Okay, so I’m back in Orange County now. I’ve been back for a while but have been busy moving into my new apartment. It’s an exciting move for me personally, partly to get away from the bozos I’ve been living with (I don’t mean Julie, of course) and partly because, as this apartment is brand-new and I don’t yet have a roommate, I get the great power and great responsibility (GP/GR) of outfitting the place. This is time-consuming and expensive (three trips to IKEA in three days), and aside from having no decorating sense at all I also am always coming across things that I need to buy that I’ve always taken for granted. You know, like hand soap for the bathroom. But it’s the first time I’ve gotten to make an apartment mine, or kind of mine, so when I have people over (even though the place is still covered in cardboard boxes), I feel very much like an adult. Albeit one who likes IKEA a lot.
So, to me this move is exciting. But since reading about moving is up there with reading about homework in terms of excitement, I’ll skip that and talk about a first experience I went through earlier this week: getting called for jury duty. I had to come in at 8 a.m. last Wednesday, and while I was grumpy about it, particularly since I was in the throes of moving, there were a few distinctive moments.
The theme of the day was, “Don’t try to get out of jury duty.” The jury secretary, the bailiff, and the judge all used everything in their arsenal to convince us that jury duty is our civic responsibility. The judge went the farthest, using the 9/11 card: it’s clear that there are forces that want to destroy our institutions etc. etc. Kind of strong meat at 9 in the morning, particularly since I don’t think Al Qaeda is concerned with disrupting a misdemeanor trespassing charge.
(While I didn’t like the strongarm tactics to keep us in the jury box, it was better than the transparent efforts of one shirker to get out of duty. She gave some cock-and-bull story about how she’d accepted a new job, but she hadn’t told the people at her old job, and…I lost track of it. Then she said she was hypoglycemic. Later, she made sure to pipe up and mention that she was bad at making decisions. I’m surprised she didn’t claim to be a convicted felon.)
Anyway, other than the 9/11 comment, the judge was an affable, dorky guy. He made sure to be personable with every potential juror, with mixed results. The high point of this was when he was talking with a guy who runs an electronics repair shop. “I’ll have to talk to you after the trial,” the judge said, to which the guy responded by giving the location and phone number of his shop. On the other hand, when he got to me and found out I was an English grad student, he didn’t have much to work with. “So, at the end of the trial, we’ll expect a full analysis of our grammatical errors?” Pretty feeble. God knows what he would have said if I were an engineering student.
I got eliminated at the voir dire stage (French for “get me out of jury duty). The prosecutor asked us if any of us felt that one witness was not enough to hand down a guilty verdict (I think I have a guess as to what kind of evidence he had in this case). I raised my hand and mentioned that case in Texas a few years ago, where a man was executed on the testimony of one eyewitness. The prosecutor asked me, if there was only one witness, and I believed the witness (how would I know?), would that be enough to convict, and I said it would be depend on the circumstances of the case. Now, they don’t tell you why they eliminate you, but I don’t see what else it could have been. So I’m telling you, kids: form opinions, even if they’re vague ones. They get you out of jury duty.
The best part of the session, though, was when the defense attorney was asking us questions. It seemed like she didn’t actually have much she needed to learn from us; rather, she was using her time to drill “innocent until proven guilty” into our heads. But of course she had to phrase this as questioning, so it went like so:
“Does anyone here think that the defendant is probably guilty, just because he’s sitting here?” (No hands.)
“Does anyone disagree with the principle of innocent until proven guilty?” (No hands.)
“Do any of you believe that you will have trouble viewing the defendant fairly?” (No hands.)
“Do any of you hate dogs?”
To which we all did the same thing: go “wha?” It was the perfect interruption of series, I don’t know if she planned it as such but it was the essence of comedy.
(Of course, the woman who was trying to get out of there said that once, in her home country, she had indeed been bitten by a dog.)