Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Jury un-duty

Last week I got notice in my mail that my presence at Marin County Superior Court had been cordially and randomly requested. I dialed in last night, and the message was clear: All prospective jurors are needed.

So I got to the Civic Center for 9:30 and joined the queue. There were perhaps 120 people in the room. After the thrilling video about why California is great and America is great and Juries are great, the genuinely engaging and efficient woman who herds juror prospects read off a list of names. We'd be reporting to court room H. It was alphabetical. They got to my area of the alphabet, and read my name.

I left my leatherman on my keyring, inadvertently, after having been warned not to have one, so I had to leave it in the jury room. Then I went through the near-airport level security.

Court clerk pulled the first 12 prospective jurors. And I was one of them.

The case was going to be a DUI. And the accused wasn't going to appear, and wasn't going to testify, and had refused the breathalyser and blood tests. So we were asked if we knew anyone in the case, if we or family folks worked in law enforcement, asked if we had a zero tolerance for driving after any drinking. I couldn't honestly fail myself on anything. I didn't want to disqualify myself, nor did I want not to disqualify myself.

Juror after juror got dismissed or excused by the judge for everything from having had an alcoholic husband, family members killed by drunk drivers, bad run-ins with police, prior DUI convictions, etc. One woman had been hit by a DUI last Wednesday.

The defense attorney seemed keen to establish that folks on the jury thought it was ok to, or at least would admit to having a drink, then driving. Like me: I go to the brewpub, have a beer with my dinner, drive home. Not a big deal.

He questioned one of the new jurors about this, and he responded that he had the little card in his wallet that told you, based on height and weight, what was ok, questionable and too much to drink.

The defense attorney, perhaps from the right motive to make sure we didn't take the guideline as absolute, began to argue that we didn't know who put out the card, or what their agenda was, and that different people had different tolerances, and that it wasn't gospel, and what did they mean by "drink" anyway? Is a long Island Iced Tea equal to a glass of wine? And then he asked if any of us took issue with that.

Now I think he was trying to argue that we shouldn't take it as gospel. And I'm fine with that. But his argument got too close to the "Hey, who can trust those 'scientists' with all their 'numbers' and 'facts' and 'objectivity'" and he lost me.

So I raised my hand. Because I took issue with that.

"Actually, the card is very clear about what a 'drink' is. 1.5 oz of hard liquor, 5 oz of wine, 12 oz of beer. And servings are standardized in restaurants, too, based on alcohol content. It's why high alcohol content beers have to be served in smaller glasses. So that portion is very objective. The card is also clear about what's less objective, but even there, it's clear what is and is not open to interpretation. If you're a 6'4" 240 pound male and you've had one drink, you're fine, and if you're a 5'0 95 pound female and you've had 6, you're in trouble. The cards are clear about what is and is not open to interpretation and relativity."

Then he went back to the juror. Then there was a break.

A woman from the courtroom was passing in the hall, and turned and said with a smile, "You talk too fast!" I laughed and apologized. She came back by and I thanked her for saying so. Sometimes I go too fast when I'm revved up about something. She said it's because I'm a smarty, and that sometimes the brains go faster than the mouth can keep up with. Then I realized she was the court stenographer. Of course she noted my pace of speaking. And since she had to write down my occupation, the rest of the exchange made sense. We had a good chat, discovering we were both books not to be judged by our covers.

Then back to the court room. The two lawyers again ditching jurors because they can. The prosecution had nixed a few that I thought were "unsophisticated" and a few who'd had bad experiences with cops, and may not believe officer testimony. At least, those were my guesses as to why they got nailed.

And then she asked to have me ditched.

So I was done.

It was a surprise. I figured I was well qualified to reason to conclusions based only on the information and rules I was allowed to use. I'm good at partial information. But I think she thought science and logic boy wouldn't be able to get past the lack of breath or blood test. On the contrary, if blood alcohol content is positively but imperfectly correlated with impairment, then it's really always officer testimony that matters in convicting for DUI. And I could have handled that.

I really wonder why I got let go, but I guess I'll never know.