This is the real story of one woman, one murder, really complicated words, a disappearing knife, and a crappy cappuccino.
To be honest, I had been postponing my jury duty for months already. “I don’t get paid for this shit…” I mumbled to myself as I punched in the numbers to check in for my summons. It was my last day of calling-in, so I figured I was pretty much home free —- “YOU ARE REQUIRED TO REPORT ON FRIDAY AT 7:45AM.” I had to repeat the message from the robot on the phone. Ugh, crap.
OK, ok. I could do *one* day, downtown at the courthouse. I mean my work doesn’t pay me to be there, but — I work at night, the court stuff’s during the day, civic duty, might be a kinda cool, blah blah blah. Don’t be a weenie.
Besides. I could make it a fun experiment. Hey-oh! What a fun little day-in-the-life-of-a-reluctant-juror this will be! And then I’ll get back to my regular life! …Right?
JURY DUTY: DAY 1 / Just reporting like any other normal person
5:27a – I wake up 3 minutes before my alarm. Got 4 hours of sleep. I’m ready!
8:01a – We watch a softcore propaganda film about California and JUSTICE. An actor from the 1980s reminds us “If you gotta be on the jury, don’ worry ’bout it…” Another former juror woman says “I brought a book, so… It wasn’t bad at all.” NOT BUYIN’ WHAT YOU’RE SELLIN’, California Department of Justice.
8:12a – The video mentions that “Many jurors stay in touch after the trial.” What?! I didn’t come here to make friends. An orientation officer even tells us there have been a few marriages between jurors. Cuz this shiz is ro-man-tic, ya’ll.
8:22a – I feel like at least two of us potential jurors are definitely murderers.
8:48a – Why is no one here famous?
8:53a – I feel bad for this guy Alfredo who has no emergency contacts.
8:45a – What if I ordered Domino’s to this room?
8:55a – If I were rich, I would totally order Dominos for everybody in this room.
9:33a – OMG it’s Katherine Heigl!!!! ….. no it’s not.
9:38a – In the bathroom, a girl tells me she likes my leggings. I tell her I like her eye makeup. DAMMIT. I made a friend.
10:13a – I’m already done with the one book I brought. “The Fault In Our Stars”. I even read the acknowledgments and dust jacket. Literally, all available words. I cried at parts. Thought it would end differently.
10:20a – Oh God. They’re calling in the first group.
10:21a – My heart drops into my stomach when they call “Lauren Barns”.
10:33a – Oh no – second group!
10:37a – HALF the people just got called in. SO many empty seats. AND YET, the guy next to me won’t move over one. JUST ONE SEAT, BRO! A buffer! It looks like we came here together!10:43a – Who. The. Fuck. Farted.
10:44a – Another group is called in. TAKE THIS DUDE NEXT TO ME!
10:45a – My stomach cringes when they call “Lorna” somebody.
10:58a – FINE, Farter. I’ll leave.
11:10a – Fuck me. I’m in it.
11:19a – We swear in.
11:20a – I WON! I made it to jury selection tomorrow!!! FINALLY I’VE BEEN DISCOVERED!!! Oh…wait.
JURY DUTY: DAY 2 / Jury selection, aka everyone’s got a sob story
9:30a – I wear a blazer and my hair in a bun because I didn’t have time to wash it. Ervin says, “You look too pro! What — do you want to be picked for this jury?” I HEAR, “You look awesome! Maybe someone will mistake you for a lawyer! Or, like, a cool design student model, um, lawyer!”10:15a – I power-walk the streets of downtown LA to the courthouse.
10:16a – Maybe I should be a lawyer! [The Mary Tyler Moore Show intro plays in my mind.]
10:17a – …Maybe I should play a lawyer!
10:25a – I ride a packed elevator with a woman wearing makeup that only half-covers her multiple face tattoos. I admire her ability to make decisions.
11:40a – Roll call. We’re not all here. We are released for lunch.
11:41a – I skip past the aroma of dry hamburgers and pizza boats wafting from the building cafeteria, and decide to carve my jury service into a semi-cultural “downtown LA” experience. I walk down to The Last Bookstore. Book around a little bit.12:30p – Totally trip on an upturned slab of sidewalk. An old-old man behind me says “Careful! I’ll try to pick you up if you fall, but… I’m gettin ooooooooold!” We both laugh.
