When Jury Duty Calls…and Cancels
Instead of writing this, I thought I would be spending today in court. Maybe tomorrow and the next day too. I was actually a little excited when I received the notice a few weeks ago that I had to report for jury duty this week. I always enjoyed covering court cases when I was a full-time reporter and now that I’m semi-retired I have plenty of time to perform my civic duty.
I was also looking forward to seeing the jury experience from the inside after covering so many trials.
But when I called the special number Sunday to find out when to report the recording said no juries were needed this week so we were all off the hook. It’s not surprising. This particular district court is located in one of the highest income and low-crime areas of Michigan.
However I was so looking forward to sitting on a panel scrutinizing arguments in what I imagine would be typical offenses in such a tony area such as someone criminally mismanaging their portfolios, a catering service providing unmemorable canapes at a pre-schooler’s snooty graduation banquet or a socialite suing a groomer for insufficient poodle fluffing.
This being Thanksgiving week, there may have even been a charge of counterfeit stuffing preparation. Swapping Stove Top for homemade? A major felony in this zip code!
No grisly crime scene or autopsy photos in this courtroom although I had heard tales of past juries being horrified by being subjected to images ill-kept spreadsheets.
This would not have been my first jury service. I did actually have the opportunity to be selected for a case several years ago in county court. The trial lasted one day. It shouldn’t have happened at all.
The defendant was facing his second drunk driving offense. The entire police pursuit was on video. The guy was weaving all over the road and when they stopped him he failed the field sobriety test quite convincingly. Open and shut but he opted for a jury trial hoping, what? We’d think the incriminating video was just a guy doing the “drunk dance” on Tic Tok?
His poor lawyer did his best to toss in a red herring argument his client was a victim of police malpractice because when they hauled him in for booking the precinct video camera wasn’t working to record the process.
“Ha!,” the lawyer exclaimed as he looked each of us on the jury in the eye. “They can’t prove they read my client his rights and other important stuff because there’s no video! You have to find him not guilty!” We could have found the lawyer of misdemeanor “trying to pull a hopeless case out of your ass.”
Once we were handed the case the preponderance of evidence, meaning the video, made our job easy. The defendant was guilty as hell. But you can’t just say you have a verdict 30 seconds after deliberating so we asked to be shown all the videos again “just to make sure.”
One juror was not amused by our sense of responsibility and announced, “this needs to wrap up by 1 because I gotta pick up my son.” As it was only 9:30am when she imposed this “deadline” on us none of the jurors were the least intimidated since there really wasn’t much to discuss.
“Hell, we’ll be done by 10!” announced the foreman who “won” that honor by looking around at the rest of us and deadpanned, “none of you look like leaders, so I’ll be the foreman.”
We watched the video a couple more times because a few insurgents just wanted to find a way to stay away from work a little longer.
Finally, we could no longer justifiably stall any longer, and after all, the whole process was about speedy justice. We took a vote and signaled the bailiff we were done.
He led us back across the hall from the jury room to the courtroom where the foreman announced our guilty verdict. There was no drama. None of the six people present were the least bit surprised. They’d all seen the video. The defense attorney patted the back of his now-convicted client ostensibly to hide his true feeling the guy was a two-time loser and will find some excuse to welch on his legal fees after paying a hefty fine.
One of the courtroom spectators who seemed to know the losing attorney walked up to him and with a sick smile said, “Hey Larry. Can’t believe you used that bullshit ‘no camera in the cop shop defense!’” Larry mumbled “for what this guy is paying me it’s all I had.”
While the judge thanked us effusively for our service the mom on a deadline muttered to herself, “let’s go, let’s go, let’s go, boy’s waiting.” The juror next to her smirked. When the judge finally excused us we quickly left the courtroom flush with the belief we performed our civic duty with distinction and expedience and new respect for the jury system where one’s fate may rest in the hands of a carpooling parent who needed to teach her kid about the wonders of Uber.