Today, April 1, I want to recount an incident that I witnessed back in the first half of the decade. Because this is a (more or less) true story, I have chosen to obscure the identities of certain involved parties. Following in the footsteps of the recently-departed JD Salinger, I have included myself in the story, but have disguised my identity to such a degree that only the most discerning and clever readers will be able to pick me out from the multitude of characters here presented.
So, without further ado, I present...
Jury duty for Citizen X
Citizen X was unemployed (and loving it) when the notification came in the mail announcing that he had been selected to serve jury duty at the Multnomah County Courthouse. "Hot damn!" thought he. "Something to do besides sit around the house collecting unemployment checks and playing guitar on the front porch." Having been unemployed for nearly a year, Citizen X relished the idea of contributing to society in a productive manner. And what better service than to impel the Wheels of Justice?
And so, when the appointed day came, Citizen X adorned himself in long pants and button-down shirt (quite a departure from his normal attire of shorts and tee-shirt), pulled his hair back and held it with a scrunchy, and caught the Trimet bus downtown.
The scene at the courthouse was frantic. So many people going in so many different directions, each with some urgent purpose not at all apparent to anyone else. Here were the passive-faced citizens waiting on queue to pass through the metal detector; there, the holstered-pistol sheriff's deputies lending an air of strong-arm authority. Briefcase-toting lawyers strode with purpose in the halls conferring in their legal-speak.
Citizen X was a bit awed, a bit bewildered...
...and eventually ushered into a waiting room, packed to the gills with fellow citizens, all of them waiting to see if they would be called upon to pass judgment on those who stood accused in the eyes of the law. Citizen X could not avoid a certain satisfactory sense of purpose: he was fulfilling his civic duty.
Nearly every seat was taken. In one corner, a woman knitted as she waited. In another, a young man regaled his neighbors with stories of his exploits over the previous weekend. Citizen X was very glad he had brought a book to read. He squeezed into one of the hard, sturdy, plastic-and-metal chairs, opened his book and began to read.
At intervals, a court officer would enter the room and read off a list of numbers, each corresponding to a potential juror. When a number was called, the juror to whom it was assigned would rise and follow the officer out.
At first, whenever the court officer entered the room, Citizen X closed his book on his finger and listened attentively. He didn't want to miss his chance to serve. But after several iterations of number-reading and without ever hearing his own number called, Citizen X forsook the anticipation and dedicated his attention entirely to his book.
After several hours, the ennui became burdensome. Citizen X closed his book, shut his eyes, and let his mind drift. He was drowsy. If the chair in which he sat were even the slightest bit comfortable, he could almost...
"What was that?" came a voice from nearby. Citizen X's eyes flew open to find that the people in his immediate vicinity were all looking in his direction. Some were smiling, some looked shocked and appalled. "Was I snoring?" Citizen X asked, abashedly. "Don't worry," said the knitting woman. "They're just jealous because they can't sleep." She smiled.
The awkwardness of the moment was relieved by the sudden appearance of the court officer who stood in the doorway and blandly read from a list of numbers. "Guess it's my turn!" Citizen X joshed when he heard his number read. He tried to suppress any outward sign of the pride he felt: Responsible Citizen X!
He followed the officer down the hall to an elevator along with several others from the waiting room. They rode up several floors and were deposited in another hallway lined with doors encasing fogged-glass windows. The officer led them to one particular door and indicated they should enter.
And there, at last, was the courtroom.
The black-robed judge sat at the bench, dour and impassive, society's impartial observer, assigned the duty of insuring that the sacred rites of justice were diligently observed. His jowls were heavy, his eyes sober and alert. State and federal flags draped poles behind the bench.
The People's advocate sat at the table before and to the left of the bench, fastidious and official in his coat and tie. He was a younger man, immaculately groomed and tailored, with close-cropped curls framing his square temple and jaw. His eyes were steely blue, but Citizen X thought he could discern a hint of human compassion behind the dispassionate mien of a prosecutor. After all, though the law may seem cold, still it is a human institution, and human's are compassionate creatures.
And there, at a table to the right of the bench, sat the accused with his advocate. The defendant sat erect, with only the slightest slope to his shoulders indicating the toll that the unrelenting weight of justice had exacted upon him. He wore wire framed glasses; his hair sat like damp, dirty straw on his head. He had a long face and his manner was that of a man who is determined to maintain his dignity in the face of an insult. At his side was the defending attorney: shuffling papers on the tabletop. Defense appeared disheveled and harried, which Citizen X imagined to be due to tireless efforts made while jealously defending the interests of his client. This was justice at its finest.
Citizen X and the other jurors took their seats in the panel box, there to undergo the jury selection process. The judge issued instructions and outlined the process for all. "If you are ultimately selected to serve on the jury, you will need to elect a foreman. You are to follow my instructions regarding the consideration of evidence..."
Citizen X listened eagerly, making mental note of questions that arose in his mind that he might inquire of the judge when the opportunity presented itself. And then it was time for the attorneys to begin jury selection.
The advocate for the defense spoke first. "Ladies and gentlemen," said he, standing and buttoning his jacket, "my client stands accused of driving under the influence of alcohol. You will hear testimony that my client, on the night of January 15th, drove his automobile after having consumed sufficient alcohol to be legally drunk. Is there anyone among you who has ever been involved in a similar incident?" He paused and scanned the jury, but none raised his hand. Defense nodded, then continued. "Further, you will hear testimony that my client partook of marijuana on this same night, that he was under the influence of marijuana when he was arrested. Are there any here who feel strongly about marijuana?"
A middle-aged woman, sporting a high, curly coif, and horn-rimmed spectacles raised her hand. "Yes," said she. "I'm just really against pot. I just really think it is bad."
Defense gave her a nod of acknowledgment and prepared to continue.
At that point, Citizen X succumbed completely to his sense of civic duty. His moment to serve his community had come. His hand shot up. The defense attorney looked at him, then nodded, expectantly. "Yes, I feel strongly about marijuana," said Citizen X. He beamed with pride. "I smoke it nearly every day and I think its great."
In the brief pause that followed, Citizen X caught the eye of the accused whose disbelieving expression seemed to ask: "Did you just admit to smoking dope in a court of law?" But then the gears caught and the wheels of justice ground forward; no half-baked exclamation from an overly eager citizen could hold them for long. The defense attorney considered for an instant, then nodded and continued with his screening questions. After which, came the prosecutor.
In time, both had finished their questioning and submitted a list of jurors to the judge.
The judge looked over the list impassively, then advised the members of the jury: "Those of you whom I name are dismissed from serving. Please don't read anything into this."
Citizen X was the first name on the list. He grinned, sheepishly, got up and left the court room. At the elevator he was joined by the woman with the curly coif and horn-rimmed spectacles. "Nice day, eh?" said Citizen X as they rode to the ground floor. "Very nice," replied she. He grinned. She smiled. They both watched the floor indicator of the elevator for the rest of the ride.
Later, when Citizen X related the story to Mahatma Candy Percussionist Y, the latter was enthusiastic in his response. "Very good! Very good, indeed! I approve!" said he.
Well, that's the story. Hope you enjoyed it. Also, let me further state that I sympathize with Citizen X's position. Marijuana is certainly not nearly as harmful to a person's health as alcohol or many of the prescription drugs that doctors regularly hand out to patients. In fact, I read somewhere that the only real detrimental effect of marijuana is an impairment of short term memory. At least, I think I remember reading that. Or did I? Aw, hell. What day is it again?