I have to write this while it's fresh in my mind and spirit.
I just spent three and a half weeks on jury duty. I've never had to serve on a jury before, and this was a murder case.
I've emerged shell-shocked and thoroughly disenchanted with the U.S. criminal justice system.
I went into this process thinking that I would serve one day and be done (as has been my experience in the past). Once it was clear that it would go into a second day and that the case itself would be a long one, I asked the clerk if I could have a sidebar with the judge, and the judge obliged. I told His Honor (with all attorneys present) that this is the beginning of a "busy season" for me as an actress, and that serving on a long case would be problematic and possibly cause an undue financial hardship. I mean, I'm not going to starve today, nor tomorrow, but as an actress, what happens in the fall (episodic season) sets me up for future residual income. In short- serving jury duty is inconvenient.
What else is new?
The judge said that he understood, and asked that I wait and see if I would even be selected to serve on the jury. If not, all of this would be moot. I agreed.
The next court day brought more clarity: There were three black defendants, no black attorneys, and only two black people in the pool of potential jurors, of which I was one. I had seen ONE other black person- a woman- on the first day. She asked to be excused because she couldn't afford childcare for a long case. I never saw her again, so I assume that her request was approved.
To be as blunt as I can (as I am wont to do), there was NO WAY I was going to sleep well at night if I precluded myself from being selected as a juror. If I wasn't chosen, that was one thing, but I felt no better about the prospects of three black kids (anyone who is less than half my age is a "kid" to me - call it "old people privilege") being judged by a jury of non-black people than I would be if it were three women being judged by a jury of all men.
Not on my watch.
I was potential juror #72 in a pool of about 110 people, so it took a while for the judge and attorneys to get around to me during voir dire. I watched and listened to the people before me being questioned. Some sounded like normal human beings who just wanted a fair trial and justice served. Some had trouble understanding legal English (which I fully empathize with b/c college Business Spanish 102 kicked my ass up and down the street). One had a hearing problem.
THEN there were the assholes. I don't know if they were just trying to get out of jury duty or what, but they sounded like Grade A assholes to me, and this is my blog, so I will refer to them as such.
Instead of commenting on them individually, I will present their statements as an amalgam of assholery in the following literary rehash (liberties taken):
Asshole: (Assuming that the defendants were gang members) I hate gang members.
Judge: I don't think anyone here would say that they LIKE gang members, but would that keep you from following the laws as written?
Judge: How so?
Asshole: Because I grew up in a gang-infested area, and my mom was robbed.
Judge: What if one of the determinations that you have to make is whether or not the defendants are gang members?
Asshole: I would still not follow the law.
Judge: Why not?
Asshole: Because we lived around low-income people and had a lot of problems with gangs.
Attorney: Have you been given any reason to believe that the defendants are "low-income"?
Asshole: No. But I wouldn't follow the law because I hate gang members. I'm just being honest.
That kind of shit.
By the time the judge got to me, I already knew that I would not be abdicating my civil responsibility with that type of fuckery afoot, and I told the court and all potential jurors as much.
"Your Honor, I know we had a sidebar in which I told you that my being unable to work for the duration of a long case would create a financial hardship, but I look at the defendants, and then I look around this courtroom, and, frankly, I don't see a jury of their peers. If the attorneys in this case choose me as a juror, I will make it work."
Of course (as I expected) the lead prosecuting attorney had questions for me. He led with asking me "Did I see you on a TV show... 'Justified'? "Yes." I said, trying to figure how how the heck he decided to bring up THAT particular show (I played a prisoner). He went on to ask me if I had ever portrayed a defense attorney (yes), a prosecuting attorney (yes), or a police officer (many times), and if I had ever interviewed people to get additional info on the above-mentioned professions (no). He then asked me if I could get along with 11 other people. I told him that I come from a large family of which I am the eldest sibling and diplomacy is often the order of the day. He asked what important lessons had my family taught me. I told him "Don't say everything you think... because I had a problem with that for awhile." Judging by the laughs, many in the courtroom found that amusing, for some reason. I told him that I was also taught compassion, and he immediately jumped on that:
Him: "Do you understand that in this case I don't want you to be compassionate? You will have to be surgical. People may cry on the stand, and instead of feeling sorry for them, you have to decide what is true and what isn't. Can you do that?"
Me: "Absolutely. I don't like criminals any more than you do, and if you prove that the defendants are guilty of the crimes that they are being accused of, then I want them to go to prison, because, if they're left to run free, who's to say that I'm not next? My compassion extends to the victim who did not deserve to die the way that she did. Whether the defendants did it or not reserves to be seen."
I assured him that I would not be "going easy" on the defendants because they were young nor because they were black, I just wanted to make sure that the trial was FAIR and that nobody got railroaded.
That seemed to satisfy everyone involved in the decision-making, because I made it onto the jury.
*Part II of this three-part series is HERE.*