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By Alan Olifson

The 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.

OK, so 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 Men—which, 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, evidence—documentation, official records, random print-outs and breathalyzer-related flip charts—sat 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 choice."

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 for—well, 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 for that.

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 Gert—at 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 undeniable—the 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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