Downtown San Jose is not too far from where I live, but I don’t venture there often. Once or twice a year for a footrace, and perhaps occasionally to meet friends or go out with the wife. Mostly I am safely ensconced in my nearly suburban home, wondering what it would be like to be a city dweller.
Those downtown places are plagued with things I don’t like: traffic, crowds, one-way streets, hobos, etc. In the past I would have included Superior Court of California—County of Santa Clara on that list, seeing it as nothing more than a bastion of criminals and criminal behavior and, of course, jury service.
Like any good American, I have been programmed to avoid jury duty at all costs. Exaggerate my prejudices, invent financial or personal hardships, whatever it would take. Twice I used my young children to get out of jury duty, but now they are grown. So, summoned for the fifth time in my life, I showed up and tried to make myself appear unfit to serve.
Dear prosecutor: I find your questions insulting. Of course I know what the burden of proof is! I read the book “The Burden of Proof” by Scott Turow a long time ago. And I know all about “innocent until proven guilty” by watching a lot of documentaries on television. Or perhaps they were just TV shows.
Dear public defender: I think you would say anything to get your client exonerated, including claiming his innocence. He wasn’t there, he didn’t do it, or he was and he did but it was self-defense. Make up your mind!
Dear accused person: I have already rushed to judgment and decided on your guilt or innocence based on your demeanor and the way you have dressed. And since most people arrested are guilty, I have found you to be just that. Guilty! Bring in the next case!
On the other hand, jury duty did give me the opportunity to sit around the house for two days waiting to be called. Finally I was asked to attend the Wednesday morning inquisition. In the hunt for twelve fair-minded men and women, about eighty of us were called into the courtroom. The laborious task of separating the wheat from the chaff (so to speak) would begin.
“Anyone here requesting dismissal for hardship?” the judge asked. A dozen or so hands went up, so the judge asked that they stay behind while the rest of us were sent away to return again on Thursday. One hour of jury service.
On Thursday morning I couldn’t tell how many of the hardship cases had been relieved of their civic responsibility, but the gallery was still packed. Standing room only, in fact. Everyone wasn’t seated until the first eighteen prospective jurors were called forward for the grilling.
It took two hours to figure out the older folks thought people in this country should speak English (the two accused had a translator speaking to them) and the younger folk had not watched enough episodes of Law and Order: Trial by Jury to understand the process . . . but to be fair it was cancelled after only one season. These youngsters asked questions like “what’s the difference between civil and criminal?”
Sheesh. Out of the mouths of babes.
Those of middling age were obviously trying to be excused by any means necessary. Oh, this is a case regarding assault? “Hey, I was beat up thirty years ago in seventh grade!” Ah, if found guilty the defendant will receive some sort of punishment? “Hey, I can’t sit in judgment of another human being.”
Every ninety minutes we had to schlep from the fifth floor courtroom to the second floor jury waiting room and fight for a seat. Then we’d be called back. A few jurors would be booted and replaced by some of us in the gallery. More questions, more booting, more replacing.
And still I sat.
After eight hours there were eighteen prospective jurors still being weeded through and forty or so of us waiting for our chance to make a crazy comment and be dismissed. The judge called a halt to the proceedings, announced that court would not be in session on Friday and that we were all to return on Monday morning at nine a.m. The groans were palpable.
“I know this is an inconvenience,” the judge said, “but it is the cornerstone of our judicial system. I am sure the jury selection process will be completed on Monday.” She wished us a good weekend and sent us on our way. As we descended the stairs yet again, the potential jurors were making wagers on whether the Friday cancellation was due to a golf game or other court business.
Hey, it’s Daylight Saving Time. Her Honor probably has time for both!