12:39p – Short line at G&B Coffee at Grand Central Market. I get the best iced almond milk latte ever.12:57p – Walk back to the courthouse in the humid beginnings of the September heat wave. I sweat my balls off in my blazer. I could never be a paralegal in one of those Matthew McConaughey southern-lawyer movies, where everyone in court is dressed up and fanning themselves… Hate blazers now.
1:15p – Courtroom hallway. Two girls laugh and sing some made-up lyrics about “Dusty ass (N-word) hair”, and how “He put that sperm in my Mama”, and “Fuck that bitch. Fuck her.” One of them stops, checks her phone. She’s wearing camo leggings like I had the day before. The other girl says “YO. I be ’bout warmin up my burrito” and I’m not sure she’s talking about Mexican food. A third girl chimes in “YO. SHUT. UP. Ya’ll are fuckin up my chances to see my babydaddy!” We’d find out later that she’s the defendant’s girlfriend/babymama. And currently pregnant with someone else’s baby.
JURY DUTY: DAY 3 / Jury selection, and more adult crying to get out of things
12:50p – I would have written this in the bathroom, if I were not currently eligible to be on the jury for a redrum trial.
3:07p – The prosecutor’s hair makes me think of long, dark chocolate Cheetos. I bet those would be good.
JURY DUTY: DAY 4 / Jury selection, the chosen few
11:23a – I notice the defendant writing with his left hand. I imagine this info comes into play at a dramatic climax where someone says he came at them with a weapon in his right hand. OBJECTION YOUR HONOR!
12:28p – Ervin meets me for lunch and we hit up Egg Slut. Because it’s not the weekend, so the line is manageable. I still think it’s one of the grossest names for a food place. But it tastes delicious.1:17p – I get stopped at courthouse security for my metal Klean Kanteen, but not my cat-shaped brass knuckles keychain. Meow.
1:20p – The elevators take forever to arrive in the lobby after lunch. I’m already sweating my ass off from walking back to the building. Fuck if I’m taking 11 flights of stairs.
1:21p – Whoever pressed “2”, you are dead to me!!
4:08p – After 4 days of voir dire (ahem, pardon my Frenchish-Latin — “jury selection”) I’m officially chosen. Juror #9. Trial starts tomorrow.
JURY DUTY: DAY 5 / Trial, can I get a witness
10:01a – After observing many – MANY – jurors’ sob stories and excuses for not being able to serve (some legit, don’t get me wrong – also I couldn’t *hear* all of them), there should be a swag bag for jurors who serve. There is literally no other incentive. Ah, go fuck your good citizenship. I’m thinking: Starbucks card (there is one within walking distance of the courthouse). A T-shirt that says #JusticeForAll. A mug with the California bear on it. Discounts at nearby businesses with a quick swipe of your active juror badge! — It already has a barcode on it for Christmassakes!
But most importantly: MINIMUM WAGE. You hear me?? MIN-I-MUM-WAGE. I got paid $15/day to do my civic duty. A. DAY. Not including the first day I was called. It seems somebody forgot that we live in the wealthiest country in the world, and within a big ole city in it. $10/hr tells me you respect me for being on the jury and not in the jail.
1:30p – I thought there would be more people in the audience for the first day of a murder trial. There is one woman sitting in the very back row. The victim’s mother.
1:37p – We hear opening statements. Shit gets real. The defendant stabbed his sister’s boyfriend, resulting in his death. We are here to decide whether it was self-defense, or murder (1, 2, or manslaughter).
2:30p – The defendant’s mother takes the stand. She has no teeth, and she closes her eyes for most of the questioning. She gets frustrated easily, and her bingo wings sway as she holds her head in her hands.
3:45p -She blurts out “Let’s take a 5-minute break” and clasps her hands.
Judge: “Well, we got 15 more minutes, then we’re done for today.”
Her: “Can I have some water?”
Her: “Can I have some a what you’re drinkin?” She leans over the witness stand, toward the judge.
Judge: “Y’know what I’m drinking?” He holds up a pint glass filled with dark brown liquid.
Her: “I dunno…”
Judge: “Black coffee from this morning.”
