Friday, March 21, 2014

Juror 239

I had to report for jury duty this week. It's one of the draw backs of living in the city. There are more trials, and less of a pool to pick from. This is the second time in about 3 years I've had to report.

Sallie and I have been incredibly busy lately. More so than normal. Our calendar often has a morning appointment and a night appointment, even on weekdays. So I really was hoping to get cut early, take a nice long walk home, and get some time to myself.

That was not to be.

I arrived around 7:45 am, 15 minutes before you are supposed to report. I filed in, waited in 4-5 lines, all different check-ins, looking into the hundreds of faces of people just as irritated as me that they were there.

The jury assembly room is a long, shotgun style room, with four old tube TVs that don't get great reception. 400-500 people stand in four lines to finally get the privilege of sitting down. Essentially, everyone looks like this:

There were a lot more people than the last time I was there. My hopes were high that the best case scenario would happen and I wouldn't be selected at all and released by 10 am.

Story luck kicked in full gear and out of the several hundred people in the juror assembly room, my number was called first. As I approach the front counter, I hear someone utter that there will be 78 jury candidates. This is an issue. This means this is a huge case. This also means, there will be no one going home early, and there's a chance that I will be held a second day for further questioning.

We funnel across the street and to the fifth floor of the Civic Courthouse. Last time I served, there was a ton of waiting around at this point. We were sent to a second jury assembly room where I got some solid book reading done.

This time, we were in the courtroom within 30 minutes. And it's a huge courtroom. And being the first number called, I have to lead everyone in and take the lead seat in the jury box.

We're told quite blatantly that this is a murder trial with two defendants. My throat immediately goes to my stomach. We're assured that we are not sentencing. This is merely a guilty / not guilty trial and the state of Missouri will decide what to do next, but we're also told we'll have to look a lot of crime scene photos.

It was a surreal setup. These two young men were waiting to hear if they were guilty of a robbery that went wrong, yet the judge and lawyers were joking around, the candidates were joking around, the mood in the room was light. It just felt wrong. I felt like I was staring into the faces of two of the kids that I taught only 6 years ago.

The candidates were asked questions by all three of the lawyers, trying to weed out bad jurors. Sallie's newspaper career saved me again. I did recognize the faces because this murder was all over the Belleville News Democrat. I knew too many details, and when I revealed that, I was skipped in questioning the rest of the day.

This interview process is so weird. Candidates immediately jump into a "me vs you" mentality. They know as long as they look more crazy or opinionated than you do, they get to leave.

I had an old hippie tell a story about how he hates cops because one time he was chased around his bus by a guy with a butcher knife and the cops found pot on the hippy. So they arrested them both and put them in the same cell.

There was a girl that just kept raising her hand and saying, "I don't agree with that law." Eventually the lawyer asked her why she didn't and she obviously didn't have an answer and just broke down crying. They had a small meeting up by the judges stand, where the old judge handed her tissues and she sobbed for 10 minutes before finally taking her seat again and letting us proceed.

They couldn't let anyone go early, mostly because they didn't want people that just didn't want to be there to remember what the jurors that left said and try to mimic it.

I was worried a bit that I would still be chosen. Of the 78 candidates, around 10 didn't speak English as a first language, they were obviously eliminated. Another 10 or so had been victims of violent crimes, and 5 claimed to really just not trust cops. (All of which were white, nicely dressed men, which I found odd)

They kept us until our final recess at 4:25. They told us to come back at 4:50 for the final selection.

Everyone came shuffling out of the elevators at 4:50, hoping to be told to go home. Unfortunately, nothing was decided yet. We kept getting told, "A few more minutes." Phones were starting to vibrate as rides were outside waiting and employers were wondering if the night shift employees would show. But we kept getting told, "A few more minutes."

It was a small hall, no air flow, punctuated by a broken water fountain that seemed to be teasing me. Inside my head I'm screaming to let me out. There was even a brief moment where I would've volunteered to be a juror if they just let us go.

We waited. Waited. Waited. The door opened, and it was one of the lawyers who had time to go downstairs and fill his cup with water. He came back, and we waited some more. Finally at 5:30, we're called into the room for the final announcement.

I wasn't chosen, but you still can't leave until your juror number is called and you're handed your $12 pay stub. This is when the Me vs You Mentality turns into a Band of Brother mentality. Except for our 12 peers that had to march back into the courtroom, we 66 survived and escaped together. Since I was the first number called that morning, I was the last number called for the pay stub. I finally left the building and met a very hungry Sallie at 5:50.

That's the cost of doing your civic duty. I'm just glad this time, I still get paid by my company because there were a lot of waiters and hourly nurses that gave up their real pay for $1.20 an hour.