Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Jury Duty: Civil, Petit, Grand, and Beyond

I have served every kind of jury except Federal. It all began in 1977 when I was 20. Back then, most able-bodied men found a way to get out of jury duty, unlike 2010 where everyone from Giuliani to Obama to Mr. T is asked to report and serve.

Unless there is an existential threat and the enemy is marching up Flatbush Avenue (thanks to Chris Rock for establishing the standard of "when I would join the Army"), it is unlikely that 53-year-old men, even those of us who can knock off a 9-minute mile on a good day, will ever be asked by our government to help out in the future. So, when called to jury duty we serve gladly, if only in the knowledge that we're helping out someone else who can't spare the time.

In the summer of 1977, I served on a murder case with mostly young people like me, retirees, and a very few middle-aged people who were either civic minded or couldn't get out of it. The murder allegedly occurred within 10 blocks of my home. Normally one would think that the proximity of the crime to a juror was a disqualifier but the murder rate was very high in the late '70s, jurors in summer were desperately needed, and DQing us never came up. A second juror, a Spanish-speaking gentleman (more on that later), also came from our neighborhood.

The case was a drug deal gone bad in a kitchen with a half-dozen witnesses, all of whom but one (more on that later also) gave eyewitness testimony. One of the witnesses was a little boy, 10 years old. Another witness testified in Spanish. The judge, the colorful and late Justice Sybil Hart Cooper, a trailblazer for her gender in 1977, cautioned the Spanish-speaking juror to disregard the testimony that he heard in Spanish and only to deliberate on the testimony provided by the translator, a legal fiction at best.

All the witnesses had their say and and we were surprised that the ADA or the defense lawyer did not call the final witness to testify. As I paraphrase, the ADA said in his summation, "You're probably wondering why all the eyewitnesses to the crime except Mr. Jones [not his real name--1OTT, Summer Intern] were called to the stand. Well, you see, ahem, harrumph, brachk-brachk, this gentlemen is a transvestite, and I was concerned that he would show up in Your Honor's courtroom in full regalia and make a mockery of the proceedings." You have to recall that this was 1977. Phil Dohahue had only recently had gay folk on his talk show and the term LGBT had not yet been coined. We all nodded in agreement, imagining puppeteer Waylon Flowers and Madame sashaying across the courtroom with flair. Madame, by the way, has come out of retirement with a new partner.

I was the 13th juror and not called to deliberate. Two hours went by and I as the alternate waited in the courtroom in case a juror fell ill. No-nonsense Judge Cooper cracked out of earshot of the jury room, "I don't know what's taking them so long!" She eventually dismissed me and I'm pretty sure the accused was found guilty.

Next post: the grand jury.


Brigid said...

So how do I apply for a summer internship with 1OTT?

Brian said...

Send a SASE.