In case you had any doubts as to how fucked up our legal system is, I of all people just got done serving jury duty on a murder trial! No, I’m not joking.
Day 1 (Tuesday, October 3)
It was about one month beforehand that I received a summons to appear at the Supreme Court building at 329 Jay Street on October 3rd. When I got there, I was directed to the Central Jurors Room, where I (along with about 250 other people) watched a film. It was about the importance of serving on a jury, and it stopped at nothing short of saying that the idea of a twelve person jury was civilization’s greatest triumph, the false assumption being that human beings are lucid, intelligent, and capable of following simple instructions. They’re not. A court employee stepped up to the microphone and asked, “Is there anyone here who did not get a jury summons for October 3rd? If so, line up in front of me. This is only if you did not get a jury summons for October 3rd. The date is on the top of the jury summons. Don’t come up here if you have a doctors note saying that you can’t serve on a jury. We’ll get to that later. Right now, I only want the people who did not–I repeat–did not–get a jury summons for October 3rd.” Sure enough, these simple, repetitive instructions proved to be too difficult for a great number of people to follow. It was fun to watch though because the court employee kept insulting these idiots, and even though they were standing right in front of him, he kept speaking into the microphone. So, basically, in front of 250 people, this guy would say things like,” Are you deaf?” or “Man oh man! What is wrong with you people?” And the best part about it was the fact that the idiots didn’t have a microphone to talk into. Good! Fuck ’em! That’s the way it should be: those who are stupid and have nothing worthy to contribute should not be heard. Not only that, but they should be thrown into concentration camps and then be fucking killed!…Wow! As usual, I went a little too far, did I not? I’m sorry, but you have to understand that there were at least a dozen people who couldn’t follow the simple request of, “Only come up here if you did not receive a jury summons for October 3rd.” Do you honestly feel that those people have the right to exist, or, even worse, to procreate and spread their faulty genes across the American landscape? I sure as hell don’t! In fact, I said to the person sitting next to me, “God, I hope I’m never a defendant in a trial!” I should make it clear though that when I said “God,” God was not actually sitting next to me. It was just a regular person who did not–as far as I could tell–possess any supernatural powers. I was just using the word “God” as a figure of speech. Are we clear on that? Good. Then let’s move on. Oh! Speaking of people who were sitting close by, a transvestite was sitting a couple of rows in front of me. I wondered if he/she was going to get picked to preside over a gay-bashing hate crime. I didn’t have to wonder for long, because a few minutes later, the guy behind the microphone asked, “Is there anyone here who has trouble speaking English? If so, come see me.” It was at that point that about a hundred people stood up, eighty of whom were probably lying. This included the transvestite, who I had heard speaking English for at least twenty minutes. Aside from that whole “I’m a woman” thing, transvestites are good actors, because someone in charge appeared to have believed that he/she really could not speak English. I could have pulled the same stunt, but I wanted to get picked for jury duty because I had an agency meeting on Thursday that I wanted to get out of. Plus, there is practically nothing on this earth that I would not do for free coffee.
Eventually, sixty of us were lead into a courtroom. Judge Gustav Reinbach presided. Without telling us what crime was committed, he went into a long speech about how our job was to simply listen to the evidence without taking into consideration what the crime was. “It’s not your job to worry about what the punishment will be,” he said, “it’s my job to determine the law; it’s your job to just sit and listen attentively.” I was wondering why he was telling us this, and then a minute later, my question was answered. “Now…the defendant has been accused of murder…”said the judge. For reasons that I can’t fully explain, I felt a very uncomfortable jolt go through me. We’ve probably all heard the word “murder” every day of our lives. But like most things of significance (either good or bad) it doesn’t actually mean anything until you’ve somehow had direct contact with it. It was a murder trial, which meant that there was a strong possibility that I was sitting in the same room that a murderer was sitting in. More importantly, due to my lack of knowledge in regards to the law, I thought that I might have to serve on a capital punishment case. It wasn’t until the next day that someone informed me that capital punishment only occurs in the state of New York when a cop is killed. Until I learned that, I wanted nothing to do with this trial. You’re probably saying, “But Keith, you get homicidal urges approximately every twelve minutes! You should have enjoyed having that kind of power.” I know. It confused me too. But here’s the metaphor that I came up with: if eleven other people (jurors) stab someone and then hand me the knife–even if the guy is already dead–I’m still responsible for thrusting that twelfth stab wound into him. I didn’t want to be a part of that. And it was at that point that I learned that I could never be a world leader. People like Lee Romero are a special breed. President Bush refers to Bono as “The Pest.” That’s because Bono constantly visits the White House in a fruitless attempt to try to get Bush to act human. When my friend Lee Romero occupies the Oval Office in 2008, I will be the next “pest,” even though, politically, Lee and I see eye to eye. Regardless, I will leave it up to him to make the life and death decisions.
The process known as “voir dire” began. That’s when the judge and the lawyers pick the jury. First, the judge asks all the potential jurors if there’s any reason why they feel that they wouldn’t be able to serve fairly on a jury. About fifteen people walked up to the judge and gave him their reasons. They barely spoke above a whisper, and I was sitting in the back of the courtroom, so I couldn’t hear what was being said. However, one guy spoke loudly, and I heard him tell the judge that he was in combat and saw his best friend get killed right next to him. Believe it or not, this man was not excused! In fact, only three of the people who spoke to the judge were excused. Being that the combat veteran was not excused, I wondered what they had said to him. Since I was afraid that this might be a capital punishment case, I considered telling the judge about Wayne Braggs. A few years ago, when I was working at a bar in Bay Ridge, two of the bouncers kicked out a man by the name of Wayne Braggs. Once Braggs got outside, he pulled out a gun and chased the bouncers back inside. Just before he could pull the trigger, two off-duty cops grabbed him. He pistol-whipped one of the cops and ran back outside. He was then apprehended a few minutes later in the bathroom of a bar a few blocks away. Braggs was later sentenced to eight years in prison for attempted murder. This incident did not cause me to incur any long-term psychological damage (I was already psychologically damaged long before meeting Wayne Braggs) but, if I wanted to, I could have pretended that it did. Remember…I can cry on cue. But I did not speak to the judge because, like I said earlier, I had an agency meeting later in the week that I wanted to get out of. The judge addressed everyone’s issues concerning violence by saying, “A lot of you have told me that you wouldn’t be able to serve fairly on this jury because either you or someone you know has been the victim of a crime. You have to remember though that it would be impossible for us to assemble a jury of twelve people in Brooklyn who either hasn’t been the victim of a crime, or who doesn’t know someone who has.” Good point.
October 3, 2006