A couple of weeks ago, I received a summons to fulfill one of my obligations as an American citizen and report for jury duty. I had received this once before, but when I called in the day before I was supposed to serve, they said that I wasn't needed. This time, however, I went through the whole process. I was a little nervous about a trial interfering with my business trip to Boston next week, but it ended up just consuming a single Tuesday. And boy was it interesting.
It started with me reporting to the jury lounge to await being called for a trial. They gave you an information packet to read over and also offered you the opportunity to donate any jury pay you would receive (a whopping $15/day for the first five days, $50/day after) to the childrens. I donated all of mine since my company still pays me when serving on a jury, and I proceeded to waste an hour or so surfing the net. It was nice of them to provide free wifi, but the network was locked down tighter than Maid Marian's chastity belt. I couldn't even log in to Google Talk or Yahoo Messenger. AIM, though, is apparently acceptable.
(Sidebar: In Googling to see if I spelled Maid Marian right, I learned that Ridley Scott is doing a remake of Robin Hood where Robin Hood is portrayed as the bad guy. Ridley Scott is one of my favorite directors, but I have some reservations with him drastically changing such an iconic character as Robin Hood. But if anyone can make it work, he can.)
After an hour or so, I was called up to a courtroom to possibly serve on the jury for a trial. The judge asked us some questions to determine if we'd be fair and impartial, such as whether we knew anyone involved in the case or if we'd had bad experiences with the court system in the past. After that, she called up the first twelve people to the jury box. She went down the line one by one and asked the defense and the state whether or not they wanted to seat or strike the potential juror. Each side gets four strikes, and the defense (who was representing himself, more on this later) used up three of his four strikes in the first five people. I'm not sure he knew there was a limit until the judge reminded him after his third strike.
Pretty soon all twelve jurors and an alternate were seated. I'm not sure how I thought an alternate worked before, but it caught me by surprise that they are there for the whole trial and only leave when the jury goes into deliberation. This makes sense, of course, because if something happened to one of the jurors, and the alternate wasn't there for the whole trial, then they would pretty much have to start over. It makes perfect sense, but for some reason at the time I thought it odd that she was there. Stupid brain.
The trial itself was kind of a circus. As I mentioned before, this guy was representing himself in an attempt to refute charges of running a red light and driving while impaired. He was supposed to have a witness, but this witness never showed up. He also mumbled and trailed off when explaining to the jury why he was representing himself. (No one asked him this question; he was just rambling in his opening statement.)
The entirety of the evidence in this trial boiled down to the testimonies of two officers and the defendant, as well as a printout from a breathalyzer machine which said that the defendant did not provide a sufficient air sample to be processed. The state, being the professional lawyers they are, were very direct and brief in their questioning. However, when the defendant was questioning the officers, there were several points where I had to do my best not to burst out laughing in the middle of the courtroom. This was a guy who had seen one too many Law and Order reruns. Sample scene in 3... 2... 1...
The defendant paces deliberately in the center of the courtroom, hands clasped behind his back.
So, officer, how long would you say you were in the testing room with the defendant?
Oh, I'd say about forty or forty-five minutes.
(triumphantly, with hands up in front of him)
He did this several times, where he would ask a question completely irrelevant to the charges at hand and then act as if the answer were some sort of shocking revelation which helped make his case. It was all I could do not to laugh at him, and I could see that several of the other jurors were stifling their own giggles. When it came down to it, all he did the entire trial was to try and misdirect us with questions and testimony that had nothing to do with what he was charged with. We went with the testimony of the officers (he had failed the field sobriety tests before being taken to the station) and the refusal to provide a sufficient breath sample to be analyzed by the machine as reasonable proof of the charges and convicted him.
All in all, I found the entire process to be quite interesting and educational. The trial itself was compelling enough, even if I started to get pissed off when the defendant asked the officer about twenty different versions of the same question and also when he deliberately asked questions about things which didn't happen in an effort to trip up the officers. (The crimes in question had taken place almost two years ago. For some reason, the trial had been postponed multiple times.) Other than that, it was nice to see the process at work. Though my faith in the upper realms of our government has almost completely eroded, my confidence in my fellow everyday Americans has been reassured. We may have to fight for some of the things we've lost, but what we still have is pretty great.