June 4, 2010
Last week I was called for jury duty at the Allegheny Courthouse in downtown Pittsburgh. It was my first time being summoned to public service. I had always said that I would somberly accept the call to action if selected. My reason being that if I was ever to be put on trial, especially if I was guilty of something, I would want someone in the jury exactly like myself: unfocused, impatient and generally distrustful of the legal system. However, when I got the notification that I would potentially be a juror, all I could do was think of ways to get out of it. As I was formulating my master plan in the morning, I was reminded of a plot that a friend of my sisters (let’s call her Amber) had tried, with extremely unsuccessful results.
She had heard from numerous sources that if you simply tell the judge that you are a racist, then they would not pick you for jury duty. They usually dismiss anyone who they think will not be impartial. Unfortunately for her, the judge presiding over the juror selection had heard of this trick before.
“You indicated on your questionnaire that you do not believe that you could be fully impartial during a trial. Why is that?” the judge asked. Amber was white, the judge was white, the bailiff was white etc. so Amber thought she could play the racist card in her favor without repercussions.
“Yeah. I just really don’t like black people. I think that generally speaking they commit a lot of crimes. So if it was a black guy on trial I’m pretty sure he was arrested because he did it,” Amber finished, thinking that her grossly careless and ignorant speech would let her walk scot free. She wasn’t racist; she was just a turd.
“Really?” the judge said. “Bailiff please bring out the defendant.”
“Wha…What?” Amber said.
“I want you to explain to the defendant face-to-face, why you feel like you can’t give him a fair trial.”
The bailiff brought out the defendant, a black man in his early 30’s. They sat him down in the chair across from the Amber.
“Go ahead,” the judge motioned to Amber. This was a tight spot. If Amber changed her previous story, there was a good chance that she would be held in contempt of court and the judge might toss her in jail for the rest of the day. If she stuck with her story, she would have to look a potentially innocent man in the eyes and tell him that she disliked the color of his skin so much, that she would rather just throw him in jail rather than deal with the inconvenience of a court trial, even though it wasn’t true.
This judge must have written her doctoral thesis on poetic justice.
Amber was sweating bullets. She decided that she’d rather hurt someone’s feelings than go to jail and timidly she told the defendant, “I’m…I’m just…really racist.”
That was it. The judge let her go after that, probably from sheer disgust.
Therein lies the problem with being tried by a jury of my peers. People like me would rather do a lot of things than go to jury duty so it makes me wary when someone is pumped about fulfilling that civic duty.
But that’s who I met while waiting in the juror’s room last week. This guy had been called to jury duty 4 separate times and loved it. This willingness to have a day ruined freaked me out slightly, but not quite as much as some of his other statements. I sat in a room with a coffee machine listening to him talk.
“My buddy has a farm and it does so well that he brings a bunch of Mexicans in during the busy season. I don’t even know if he pays ’em.”
“In Ohio you can actually buy a single can of beer. If I’m buying a single can of beer, let’s be honest, I’m just going to drink it while I’m driving.”
“I don’t even go to concerts anymore. I just get a bunch of cheap beads and hang out in the parking lot. I get to know a lot of girls that way.”
One day this man might decide your fate. Be afraid.