A week ago, I was summoned to jury duty. It was the third time in about 14 years. The first time, I served on a jury that assessed damages in a civil suit about a car accident. The second time, I wasn’t assigned a case because all the pending cases were settled out of court. This time, I was assigned online to a criminal case where I had to join a Zoom interview by the case lawyers on both sides with about 20 other prospective jurors.
The court promised to say which of us would be selected to appear the next week for the trial by 4 p.m. Wednesday. I was not selected, so I was excused and was explicitly told I was released from the obligation to not talk about the case. Oh my! And I have a column due tomorrow at 9 a.m. Whatever might I do?
Well, here we are at “tomorrow,” and I can’t resist. So, basically the case was about a guy who was said to have gotten high on some sort of unnamed drugs and proceeded to assault a police officer and at least three other people. That’s four witnesses to dispense with — whatever will the defense attorneys do?
So, here is what we got: One of the defense attorneys asked us all how we would react if we were told a guy got high and assaulted four people and then said he shouldn’t be convicted of assault because he was high the whole time? At that point I had some ego in the game. So, I was trying to figure out how I was going to answer this annoying Zen Koan.
The defense attorney asked individual prospective jurors this, one after another, and asked for each in turn to be dismissed because they all said no, the guy has to be held accountable. Come on. Just as I was sure I would have to answer the toxic question next, the interview broke for what I would call a “pee break.” So I had an extra 15 or 20 minutes to think about how I would answer.
After that time passed, I came up with two answers. One was that I was a child abuse victim and my parents repeatedly excused themselves on the grounds they were drunk at the time. The other was asking if this was the guy’s only experience of this? Seriously? He never assaulted people while high before? Are you kidding me? I think I would have ended up being dismissed, but the lawyer was being told by the judge he was nearing the end of his time.
The prosecutor had some fun questions, too. He let us in on the possibility that a police officer was apt to be called as a witness against the defendant and wanted a show of hands, of who among us would-be jurors, have strong feelings about police and he got around to asking us if we had negative experiences with police that might make us inclined not to trust them.
Well, I’ve had dozens of negative experiences with various police officers — what with my almost four years of being homeless and five years as a cab driver. Plus, I’ve witnessed police rioting against protesters. But I didn’t want to go into all of that, so I stuck to one particular incident when I was stopped while driving a green cab by a police officer who, while circling me, repeatedly shouted at me, “Why’d you do it? Why’d you do it?” without saying what “it” was, so I couldn’t answer. He then started talking on his radio to his dispatcher, and I found out he was looking for a cab driver involved in a hit and run. I got to hear his dispatcher ask what color my car was and the cop said, “green,” and the dispatcher said it was a yellow cab in the report.
So I got to tell the prosecutor how very apologetic the cop was then and how our experience together kind of made him my buddy after that, and the experience had a positive side to it. And while the prosecutor didn’t ask to have me dismissed right then, maybe he got to thinking about it later and decided my story wasn’t positive enough.
Read more of the Nov. 29–Dec. 5, 2023 issue.