothers me.
The lead attorney for each side stood in front of the group and asked various questions regarding our experiences with DUIs. Whenever someone shared a story, the attorneys would nod, maybe ask a follow-up question, and then conclude with, “Do you feel like this would affect your ability to render an impartial verdict?” And inevitably, the person would say, “No, I don’t think so,” and they’d move on.
It was that clear-cut, and yet, Nerdy McTeacher’sPet that I am, I jumped at those questions that allowed me to raise my hand—“Well, I’m a journalist, and I did this story about DUIs, and there were sheriffs there and I got all these people drunk in my boss’s office.” Any excuse to tell that story, really.
Even when I knew every story was going to end the same, and I wasn’t going to suddenly realize, “Oh, wait, I can’t render an impartial verdict,” I couldn’t help raise my hand and share my stories. Lord. At least I came by my geekiness honestly.
Coach Bar Rescue next to me obviously knew what he was doing: He sat legs out, arms crossed or behind his head or propping up his chin. It wasn’t sincere indifference; his body posture screamed, “Nuh-uh. Not having it. I’ve got golf on Thursday.” He was the only person the whole time who was never asked a direct question, and never said a thing.
Eventually the attorneys started floundering for questions. They sounded like me trying to burn through an interview when I have no idea what I want the other person to say. But, as attorneys, they demonstrated this amazing ability to make a nonsensical inquiry with utter professional confidence.
I thought for sure they’d gotten to the end of the ridiculousness when the defense attorney busted out a hypothetical scenario: “Ok, say you’re throwing a Superbowl party at your house. And one person shows up with a six-pack of beer. Would any of you tell them to go home?”
I started to smirk into, “OK, ladies, I think your questions are getting silly,” when two people—TWO people—in the front row raised their hands. Say…what now? You would turn away someone who brought a six-pack to your party? What…the hell?
They each explained something about not allowing alcohol in their houses…something something…I dunno; I didn’t hear much beyond my brain screaming incredulity. Of all experiences with this cross-section of humanity, this is the one that hammered it home: Man, some people really do live totally different lives.
Then a woman in the second row raised her hand: “I’m sorry,” she laughed apologetically. “But if someone showed up at my Superbowl party without beer, I would send them away to go get some.”
OK, is it against judicial ethics to make her my new best friend?
Anyway, they eventually finished up, let us loiter in the hall a bit before calling us back in and reading a list of seven people for the jury—including one of the teetotalers and one of the teenagers. But not me.
It’s not that I’m actually insulted. But I would give anything to know more about their reasoning—from both sides—and how they came to their consensus. That’s probably pretty straightforward to anyone with legal experience; I just don’t know anything about it. Obviously it’s not as straightforward as people’s answers—and really, that makes it even more interesting. If they were reading attitude, intelligence, body language, etc., what did they see—or not see—in me?