only interesting information that came to light during the breathalyzer testimony
marathon was that our government engages in "drinking studies." Apparently
they pay people to get drunk in "simulated party situations," and then
drive. Why the hell didn't I get that call? Where's my "L.A. Department of
Drinking Studies: Party Summons?" I'm getting paid fifteen bucks a day to
sit in a windowless room listening to testimony about "plastic regurgitation
particle filters" while other people are getting schnookerd on the government's
dime? I don't feel like I was given all my civic duty options, here. And what
does a situation simulated by the government to resemble a party even look like?
I pictured shag carpeting, horned-rimmed glasses and hi-balls.
my mind wandered a bit.
Still, as closing statements wrapped up, I was
confident I had done due diligence. I understood the facts of the case and I was
ready to pass judgment. True, I had a certain amount of empathy for the defendant,
but the facts supported my gut instinct: there was reasonable doubt. We had to
let him walk.
The jury room was a sparse affair. Everything you'd expect
from watching Twelve Angry Menwhich, as we moved into the actual
deliberation process, replaced Law & Order as the fiction I used to
benchmark my reality. Our new home had a table, twelve chairs, two bathrooms,
an intercom system and an alarming lack of snack food. It wasn't like I was asking
for a wet bar, just some cheese doodles or something. (Though, I bet they had
wet bars in Twelve Angry Men. Or, at least a glass cart with a crystal
carafe of some sort. The '50s were cool that way. "Here's why I think he's
guilty [rises]. Scotch?") In lieu of a snack basket, evidencedocumentation,
official records, random print-outs and breathalyzer-related flip chartssat
on the table, in what could only be described as a heap.
The bailiff gave
us our instructions, left the room, and, for the first time, we were alone. That's
when I realized I had not said more than three words to any of these people in
three days. During breaks I had pretty much kept to myself. I'm sure there are
sundry elementary school incidents which could account for this reaction to the
bailiff's calling, "recess," but, regardless of my motivation, I opted
for reading the paper at a hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurant over getting-to-know-you
chit chat with my peers. "So, Monrovia. Wow. Gets pretty hot out there, huh?
Oh, I see you go for the Sweet & Sour sauce on your McNuggets, interesting
Despite my isolationism, when it came time to choose our
foreman, I secretly hoped for the nomination, recasting myself as the "charismatic
lone wolf." My fellow jurors, though, couldn't quite make the creative leap,
leaving me as, "quiet guy with coffee stain on his shirt"this
being the second day the lone wolf had had a little balance problem in the elevator.
Instead, we unanimously went with Juror #3, the mild physics professor. He was
a trim, forty-something Hispanic guy who spoke in something that walked the line
between accent and speech impediment. He had kept to himself during recess, too,
but I guess he did so with more dignity than I, reading "Gould's Book of
Fish" instead of spilling coffee.
We began deliberations with a brief
go-round just to see where everyone stood. As we went around the table, my gut
instinct was validated by the others: the Gert raised enough reasonable doubt
about the breathalyzer results, and, without those results, there was no case.
Eight to four, "innocent."
Two "guilty" votes were
on the fence, including Juror #2, the 80 year-old. She had survived this long,
but turned out to be in her 60s, so it wasn't quite as impressive. The other two
"guilty" votes were adamant Jurors #4 and #12. Both women, one
a retired lawyer in her late forties, the other some kind of office manager in
her thirties. What really surprised me, though, was that almost no one, not even
those ready to vote "not guilty," trusted the guy. And the conversation
quickly turned to what a shady character he was. How there were discrepancies
in time and there's no way he was really just at TGI Fridays all night, and B.S.
that and bullshit this.
Speculation ran rampant, and I found myself defending
not only the defendant, but our legal system. "Not guilty" votes were
being turned based on arguments like, "Well, why didn't he just show us a
receipt for the three beers? I mean, if that was me, I'd be pulling out credit
card statements and stuff." I became a broken record of, "the burden
of proof is on the prosecution." I agreed, it was weird there was no receipt,
or phone bill, or waitress testimony, but the prosecution didn't produce those
things, either, so, I argued, we couldn't attach any meaning to their absence.
But, like an avalanche, opinion started to turn.
We took another poll:
Eight to four, "guilty."
Holy crap, what was going on here? Discussion
had stayed pretty calm, but the two original "guilty" votes were losing
patience with us "not guilty" hold outs. Terms like, "sucker"
and "naïve" were being thrown around, occasionally hitting me.
I held my ground, defending this man's honor. In retrospect, I was too
invested. In some way I felt as if his conviction would translate into retroactive
convictions for all my past transgressions, of which, trust me, there are plenty.
And I didn't want to go to the pokey forwell, never you mind what I could
go to the pokey for. The bottom line is, I committed the cardinal juror sin: I
empathized with the defendant. They could've taken my Notebook of Justice away
Being so invested, the discovery of his medical records came
as quite the blow. Sitting amongst the evidence heap was a simple manila folder
holding, as many manila folders do, hard truths. According to the defendant's
medical records, he had been seeing the same doctor for seven years, had repeatedly
complained about his weight and asthma, but only once mentioned the symptoms of
Gertat an appointment exactly one day after his arrest. It took two more
rounds of votes for the implication of this to sink in, but, really, it was undeniablethe
guy was a liar. I'd been bamboozled and, quite possibly, hoodwinked. I put myself
out on the line for this guy, and he was nothing but a shyster with a slick lawyer.
We convicted him. He deserved it, and I'm glad we did. But I also understand
his thought process. And that scares me. I understand the thrill of a good excuse.
I mean, here's a guy who got busted, blatantly busted for something. But did he
give up? Did he admit defeat, pay the fine and call it a day? No. He got the ticket,
went home and thought, "How the hell can I weasel out of this?" And
I am in no position to fault him for that.
The whole thing gave me a bad
case of Gert.
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