Tuesday, November 15, 2005

"Getting out of jury duty is easy. The trick is to say you're prejudiced against all races." — Homer Simpson

I had to report to jury duty today, which I've been dreading for months. Because I believe it's important to do my civic duty, I tried my best to get out of jury duty. They mailed me that summons with the dreaded "under penalty of perjury" questionnaire and my excuse was basically that I'd make a crappy juror. I believe my exact words were "passive-aggressive, easily pressured, misanthropic, and bigoted," although my parents made me take out "bigoted" because they don't own a fucking dictionary. Mom thinks the court will interpret "bigoted" as "racist," while I believe that there's no goddamn point in communicating if we're all just going to make up our own definitions for words. Needless to say, that didn't work... which is disturbing.

So I didn't have very high expectations for the whole jury duty thing. The summons and the jury office voicemail message that you have to call are kind of... um... bossy, and if I wanted to be told where I "must report" and at what time and what the dress code is, I'd join the army. But as it turns out, the court people were all totally cordial and professional, so kudos to them for living up to the bare minimum standards we expect of well-mannered people in a civilized society.

I get to the courthouse, and the first thing we have to do is watch this amazingly asinine video about the New Jersey judicial system. When I say "amazingly asinine," I mean this movie doesn't have the production value of those videos you'd watch in drivers' ed class — it has the production value of those filmstrips you'd watch in drivers' ed class. At least in drivers' ed, we got to see auto carnage. The court video is just interviews with random judges and jurors about how awesome New Jersey's court system is, then they showed us how the court's much more efficient with these new-fangled computer gizmos — now in color! How about showing us a bootleg of the new Harry Potter film or something?

What's sad is that's pretty much the high point of the jury duty experience. We all went back to the jurors' lounge, then there's some name calling. It's basically the lottery in reverse, or The Lottery in forward. If your name's called, you get to go down to a courtroom, where there's a lottery semi-final to see if you get called for the jury. I didn't win the first lottery, so I spent like six hours in the lounge doing crossword puzzles.

On the plus side, I don't have to go back tomorrow, and I'm civic-obligation-free for the next three years. Suck it, county government bitches! The down side is I won't get a forum to expound my judicial philosophy, which not only involves my patent-pending plutonium mines but also has a few shreds of logic and reason buried within it. Like, I was thinking about it, and much as I disdain my fellow human beings, I don't think I'd ever be able to find one of them guilty of a crime and sleep well afterwards. Evidence is suppressed, testimony is privileged, lawyers are manipulative, and I don't think I'd ever be sure enough to send someone to jail. Well, I don't know — I am a bigot (see above), and a hypocrite (I feel guilty about that). I'm used to having that luxury because no one really listens to my opinions anyway, and I have no idea at all how I'd behave or if I'd put my prejudices aside.

Judge Barisonek, or Walter, as I call him, told us that as long as we decide the case based on the evidence and in accordance with the law, we can sleep well. I'm sure that bullshit keeps Walt sane, but it's probably not too comforting to the victim whose assailant gets off or the guy who spends eighteen years in prison for a crime he didn't commit. I have a sort-of solution, though. No more suppressing evidence, nothing privileged, give the jury all the facts it needs to decide the case. (Actually, I'm not sure twelve idiots who couldn't get out of jury duty should be deciding people's fates. I might be more comfortable leaving the matter to an impartial panel of forensics experts, emphasis on the "impartial.") We deal with the government violating defendants' rights with consequences for breaking the law. Not leaving a reprimand in someone's file consequences, but serious, life-changing consequences: they lose their job, pay a huge fine in damages, spend years in jail. I don't know.... I'd still be nervous. I don't enjoy being responsible for stuff.

I forgot to mention the best part about jury duty: I found out that the courthouse is like ten minutes away from Ikea! Yay! Cheap-ass Scandinavian furniture with funny names makes me happy.