Up until Wednesday, I had never served on a jury before. I’ve been called once, shortly before Alex was born, but at the time I was working in a strip club and I’m pretty sure I did not match the criteria of “upright citizen” that they seem to go for in these things. Twelve years and a fairly major shift in pay grade seems to have changed that, though.
I arrived at the court house at 8:15 AM only to discover that my delicious cup of home brewed coffee goodness had to be dumped out before I could enter the courthouse. This did not start me off with a cheery disposition towards the day. Once I got into the Jury room (sans coffee), I had to fill out a short form and watch a few movies on what it meant to be a juror. It was during this time I found out that the courthouse has free wi-fi for you to use while you wait. Considering the fact that I had left my laptop at home becuase I figured they wouldn’t, this again made a wee bit on the cranky side. I consoled myself by re-reading through my script for History of the Devil and eating a candy bar. I also had some of their crappy free coffee. Yay for thin brown water that looks like it was shown a bag of coffee beans at some point!
Fortunately I wasn’t waiting all that long. I was in the second group of jurors called, which happened around 9:30. After being given some more instructions we were taken up to the third floor of the court house and told to wait outside the courtroom until the baliff came to get us. I got the pleasure of listening to some wonderfully civic minded person talk about how eager he was to get out of there and how he was hoping they disqualified him quickly. I didn’t really want to be there any more than the rest of them, I’m sure, but at least I was taking it seriously enough to not try to plot ways to get out of it before I was even in the damn courtroom!
Eventually we were called in. The Judge gave us some more instructions and we were introduced to the attorneys; two for the defense, two for the prosection, all of them seriously green. I swear it looked like the proverbial ink was still drying on their law degrees, and they were acting like it too. Halting, unsure, attempting to sound clever and coming off as preachy. You name it. (On a side note it is at this point I should mention that I think all lawyers should take acting classes. Seriously.) I was expecting Matlock, and instead I got Andrew from Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Another sign of the inexperience on the side of the lawyers, in my opinion, was how long they took with the vetting process. My GOD it dragged on for hours. It took them about 3 hours to come up with five jurors from the first batch (yes, gentle readers, I was one of them…the very first one called, much to my suprise), and then they called up and additional 10 jurors to go through. They didn’t have the seven jurors picked until 1:45, when we were dismissed for lunch. Which was, it turns out, 15 minutes after the cafeteria closed. I ended up driving to Checkers (yet another side note – anyone but me remember when Checkers actually used to be GOOD??) and getting a bacon cheeseburger to wolf down, as the baliff told us to be back at 2:20.
Once we got back and got started the case itself seemed pretty simple. A homeless veteran was arrested by the Veteran’s Admistration Police for disorderly conduct. During his arrest and booking he was verbally abusive and flailing his arms around a lot. While he was in the holding area at the VA he began to spit on the floor, and refused to stop when he was told to. At this point the cop noticed that there was blood in his spit, and got up to move towards him telling him again to stop spitting on the floor. The vet then tried to spit on the cop.
The charge? Assault on a Law Enforcement Officer.
Two cops testified for the prosecution. The defendant did not testify. There was not physical evidence for us to review. The defense made a huge deal out of the fact that the officer that was assaulted was a trained professional with several weapons at his disposal who never once attempted to use those weapons (the argument being that if he was threatened he would have done so). They also questioned where any video was and why an ambulance wasn’t called for their defendant when he started spitting up blood. It was a good ploy, but ultimately? Not really enough.
I had a really, REALLY hard time with this decision. In order to qualify as an assault, by my interpretation of the law, one has to have intent to do violence. It was pretty clear the defendant intended to spit on the police officer, but is spitting violence? Ultimately I went with the rest of my jurors and voted that it was, but I can’t say I was entirely happy about it. When I got home on Wednesday night I did some google searches and found that spitting HAS been ruled an assault previously, so I felt a little better. But not much. Was the guy being an ass? Undoubtedly. Was he being disordely? You bet. If the state had brought that charge and not assault I wouldn’t have blinked. Was he intending to commit violence?
Does that matter?
So yeah…I can’t say that my first stint as a juror gave me a huge sense of civic pride. It kind of made me feel dirty. I get that justice is blind and all, and I also understand that you cannot expect to spit on a cop and get away with it. I also know that I’m not supposed to take into account the fact that this man is a veteran, homeless, and from the look of him possibly dealing with mental issues. I’m supposed to be an impartial juror.
Me? I don’t do that impartial thing so well. I mean, I did it because I had to…but I’m not entirely happy with myself over it.