Her: “Oh! No. No, no, no….”
JURY DUTY: DAY 6 / Trial
1:30p – We enter the 24-hr mark with the first witness. Her testimony would be like pulling teeth IF SHE HAD ANY. Her reaction to most questioning is a cartoon face that seems to say “PREPOSTEROUS!” Even though she’s on record stating these facts, previously.
2:25p – Her phone goes off for the second time, with Bruno Mars crooning “I wanna be a billionaire, so fuckin’ baaaaaad….” She apologizes for taking up our time with it. GRRRRRL don’t even know.
3:50p – She says she’s tired and that “Her judge is tired” (She liked him), and “Let’s go home now.” The judge says he’s doing fine.
4:07p – My brain is like electric rainbow mush. I drive straight to work.
JURY DUTY: DAY 7 / Trial
11:21a – I am stoked that the next witness seems a billion times more competent.
12:02p – I take my lunch break on the cement bench in the hallway again because it’s 100 degrees on the concrete outside, and in here, at least there is A/C. Also this experience is draining my will to live.
1:32p – Listening to multiple witness testimony is like watching the same 5-hr play over and over, starring different people with amnesia.
JURY DUTY: DAY 8 / Trial
11:45a – My brain is dead. I look for the Virgin Mary in the woodgrain of the panelling in the courtroom. Nothing.
11:50a – I draw a portrait of a witness in my juror notebook.
12:55p – Sometimes it’s hard to remember a human being died in this situation.
JURY DUTY: DAY 9 / Trial
11:42a – We listen to the 911 call where the victim’s girlfriend does CPR for him. On the recording, she is crying, pregnant, in pain, saying last words “Breathe, babe…” My eyes are turning to water.
12:05p – Recess. I walk into the hallway bathroom and find the victim’s sister, alone, drying her eyes with a paper towel. I walk into a stall, and cry hard, and silently by myself.
JURY DUTY: DAY 10 / Trial
10:34a – The heatwave breaks, and on my walk to the courthouse, I’m not even sweating! I actually consider the fallen leaves to be a sign of Autumn, and not the apocalypse. Is that pumpkin spice I smell? — Ok, still hot in the sun.
10:50a – After 9 days of passing security, I get busted for my cat-ears brass-knuckles. I surrender them for the day.10:51a – The security guards use the cat ears to demonstrate stabs on each other, so I feel like I helped make the day more fun! The lady behind me had to check her old lady Russian perfume. Not as fun.
10:52a – Who brings multiple bottles of perfume to jury duty?
11:30a – Our court reporter looks exactly like her name. Her French braid ends in a crisp scrunchie. A jar of Jolly Ranchers is perched at the edge of her desk, next to a family photo and a mug with hearts all over it.
12:05p – Today, I will be brave and go find the coffee/snack shop on the 13th floor. This building was built before superstitions existed…
1:36p – Found the snack shop! Drank too much coffeeeeeeeeeeeeee…
3:05p – My new favorite thing is PROSECUTION CROSS EXAMINATION! So exciting! So much use of the word “Sir”!
JURY DUTY: DAY 11 / Trial
8a – I’m missing an audition today because of jury duty. Justice is impeding my fledgling career, America. Yesterday, between jury and a crappy work shift, I made $53 for over 12 hours of work. To my 7-year-old self, I’m super RICH!
10:02a – The defendant takes the stand again. We start weaving through the 6th version of the same story.
12:16p – I write my Grandma an email. It’s her birthday.
12:40p – I get a vending machine French Vanilla Cappuccino from the snack shop. It’s so cold in this hallway, it almost feels seasonally appropriate. I burn my mouth 40 times trying to sip it. It’s fucking delicious.12:49p – I see a new juror arrive in the hallway, check his summons, check the floor number, look around, wide-eyed and clueless. I feel like a damn veteran. YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT I’VE SEEN, MAN.
1:29p – An older Spanish-speaking man loses his balance and falls forward onto his walker, which pins him to the granite tiles on the ground. Seven jurors quickly help him up and a woman asks in Spanish if he’s ok. My heart hurts for him.
2:55p – Back in court. HOLY SHIT. The defense rests. What is happening???
