"Madame, bear in mind That princes govern all things--save the wind." -Victor Hugo, The Infanta's Rose

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Law and Order

I did my civic responsibility and reported for jury duty today. OK, that makes it sound like I had a choice in the matter; a warrant would have been issued to arrest me if I hadn't shown up in response to the summons I received in the mail.

The last time I was called to serve was several years ago, and in that instance I was selected to be on a panel hearing the case of a teenager who had been charged with making a "terroristic threat" at his high school. Apparently in the course of a verbal altercation with one of his teachers, the boy made a remark to her that had been construed as threatening. He later claimed he was "just kidding", and after hearing the evidence I was tempted to believe he had simply opened his mouth in the heat of the moment before engaging his brain, with absolutely no intention of acting on it. I initially held out on convicting him, but my fellow jurors managed to convince me that in our post-Columbine climate, any such remarks should be taken extremely seriously regardless of intent (just like you don't make jokes at the airport about having a bomb in your suitcase), and that the counseling and discipline he would receive as a result would serve to straighten him out. We therefore found him guilty, and I hope he's a better person for it today.

However, that trial lasted a couple of days and was not exactly what I considered a barrel o' fun, so I was not looking forward to the prospect of being chosen again when I went to the courthouse this morning. While I am certain there are many people who consider the opportunity to participate in the American justice system to be an honor and a privilege, most of the other potential jurors sitting around me during the first round of voir dire appeared to be thinking not so much about civic pride, but more along the same lines as I was: "Oh God, please don't let them pick me."

I was also a bit self-conscious about the portable oxygen equipment I need to bring with me whenever I go out anywhere, which was making its customary "click-whoosh" sound with each breath I took. It's not that loud, really, but in the hushed courtroom it seemed quite noticeable, and I was aware of getting "the look" from a few people in my vicinity -- the one I sometimes get when people see me wearing an oxygen cannula in public, and think "what's wrong with him?" and perhaps worry that whatever it is, they might "catch" it.

So I guess I shouldn't have been too surprised that, when the judge gave us a 15-minute recess following the first round of jury selection, the court clerk walked up to me while I was standing in the lobby waiting to go back in. She asked my name, and politely told me that since I appeared to have a serious medical condition, I could be excused if I would like. I hesitated only momentarily before saying, "OK, thank you!" and getting the heck out of there.

Now I'm wondering if I should have declined and stayed, or if I was dissed without realizing it. Just because I have trouble breathing doesn't mean my other faculties are impaired. But I'll be an optimist: the courtroom was full, and the clerk knew she had a much larger candidate pool than needed, so she was most likely being kind to offer to let me leave.

Anyway, as a result of my experience today, several quotes come to mind, the first by comedian Norm Crosby: "When you go into court you are putting your fate into the hands of twelve people who weren't smart enough to get out of jury duty."

More recently, humorist Dave Barry said: "We operate under a jury system in this country, and as much as we complain about it, we have to admit that we know of no better system, except possibly flipping a coin."

My favorite line, however, comes from Otto Bismarck, who remarked over a century ago, "People who love sausage and people who believe in justice should never watch either of them being made."


  • At 5/10/2007 05:14:00 PM, Blogger Chandira said…

    That Bismarck quote is hilarious.. Yes.

    My mum did jury duty a few years ago, and loved it, but she's definitely odd.

    I have the advantage of my alien status, I don't think they'd call me for that, as I'm small and green, use advanced technology, and travel around the Universe at great speed. (Well, only on a 747 back to London ocasionally, anyway.) It's a handy thing to be sometimes..


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