Thursday, April 12, 2012

voir dire is the legal word for when they call possible jurors in groups of fourteen (in our courthouse), ask them questions like "do you know any of the police officers in this case?", and then kick a few of them off the jury while the other unlucky victims go into a little room and prepare to be on a jury that could last anywhere from one afternoon to a month or two. voir dire means something like tell the truth, but here's the thing: some people want to get onto the jury, and some don't. also, you have the defense, who doesn't want any rednecks on there, and the prosecutor, who would really rather it all be rednecks. so each of them can reject a few just because they don't like their looks, but after that they have to take them until they find a good reason. we in the jury pool just tell the truth to the best of our ability, and either throw stuff in there or leave it out depending on what we want.

in my case i wanted out of it because i'm so darn busy and i have to ask these other teachers to fill in for me, and prepare the lessons and keep up with the grading, so if some kid is up there trying to get out of his "driving on a revoked license" charge and the judge asks us, is there anyone who is so inconvenienced by this jury duty that they'd hold it against this defendant, i almost said yes. in the end i told them i was next door neighbors to the police chief and they asked around trying to find out if this really meant we were good buddies or what. the defense really wanted me on there, i could tell, and was a little disappointed that i was acting like i knew all these policemen. i told the truth though and i even said my own son was driving on all the expired stuff one time and he got caught and he was guilty anyway, maybe that's when the defense said, ok, i give up on this guy, get him out of there, and they did.

but as it turned out that jury only lasted one afternoon and the whole lot of us was back the next day, waiting for more of this voir dire, this time for a drug case involving two kids and some quantity, fortunately i don't know from grams and am not eager to voir dire anything of my colorful past let alone in front of a number of neighbors and folks i know a little just by virtue of being in the same small rural county with them all these years. now they pronounce it voyeur deer like it's right outside your kitchen window, but all kinds of people have a colorful past in that regard and some even have experience in the pen, or with a felon, or whatever. i say i'm married to a criminologist and i think this works pretty well but who's to know, anything can happen and usually does.

it's beautiful out and the road to our little county seat courthouse town has weeds growing out on top of it and wildflowers all over, it's mowing season and anyone who leaves it a day too long has it all going to flower all over the place, and has to get a tractor out to cut it, or a herd of goats. this is true even in the city where you leave town for a weekend, come back & the city's put a yellow card on your yard threatening to cut it themselves & send you the bill. at the soccer field it's cool and clear and a little car comes into the soccer area, goes over the speed bump and loses its entire front end, it falls down right in front of it and they have to set it back on the car and pull over a bit. later a couple of police cars come by and a lady who's watching the soccer game says, oh, we're playing cahokia in baseball, like that explains everything. cahokia is where they have these huge mounds that used to be the center of an ancient empire that spread out over north america at least but is now pretty much surrounded by east saint louis and i would guess based on what she said that their baseball team is a rough team, or maybe they just don't like our team, whatever, i'm surprised the schools are anywhere close to the same size.

the brakes start going out on our own little car somewhere in there, all that back and forth, windy roads, speed bumps, jury duty, whatever and you don't want to be driving around with little kids and the brakes going to the floor or pulling finally when your foot gets to the bottom. the whole thing has worn me out considerably, especially having to voyeur deer about my own life and my prejudices about such cases though to my credit i maintained that i would be an objective juror in each case regardless. "do you think a policeman is more or less likely than another person to tell a lie?" well maybe he or she has more pressure than i do to never admit he/she is wrong, or back off, or whatever, but people are people, and anyone with an open mind's got that defense attorney hoping it'll stay that way. or, "are there any laws you would refuse to obey, just based on your belief that it wasn't right?" let's not get started on this stuff, talking about the army or whatever, when what we're talking about really is driving on a revoked license, and having so many grams of something. and anyway, my sum total overwhelming feeling about the whole thing is, there but for the grace of god go i, if you know what i mean.

finally, car in the shop, i got to walk home, a familiar route, but with plants blooming all over the place, flowers, blooming bushes, and one old mulberry tree now chopped down, down in the neighborhoods, may it rest in peace. but now i have a sore leg, as if this failure to swim has caused a general breakdown in my youthful composure, complete exhaustion due to now having to explain to all these students where i've been and why the papers aren't graded yet. they of course are curious what jury duty is all about, and if police are in fact more or less likely to lie than anyone else. what do i know? i know they'd like you to believe they're fair, the system works. i am in fact the system, i'm doing my duty, sitting there in the box, and it's hard describing it to my students, but that's what i tell them. if they summon you, you've got to go in to the county seat, be there for them, every few years, because somebody's got to do it, that's how it works. everyone else out there is just assuming somebody else will take care of it. which is kind of what i did, when you add it all up, assume someone else would get on that jury, somebody who had time, and an open mind, or both. one can only hope that there are such people, some of my friends there might have qualified, at least based on what they said while i was talking to them. it was, after all, one of the few times i had a minute to actually visit with some of my neighbors. which is kind of amazing, if you come to think about it.


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