The Estes Kefauver federal building in downtown Nashville was probably a pretty swank edifice in the 1990s. The interiors are all vintage from that period – lots of chromes and heavy wood paneling in light colors displayed in anonymous and cloned windowless corridors. I know this because during my day of jury “service,” I was relentlessly pinballed down them half a dozen times and the overall feeling one has at the end of this is of being harassed.
I don't inherently resent jury duty, and thought, once again, that it would provide an opportunity to learn a little bit about the system while discharging my duties as a citizen. I don't feel like I did any of that. After a week of thinking about it, it is hard to come away from the process with anything other than a profound feeling of waste; alleged criminals who waste time by allegedly committing alleged criminal deeds, wasted time, wasted money paid out to potential, rejected and serving jurors for wasted effort, attorneys who waste time and breath on ham-handed attempts to manipulate, who ask the same questions, time and again, wasting more and more time and effort and money.
What is it all for?
Twelve Angry Men is my favorite movie of all time. I watch it once a year, I own the play and I believe in the speechifying about duty and rights under the Constitution. Nothing about the process for reporting for federal jury selection is designed to maintain a sense of dutifully reporting for sacred honor detail, however. It begins with a letter and an online registration, then there is a series of phone calls every Monday for a month which can only be made after 5pm and tell you where to go the following day, if you are needed at all. This is annoying. Just tell me when to show up and I'll do it, but this “I can't make any plans for Tuesday, or indeed, the rest of the fucking week until after I make a phone call to a robot” bullshit is ridiculous. Of course, they waited until my 5th phone call to tell me to report. Just when I thought I might miss it and started making plans again.
Due to traffic on Interstate 24, it took me an hour and 20 minutes to travel approximately 35 miles. The bus down Murfreesboro Road would likely have been quicker. I paid nine dollars (reimbursed) for parking, and then had to take off my jacket, shoes, belt & keys and put them in a bucket while I ran the gauntlet of security. (The security guys were actually pretty nice, just not terribly helpful.) I then shared an elevator for eight floors with a non-uniformed Metro cop, two ladies who smelled like a perfume counter, and a nervous man sweating aluminum. I checked in at the desk and was asked how much I paid for parking (I would imagine some people lie and pad this number) and issued my all-important button.
Sitting in a large room (big long Brain Candy conference tables, proliferate magazines, great view of Union Station, half-comfortable chairs) we were then subjected to daytime television from 8ish until about 9:30. The programming, if anything, fell off at this point while we stared at a DVD with various Justices and former jurors instilling us with importance and creating unrealistic expectations about what we were to endure. There was a lot of talk about solemnity and emotion and and the small deliberations room, and how “scary” things might become for us. Perhaps not the most effective rah-rah speech ever. Sometime after 10 we were escorted to actual court, a room so tall you'd get a nosebleed climbing it. This was filled with pews and pictures of old white men in black dresses. On the way there, a bailiff reminded me “You can't read in court,” and pointed at the book under my arm, Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch. He scowled when I took it in with me anyway.
Over the next seven hours, the same questions were asked of us in a variety of ways, and I was once again disqualified as a juror, I believe because of one or all of these three responses:
Do you have strong opinions about guns and gun control? Yes, I believe that handguns, rifles, assault weapons and extended magazines should have more restrictions on their proliferation and that licensing should be more restrictive, with more oversight.
Do you feel strongly that some drugs which are currently illegal should be legal? Yes, I think that marijuana's illegality is an anachronism and Colorado and Washington are good experiments to be watched closely.
Would it affect your assessment of witness testimony if you knew that the witness would be getting something in return for their testimony? That depends upon what they're getting and who they are. (This one actually turned into a three-minute back and forth between me and one of the defense attorneys, during which he scribbled something on paper.)
Shortly thereafter, I was released (actually what it is called) and went home, feeling as though the system was slightly broken. Everything is done to mechanize our "duty," attorneys manipulate juries until they get the most boring, homogenized group you can imagine, and endless time and money are spent trying to punish people for what they've allegedly gotten up to.