Monday, July 17, 2006

Jury Duty - 12

There was a prolonged conference at the sidebar, the entire courtroom still. The people in line had all gone up and now there was no one left in line and we were all back in our assigned seats and waiting.

"Number 17," the judge looked up and barked. The clerk repeated, "17?"

I got up and walked back to that crowded, shadowed corner.

"There's been some concern expressed," the judge declared. "You told me things such as your case was trivial, this case is not. You are using terms that indicate. That indicate to me that you are forming ideas and prejudices regarding the particulars of this case before you've seen evidence. In the case."

"I understand."

"Will you be able to put those ideas out of your mind, this is important. Ideas such as this is important, such and such is trivial?"

"I do believe I would."

"So are you certain that you would be able to judge fairly in this case?"

"Yes, I do."

A bit warily the judge said for me to go and sit. I had not walked halfway to the box when they called my number again.

"17 again. Please."

I turned on my heels and dutifully returned.

"There are some things you said, I have to ask," the judge stated. "About your friend in jail. The drugs."

"Yes?"

"There are no drug charges in this case per se but there is the issue of the illegal interstate transport of prescription drugs."

"Ah."

"Is this an issue where you feel, your ideas about drug laws. Is this a situation where you would have a problem in terms of evaluating fairly?"

"I don't believe so. My feeling about what happened to my friend concerns the fact that he was growing pot and I believe that's relatively innocuous and should not be illegal."

"So other drugs, prescription drugs, you would accept my instructions and – "

"Yes."

"Be fair and impartial?

"I believe I would."

Silence. And then: "I think I'm going to let you sit. Thank you."

I walked away once more, and just as I sat down the judge lifted his head and mouthed something to the clerk.

"17," she said. "Number 17."

Again I walked that familiar path, in the cool glare of every other juror and Gregory DePalma.

"I have a concern in terms of your willingness to accept my instructions," began the judge this time. "Things like relatively, this or that is worse and this is trivial and what have you. That's not for you to say. Your decision must be based on my instructions as to the law. So. Do you feel that you would be able to set aside your ideas about the law and accept my instructions in this case?"

"I believe I would, given that this case does not involve an aspect of the law I would have a disagreement with." This I heard myself say. And somehow I knew in this wordy equivocation I was precipitating my demise. Or engineering my escape, perhaps unconsciously. Something seemed to tighten in the judge.

"Are you saying that it might be possible under different circumstances, you might ignore my instructions?"

I followed the lead, like it was too late to turn back now.

"If this were my friend's trial, I believe I would be – "

"Never mind your friend's trial, if this – "

"If this were a case similar to my friend's," I corrected, knowing exactly where he was going and wanting to prove it for some reason, "I would be quite tempted" – I don't know why I chose that phrase but it seemed to strike some balance between obeisance toward the system and my own convictions – "to disregard your instructions if it meant keeping my friend out of jail."

"Not your friend."

"Keeping the accused out of jail. For a similar crime."

The judge examined me with what frankly seemed to be a trace of disappointment.

"I'm going to let you go. You're free to go."

And the judge hung his head to confer with the others as I stepped to the clerk's desk and she gave me a little card and she said give it to them downstairs, you're free to go, and she looked past me as I turned and left. And I don't mind saying that at that moment I felt not free but lost.

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