It's always an unnerving experience to receive post from a courtroom, because you have to scan the entire thing really quickly looking for words like "felony" and "warrant" and "federal pound me in the ass prison."
Luckily for me, I saw none of these words on my postcard. What I received was just a summons to appear for jury duty. Having dodged that bullet once again, I decided to do my civic duty and appear on the requested date. The alternative, of course, is a contempt of court citation which carries a fine of $100 to $1000 per day. I wonder why such a large range is given for the fine amount; is the penalty heavier if you're found to be out committing a crime at the time of your summons ?
So I arrived at the entrance of the Central Jury Room in plenty of time to go through the metal detectors and find my way. This should have been a quick ordeal, except the screener in front was none too happy with my sinister attempt to smuggle my one-inch keychain pocketknife into the courtroom. I was given the option of surrendering the lethal weapon or returning it to my car, the latter of which I did because I was half an hour early and had time to kill.
Upon returning (clean of sharp, pointy things) I sat in the Central Jury Room waiting for my case assignment. But we weren't about to jump into our roles uninitiated. They had, back in 1962, prepared a motion picture (now colorized) that would serve as our instructional and behavioral video for the courtroom. It apparently is doing a fine job still, so they see no reason to replace it with anything more modern.
The video was actually quite entertaining. It was primarily a list of disqualifications that would prevent you from being an acceptable member of a jury panel. On this list were things like the following:
1. Not a United States citizen
2. Wearing more than 25 gold chains (Mr. T wouldn't make an effective juror--he would pity the fool)
3. Felony conviction on your record (or cassette tape)
4. Can't read or write
I'm serious about that last one. If you're illiterate, you apparently can't possibly comprehend the law or understand what might have happened at a crime scene. Strangely enough though, IQ never enters the picture.
With each of these disqualifications, they helpfully provided an enactment of someone approaching the bench and stating the nature of their problem. For the illiteracy skit, we see a middle-aged white woman introduce herself to the judge and say "I have a problem ... I can't read or wriiiiiiite" in a strong Southern drawl. I couldn't help but laugh out loud. The people sitting around me all turned to look, prompting me to apologize for my insensitivity. Seconds later, the woman in the seat beside me got up and spoke to the judge about something and then left the jury room.
I had a lot of time waiting around the Central Jury Room, waiting on my case assignment, to think about the legal system and what I would let influence my decision while deliberating with the other jurors. I basically decided that I was going to judge the book by the cover. If the defendant is wearing a suit, not guilty. If the defendant is wearing shorts so low they look like manpri pants, guilty. I know it's a simplistic and inaccurate system, but it really streamlines the process for me and might help to reduce my exposure to other mens' under-britches.
I also wished we could specify the sentence too, instead of just the guilty or not guilty status. I would be creative. Say the guy is convicted of larceny--his sentence would be to hand out presents on Christmas (the presents would be the property of the felon). Or if the felon is convicted of rape--I'd make him watch 24 consecutive hours of Bukkake videos and Ben Affleck movies, Clockwork Orange style. Cruel I know, but you have to be tough with these criminal types or they'll never learn their lesson.