Monday, January 12, 2009

A Few Notes on Our System of Justice

Universe, I have a complaint. Some people get called for jury duty, and they end up sitting in judgment on a murder trial, with deliberations going on for days and days. Me? Not so much. Granted, I live in Montgomery County, and the mean streets of Rockville really can't compete with DC, but if one is summoned for jury duty and one is sent to the courtroom of a criminal trial, one might hope for something just a wee bit more, well, important than the case of someone who is accused by the state of driving with a suspended license. I am not making this up. Seriously, what's to decide: either the guy's license was suspended or it wasn't.

Not, mind you, that I even got so far as to express an opinion. They called up about forty jurors for this trial, starting somewhere around potential juror #60 and going up through potential juror #99. I was potential juror #94, and after nearly an hour of voir dire, when they finally got around to seating jurors, they went in numerical order. The defense and/or prosecution would have had to object to maybe twenty potential jurors for me to end up on the panel, and they objected to four. And some of the people they seated were decidedly sketchy and/or unattractive, though not juror #6, a tall, lean, young Asian guy, who was clearly either gay or sufficiently metrosexual to count. Also, the defense council: yum. And the police officer waiting in the lounge to testify? Well, I would have offered to cuff him, but there were a lot of people around, so it seemed like a bad idea, though I probably could have been done with him by the time they got around to calling him. I can work well under pressure.

Anyway. Jury duty is not something I particularly wanted to do, but this is the calm before the storm at work, so there's not all that much to do there, and the (so-called) trial would have lasted only a few hours, and that would have been better than being sent back to the jury lounge, where I'm almost certain not to be called again but where I still have to sit and wait until sometime after 4. They have computers set up in the jury lounge, and that's where I'm writing from, but I can't really surf all of my usual sites from here. But this evening, when I'm home, I'll fill in the rest of the entry with guys who really qualify for a hung jury.

My experience with the jury system has been fairly limited. About twenty years ago, when I was living in Boston, I was seated on a civil jury in a medical malpractice case. An obstetrician was being sued for negligence. He was such an unpleasant person that I was ready to give him the chair (it helped that he really did appear to have been negligent), but apparently that wouldn't have been an option. We were just starting the second week of testimony when the parties settled. It was obvious from facial expressions and other body language that the defense thought they'd gotten a bargain in the settlement. The jury never found out how much they settled for, of course.

And about ten years ago, I was sued for negligence myself. The case resulted from a traffic accident in which the roads had just frozen over when I started down a hill. I couldn't stop and ended up hitting a truck whose back end was sticking out onto the road. My insurance company didn't want to settle, and I told the lawyer they'd retained for me that I was fine with going to trial. He told me that a lot of people said that and then begged him to settle as the trial date approached, but I really didn't mind the trial that much. In part, it wasn't a big deal because my attorney and the plaintiffs' attorney had agreed on a damage amount beforehand, so the only question was whether I was liable. The amount was less than my liability coverage, so I wasn't really on the hook for anything. But mostly I didn't mind because I was certain that I hadn't done anything wrong. Fortunately, the jury agreed with me. It took them about half an hour to say that I wasn't liable. My lawyer did say that I might have gotten off because I was very good as a witness, but I think I was very good on the stand because I knew I couldn't have avoided the accident. I do remember enjoying telling the jury that I was on my way to choir practice when the accident occurred.

Soon after we met, and maybe a year before we moved in together, b&c got called for a grand jury, so he had to serve one day a week for thirteen weeks. At the time, I was living in an apartment complex in Aspen Hill (site of most of the sniper attacks!), and every week, b&c would tell me about all of the indictments that were handed down for my apartment complex that week. It was a big complex, and almost all of the busts were for marijuana possession, though, so I didn't worry. Besides, there was hot Latin flesh everywhere in that complex. Sometimes I miss living there, even though nobody ever offered to sell me any marijuana. I guess there's just no sense of community these days.

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