Kicked off Jury Duty… Again!

So the other day I was riding my bike across the train trestle by the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. The trestle spans the San Lorenzo River and offers great views of the amusement park, the bay, and the mouth of the river. It’s a great place to see birds. Mergansers, buffleheads, gulls, cormorants. Due to its inaccessibility (cars cannot get to it) it’s also not unusual to come across folks smoking a joint or sleeping off a drunk. Especially off-season when there aren’t so many tourists. I never bother them; they never bother me. It’s a win/win situation.

The trestle by the Santa Cruz Boardwalk

The other day, though, at one end of the trestle I came across seven police officers standing over a group of about five teenagers sitting on the dirt, their backs against a wall. I didn’t stop to ask what was going on. I had an appointment. I also didn’t think anyone would tell me. The tension was high. But I couldn’t help wondering what was up? The kids looked nice enough. And scared. They were also brown-skinned. The police were not.

I had no way of knowing who the kids were, if they were Dreamers, drug-dealers, gang members, or just some kids who’d made a bad choice, or were in the wrong place at the wrong time, or all of the above, but it occurred to me that an immigration raid might not look all that different from what I was witnessing. My point being, I never automatically assume when I see a police officer, or officers, pulling someone over, handcuffing them, or making them stand spread-eagle while patting them down, that the person, or persons, are one-hundred-percent-for-sure guilty. How could I possibly know? How could anyone? Shit happens. People make mistakes. Even police officers.

Which is what I believe has gotten me thrown off of two juries.

It took me awhile to figure out. See, unlike most people, I want to do jury duty. I think it would be interesting to see our legal system in action. Think sitting in a sweaty room of jurors trying to suss out someone’s motives and actions would be fascinating. So I try hard to appear the model citizen: concerned and thoughtful, intelligent, easy to get along with. I never raise any objections. Try hard not to stand out. But each time I’m the first to be shown the door. “But wait!” I want to say. “I’d be great! I’m a good listener! And I care!” Only they don’t really give you the chance to make a case for yourself.

It’s always the prosecutor that boots me. The only reason I can come up with is this. Each of the two times I’m made it far enough to go through the interrogation, there’s been a moment when the prosecutor sidles up to us jurors, acting like our best friend, and says something along these lines. “Okay. So you see a police officer has pulled someone over, or has someone cuffed, or otherwise engaged, and you figure, okay they must have done something bad. Am a right? Raise you hand if you think I’m right.”

This is the moment. I can’t make myself raise my hand. I feel hands rising around me, but I just can’t raise mine. I have friends who’ve been pulled over for no other reason than being Mexican in an affluent white neighborhood. And while directing a show in a women’s maximum-security prison, I met women who were doing time for striking out at their abusers, or because they refused to snitch on someone. And I recently read that one in ten on death row are innocent. So, it happens. I don’t know how often it happens, but I do know that at times people are wrongly accused, and knowing this gives me pause.

So on the trestle that day, as I pedaled past that unhappy scene, I made a point not to mentally convict those kids. Instead, I thought to myself, I hope they’re not guilty. I hope it’s all a big mistake. And if they are guilty of some wrongdoing, may the world show them kindness and help them find more productive ways to spend their time. I shot the police officers a prayer too. It can’t be easy doing what they do, making those judgment calls day after day. It’s got to weigh on them, knowing that sometimes they’re bound to get it wrong. So I wished them clarity and integrity, and silently thanked them for the work they do.

I guess I’m just not jury material. Or maybe the third time will be the charm.greetings-from-jury-duty-640x410

Available in June, from Bold Strokes Books:

Due out June 2018

18 thoughts on “Kicked off Jury Duty… Again!

  1. I live in Santa Cruz County and I can’t get on a jury either. I’ve been here 26 years, been called multiple times. The thing that always gets me is the question, have you ever had a bad experience with a police officer. As an anti-war protester back in the 1960s, well, yes, I have had some very unpleasant experiences with police officers. For that I’m a bad citizen, I guess! At the time I was only a little older than the Parkland Florida kids who are now taking their turn at trying to change the world.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. You are precisely good jury material- thoughtful, not wanting to make a judgement without hearing the facts. It is actually tragic that you get thrown off a jury. I, however, never want to be on a jury for many reasons, one being that I am self employed and don’t want to take time off from work. I have to become. A jerk to get thrown off. I wish I encountered that question from the prosecutor. Ah, life is full of paradox!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I enjoyed reading your blog. I find it heartening to read the words of someone who knows that justice isn’t always blind. Thank you for looking at the people involved in police stops and taking the time to consider there are several sides to a situation. I join those who believe you should serve on a jury. Your ability to be thoughtful before judging is very much needed by defendants as well as complainants.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Love this (and you)! It’s especially timely for me since I spent all last week as a juror. It was a sexual assault of a minor case. Monday was voir dire & it was the most overwhelming sad thing! Out of 60 potential jurors about half raised their hand when asked if they had ever been the victim of sexual assault or known someone who had. Then those people were asked if they could put those situations aside for this case. Many, understandably, said they could not and went on to disclose sad details of their own sexual abuse some of which had never told anyone until that moment in a room full of strangers. My fears were that I would set a guilty man free or send an innocent man to jail. Lots of praying last week!! We went on to find him not guilty because we couldn’t say beyond a reasonable doubt that he committed the crime. That’s the great thing about our country- innocent until proven guilty. I wish people would remember that in our normal everyday life.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow! I don’t know what noir dire means, but that sounds like a powerful experience! I know Dixie was on a case once that involved child pornography and it really messed with her head. What a trip that with your people had to “come out of the closet” with their sexual assault experiences. And that so many did. That’s why this #MeToo movement is so important. The numbers of women who’ve been abused is staggering!


  5. I was on a jury a couple of years ago… I too really wanted to be on one. As I sat through jury selection I kept getting more and more frustrated… First of all, no one spoke loud enough and second everyone was whining! MADE ME CRAZY! The judge or one of the attorneys would ask them a question like “It is necessary for you to know that he is a felon. But you cannot hold that against him. Can you do that?” And they would say no. Or “You have no say in the punishment -whatever the outcome – are you OK with that?”, “Can you be fair?”, “Can you withhold judgment?”,” Can you be unbiased?” All the answers were NO. NO. NO. NO! The judge would tell them that this was a rule, you had to follow it, whether you liked it or not. It wasn’t the time for prejudiced, biased, or political beliefs. There were other venues for that. This trial was to find out the guilt or innocence of a man by the laws in place today. Can you do that? NO. NO. NO. NO.

    They finally got to me and of course I used my theatre voice. The WHOLE court room could hear and understand me (I have no idea why everyone laughed the first time I spoke). After answering a few basic questions from the judge, the defense attorney started asking me questions. I interrupted her and said “It doesn’t matter what I think, I can follow the rules. It doesn’t matter if I like guns or don’t, if I like policeman or don’t, if I like felons or not. It matters that I can put all that aside, actively listen, and follow the rules the judge lays down. You wanna know if I can follow the rules. Yes, I can do that.”

    I was Jury Foreman.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Brilliant post. I have served on 3 juries, but never for any violent crime. It is an interesting process. So many intangibles go into making a decision about guilt or innocence, but I have found that fellow jurors have taken their duties seriously and bring their ‘best’ to the situation. Wish that were true in every case, but as you point out, there are still many prejudices in the system with prosecutors, police and even judges.


    1. Hey Karen, Well, I’m glad to know you aren’t shirking your duty. So many people try to get out of jury duty. Nice to hear your experiences have been positive. I will say Dixie gets chosen all the time. She did one that involved a cyber child pornography ring. It really shook her up! Blech.


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