Saturday, 1 August 2009

Call of (Jury) Duty

I am the Susan Lucci of Jury Duty. Really. One day I’m going to open my mailbox and see a summons to come to the Stepford County Courthouse to pick up my lifetime achievement award—which we all know is code for you’re-never-really-going-to-win-but-your-repeated-attempts-are-getting-awkward.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve received a jury summons from Stepford County. And not once, have I been seated as a juror (I know, I can’t believe it either). I’m always very excited when I open the mailbox and see a summons addressed to me. (Shut up. I know it’s a little weird.)

I always diligently respond to the questionnaire. I never claim an exemption. Even when I was a stay-at-home mom, I would hire a baby sitter so that I might be given the chance to perform my civic duty. I’m always hopeful that by being eager, prompt, and thorough, I’ll receive some sort of favor from the karma that governs jury duty and this time, finally, I’ll be seated as juror number whatever.

Truth be told, the reason I have not so far and most likely will never be seated as a juror is because ... wait for it, wait for it ... I’m too smart (and I have big mouth). Really. Attorneys do not want jurors who are extremely bright. Bright people think for themselves. Bright people have well formed and thought out opinions. Bright people are not easily manipulated by emotionally charged arguments delivered upon silver tongues. Because of this blatant discrimination against the intellectually superior, someone always has a problem with me. Okay, okay ... the prosecutor always has a problem with me. And so it was for the billionth time last week. I had promised myself I would be as silent as a Republican at a Fourth Amendment Convention (which I’ve determined is the easiest way to get on a jury short of being stupid). And perhaps, just this once, I would slide under the radar and into the jury box.

No dice.

The morning started out well. The case I was assigned to would have six jurors. I was number seven out of a twenty member pool. This meant that as long as I could keep my mouth shut, I just needed someone numbered one through six to say something that would get their ejector chair to fire. I was hopeful.

Number six, who was sitting to my right, pulled out some reading material while we waited to be called into the courtroom. Being curious (okay, nosey) I couldn’t help but notice when he cracked open Glenn Beck’s Common Sense: The Case Against an Out-of-Control Government, Inspired by Thomas Paine. (I suddenly felt a need to bathe, vomit, bolt from the room, whack Number six about the head and shoulders— you get the idea). Unfortunately, Number six took my discomfort as interest and spoke to me. (Damn. It. To. Hell.)

Number six, “Ya read Mr. Beck?”

Me (stifling an eye roll), “Oh, um, no.”

Number six, “This book here, Common Sense, is really a good ’un.”

I just gave a thin lipped smile in response. There was no way I was getting booted from this jury pool by getting into an argument over Glenn-the crazy train-Beck.

Number six, “Ya know who Glenn Beck is?”

(Good God. Why does this ALWAYS happen to me?)

Me (deciding that just this once honesty was not the best policy), “No.”

Number six, “Not much on politics, eh? A lot of women ain’t. That’s why I thought Sarah Palin would a been good for the country. Ya know, would a given you ladies a gurl to look up to an all.”

(Father in Heaven ...)

Before I can appropriately respond to Number six (because I was going to respond), we were called into the courtroom and Number six’s life was spared and I still had a chance to be seated on the jury.

The judge addressed the jury pool, telling us that the charge in the case was driving while intoxicated and that he expected a verdict to be rendered by the end of the next day. At that moment, I’m sure if I could have seen myself in a mirror, my face would have been red. I felt a physical rush of heat that began in my toes and eventually landed on the crown of my head. I looked at the defendant. Latino. I looked at the defense attorney. Latina. I looked at the prosecutor. Caucasian Stepford Wife. Shit.

Here’s the problem. I have a big issue with how drunk driving cases are handled in the state of Texas. Before you start hate mailing me, let me clarify. I absolutely, one hundred percent understand the devastation drunk driving causes in this nation each year. I’ve been personally touched by it more than once. I do not support drunk driving. I also don’t support most other things that are against the law. That does not mean, however, that I think it is okay for the civil rights of drunk driving suspects to be violated. And I believe that this happens routinely in Texas.

The questioning of the jury pool began.

Prosecutor, “Mr. One, I’d like to pose a hypothetical question to you. Let’s say you attend a happy hour after work with some friends. Let’s say you’ve had two drinks and you are now happy-hour happy.”

Mr. One (interrupting a little too loudly), “I’m a complete teetotaler. Don’t touch the stuff. Would never happen. Well, used to happen. I’m a recovering alcoholic. I’ve been sober since 2001. I guess if you said the happy hour happened in 2000 I might could play along. But I wouldn’t have stopped at happy hour happy. I would have been more like happy hour GONE.”

(At this point my heart starts to beat a little faster. I am so on this jury as long as I can be quiet. And that’s a BIG if.)

The questioning continued. Mostly lame stuff for prospective jurors Two through Ten. The Prosecutor was now ignoring Mr. One, a sure sign she had decided he was a little too risky and had put him down as the first of her three free strikes. The Prosecutor was getting close to hitting her time limit and I was feeling a little giddy that I had made it this far. Then it happened.

Prosecutor, “Mrs. Stevens, do you know what a blood warrant is.”

(Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. I may as well just leave now.)

Me (trying not to look like the paralegal that I am), “Yes.”

Judge, “Mrs. Stevens, you’ll have to speak up. No one can hear you.”

Me (louder), “Yes.”

Prosecutor, “And what is your opinion of blood warrants?”

(Do I have bleeding heart liberal tattooed on a part of my body that everyone can see but me?)

Me (hedging), “I understand that certain police departments in the area use them and that they are issued by a judge over the phone.”

Prosecutor, “Yes, yes ... that is the procedure. Do you know what a blood warrant allows the police officer to do?”

Me, “Yes.”

Prosecutor (clearly a little frustrated that I’m eating up her last five minutes), “And what is your understanding of that?”

Me, “It is my understanding that once a blood warrant is issued by a judge, the suspect must submit to having their blood drawn.”

Prosecutor, “Do you have a problem with that?”

(And ... she’s outta here.)

Me, “Yes.”

Prosecutor: “Why is that?”

(Screw it ... maybe I’m not cut out for jury duty anyway ... I think I’ll get a pedicure this afternoon ... at the spa that serves WINE.)

Me, “Because I’m fairly certain that as soon as someone challenges having forcibly had their blood drawn, by a non-medical professional, on the side of the road, in the middle of the night, on the basis of a warrant issued over a telephone, in Federal court rather than a Texas court, this practice will be deemed unconstitutional.”

(And there was stunned silence in the courtroom. My very own Perry Mason moment.)

And with that, I made eye contact with the defense attorney. She gave an almost imperceptible shake of her head. I apologized to her with a slight bow of my head and she forgave me with a sigh. And I was off to spend the afternoon not performing my civic duty, but having my toes painted lavender while sipping on a nice Riesling. Perhaps my destiny really is to be just another Stepford Wife in a pedicure chair. But you can bet your ass I was the only one there thinking about the constitution.

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