Standing tall for justice makes juror's life a trial


The juror sitting next to me was bent over two dime-store notebooks.

One notebook contained column after column of handwritten numbers.

The man would study them intently and then write a number in the other notebook.

Often he would stare at the number he had written and then erase it.

He was wearing bicycle pants, flip-flops and a faded T-shirt.

I had been told to report for jury duty. He, apparently, had been told to report for beach duty.

"Lottery numbers," he whispered to me.

He explained that if 26, for instance, had not come up for several weeks, then it was now "due" to come up. Or if 11 had come up several times, it was "not due."

Ah, I said. Yes. I see.

And I thought to myself: If I were on trial for a crime, would I want my fate decided by a seriously demented individual such as this one?

The judge entered the room, and we were told to stand up.

I do not like being told I have to stand up for anyone. I never fail to stand when the president of the United States enters the room for a news conference, but that is voluntary.

Just as no American should be forced to bow to anyone, we should not be forced to stand for anyone.

We all sat down, and the judge told us how he "envied" us.

"Your role today is vital to our society," he said. "You are the cornerstone of democracy. Without you, the juror, our American form of government could not exist."

Oh, yeah? I wanted to say. Then how come you don't stand when we enter a room?

The judge began asking us a series of questions.

"Has anyone been the victim of a crime?" he asked.

About half the people in the room raised their hands.

Each one then had to stand, state his name, identify the crime and state if the experience would make it impossible for him to render a fair and impartial verdict.

Many people said things like: "Car broken into. It wouldn't affect me."

Then one guy stood and said: "House broken into and they slashed the sheets while we were in the bed. I could be a fair juror."

The rest of us exchanged glances at that one. Slashed the sheets while they were in the bed? My, what a lovely world we live in.

Two rows in front of me, a young woman sat with her head bowed, as juror after juror spoke.

Every now and then, I could see her jaw muscle jump.

When it came her turn she stood, gave her name and said: "I was raped and the victim of attempted murder. I guess I could be a fair juror."

Then she sat down and looked at her lap while we all stared at her.

And I thought: There is something seriously wrong with a process that forces you to stand up in a room with 65 strangers and tell them you were a rape victim.

The judge didn't bat an eye. He went on with his questions:

"Is anybody involved himself or related to or married to anyone who works in law enforcement or the legal profession?"

A whole slew of hands went up.

"I was a paralegal for three years 10 years ago," a woman said.

"My son-in-law is a student at Georgetown law school," a man said.

I looked at my watch. The process had begun at 8:30 a.m. It was now 12:45 p.m.

"Does anyone work for the state of Maryland or are they married to anyone who does or related to anyone who does?" the judge asked.

Another bunch of hands. If you were a crime victim and a lawyer and married to a state cop, you had to stand up three different times.

The lottery man nudged me.

"Jerky?" he said.

He flipped open the back of one notebook and showed me where he kept his dried meat. I noticed that the grease had soaked through several pages of numbers.

Thanks, but I'm trying to cut down, I told him.

The judge droned on: "Has anyone ever been a witness in a trial? Has anyone ever contributed money to Mothers Against Drunk Driving or Students Against Drunk Driving? Has anyone been arrested for a crime?"

After five hours, the judge read a list of the jurors who were excused.

I was excused. The lottery man was placed on a jury so that he could dispense justice.

Which is yet another reason to keep your nose clean in Maryland.

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