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By Alan Olifson

Now I didn't ask for this job. I didn't want this job. And, regardless of the court's opinion, I am probably not qualified for this job. But once it was foisted upon me, I took the job of being an impartial juror seriously. In no small part because being falsely accused is one of my biggest fears. At least once a day, I get mistaken for somebody else. "Hey, Bill, missed you at the party…oh, I'm sorry, you look just like my buddy Bill." Well, what if Bill pops a cap in someone's ass, huh? Where does that leave me? So, yeah, I have a vested interest in believing juries are comprised of serious people making judgments based on facts, provable facts. I'm Juror #7, and I'm ready to judge.

As we rose to take The Oath, though, I looked around and thought, wow, "peers" is really being interpreted loosely these days. "Jury of people with a similar circulatory system" is about as far I would go. Juror #14 was especially bringing down the average. At first he looked like your standard issue bad-ass: bulky, shaved head, goatee and too much flannel for the heat. But he had the constant blank smile and nod more associated with people who wear helmets to the park. Luckily, he was an alternate, so the chances of having to deliberate with him were slim—assuming Juror #2, who had to be pushing eighty and looked like her smoking habit pre-dated the Philip Morris Company, could hang onto this world for another few weeks.

Before I could finish casting unwarranted aspersions on all fourteen of my fellow jurors, I was distracted by the actual oath. It occurred to me that I had never taken an oath before. And, while we recited our pledge, in unison, a sense of pride overcame me. We were no longer average citizens; we were "Jurors." Men and women sworn to mete out justice in the sacred halls of U.S. District Court. To hell with these rinky-dink laminated badges, we need capes. Capes and spandex. "Juror powers, activate."

As opening statements began, I hunkered down for some serious justice meting. Armed with my trusty (and state provided) Notebook of Justice™, I vowed there would be no one more impartial than I.

On the surface, the defendant had no case. He was a frumpy guy in his early thirties who worked as some kind of vague computer professional and always wore khakis and a white shirt—presumably from the Gap, but not in any size featured in their ads. His expression was kind of a constant half-frown. Like he was trying to look chipper and brave, but couldn't quite muster the energy. As the prosecutor explained to us in her excruciatingly roundabout way, this guy not only failed the field sobriety tests, he failed the breathalyzer. And not only did he fail the breathalyzer, he failed it spectacularly—blowing twice over the legal limit. I mean, if it weren't for the fact that he was driving a damn car, I'd have to say "Huzzah," to his dedication. That is a serious bender. What in the world his excuse could be, I had no idea.

Well, his attorney was no public defender, and he had a plan. Always arriving in a wrinkled yet sharp double breasted suit, he was slick enough for a late-night commercial, yet not quite cheesy enough to do it. And he came at this seemingly open-and-shut conviction with a two-pronged attack. First, he went after the field sobriety tests—painting them as unprofessionally administered by overzealous rookies and, due to the defendant's considerable weight, even invalid. Second, he attacked the breathalyzer results as contaminated. The defendant, he claimed, suffered from a medical condition known as Gert, a kind of a chronic acid reflux situation, which causes the sufferer to regurgitate constantly. "Wet burps" the attorney called them. You can bet that phrase went down in my Notebook of Justice. And, the defense continued, as if anyone were listening after he said "wet burps," the breathalyzer is not even a valid test for someone who suffers from constant regurgitation.

In short, the defense built a compelling case resting on the fact that his client was a fat, gaseous pig.

To my disappointment, a novel defense strategy does not necessarily translate into an entertaining case. Hearing people in suits say "wet burps" is, amazingly, only funny the first five or six times. I was beginning to fade when I remembered I was not here to be entertained. I was here to absorb and weight the facts. So, I stopped drawing "wet burps" in big, three-dimensional block lettering, coming out of stick figures' mouths, and returned to paying attention. This was a Notebook of Justice, after all, not a PeeChee Folder. "Alan [heart]s Justice" is not an appropriate note. Focus, Olifson, focus.

Being impartial, as it turned out, was not as easy as I had thought it would be. Sure, they gave us the tools: the Notebook of Justice, the Pen of Integrity, Bad Discount Coffee of Righteousness. But, as the case unfolded, emotion kept creeping around the edges of my logic. I felt sorry for the defendant.

Here's a guy who, to hear him tell it, had a few beers and some fried food at a TGI Fridays in the Valley to kill some time, then got pulled over for going eighty on an empty 405 Freeway.

Granted, if I was having a few beers alone at a TGI Fridays in the Valley, I'd more likely be pulled over for a murder/attempted suicide spree than a DUI. But, besides our obvious difference of opinion regarding chain restaurants with overly accessorized waiters, I could see myself in his situation.

This is not to say I'm sympathetic to someone who gets behind the wheel with a .16 BAC. But the validity of that number was in question here. Three beers would put the defendant's Blood Alcohol Content at .04. If we were to believe the breathalyzer readings, our guy would have had to have had, not three, not even five, but fifteen beers.

As it turned out, that's exactly how many beers I would have needed to make the following day-and-a-half's worth of breathalyzer testimony remotely interesting. By the time the third expert went to the flip chart to graph how, exactly, and in three colors, the breathalyzer's slope detector mechanism works to alert administrators of a contaminated sample, I think I really mastered the art of the three-dimensional box illusion (it's really all about the shading).

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