9:47p – I think about jury duty all the time now. The whole thing feels like a form of prison. WE are people from the outside! We make decent choices! We live within the normal bounds of society! I mean, we’re just regular people who happened to NOT throw our summons in the trash, and it becomes almost like a punishment to respond. We’re told to serve as “Citizen Judges”, all the while being disrespected as people who have actual lives. It’s crazy that this defendant who definitely killed a person (self defense or not), is in prison awaiting a JUST trial, and if we don’t answer our summons, we could also go to prison! One is taking a life, one is not doing your homework. This doesn’t seem right! MAKE IT VALUABLE TO SERVE ON THE JURY, America!
JURY DUTY: DAY 12 / Trial
11a – We, the Jury of the United States of America, eat vending machine chips, coffee and power bars for lunch. I can’t help but wonder what the defendant is eating. Does he order in with his attorney? Caprese salad? Smoothie?
12:01p – New discovery: Bestselling bedtime story “Juror Instructions” by Criminal Justice System, read by our Judge. I love him, but this hour-long legal jargon tale is a sleeper.
12:55p – A guy in line for security, his long hair in a ponytail and his dress shirt hanging down to his knees, says “Yeah. I was gonna be on a jury, but I got in trouble, so…” Hmm. Another way out, friends!
1:15p – For the love of God, someone put a damn sign on this broken water fountain! The jury of your peers cannot stop trying to use it even though it’s been broke for years, ya’ll!
JURY DUTY: DAY 13 / Deliberations, bitch you cray
7:30a – We’re starting deliberations early today. In another universe, someone would pick up Starbucks for us. Trying to mind-meld one of us into getting 12 breakfast burritos. Burrrrrrrrrittoooooooooooo…
8:30a – I take the stairs from the lobby to the 11th floor. I’m racing one of our alternate jurors who is taking the elevator. Just — because. I don’t know. I’m sweaty, my thighs are on fire by the 5th floor, and I’m wearing 3″ heels, but I beat him by 3 minutes.
9:02a – We meet in a conference room behind the courtroom. Awww. Someone brought mini oatmeal cookies. That was thoughtful.
9:03a – Why doesn’t the judge decide the verdict?? We are by far, the least qualified people available.
10:30p – I’m about to explode into fireballs. I. HATE. DELIBERATIONS. I cannot stand hearing so many opinions on what seems like such a clear matter! USE YOUR BRAINS! I want to punch half of us in the face.
10:46a – One of us straight out admitted “Ima be real. I would take a weapon to someone.”
12:02p – I thought this would be straight forward and we’d be in and out in a NY minute. But what I’m realizing is that the TRUTH might not have enough evidence, and a guilty person might go free because of it. Where is the justice!! Just because the Prosecution didn’t provide enough evidence? Didn’t have a witness that wasn’t INSANE IN THE MEMBRANE? Ugh, God, this is torture. What good can come of this process??
12:46p – Did I have a life before jury duty…? If so, I cannot remember it…
4:07p – For the first time, I can’t recall which level I parked on. I’m pressing all the buttons in the elevator.
4:08p – Not level 5.
4:09p – Not level 6.
4:10p – Not 7.
4:11p – Not 5 again.
4:12p – LEVEL FOUR!!! Fuck, there it is.
JURY DUTY: DAY 14 / Day of reckoning
7:13a – Deliberation. We have sent a note to the judge saying we are split 9 – 3, guilty – not guilty. Our vote must be unanimous. No one is budging.
7:20a – This is fucking frustrating. I feel like we’re not doing our job. That this was all a total waste.
10:30a – We are officially “hung”. A mis-trial. The courtroom equivalent of blue balls.
11:03a – We are dismissed. We get our vouchers. We are free.
11:05a – The defense attorney meets us in the hallway to answer any and all of our pressing questions. We ask them all. We tell her everything. It’s an odd debriefing / vent session. But somehow it helps. She is kind and can handle her shit. I still want to punch 3-4 of the jurors in my group. The attorney tells us that they originally wanted to “Settle for manslaughter”, but that the State took them to court. A-what now? All the jurors who were bitching about “I dunno — I just have a doubt, so…I can’t go home without feeling like I wrongly accused someone…” GUESS WHAT I GET TO GO HOME WITH.
I still think about this trial a lot. I think about the defendant. What he knows in his heart. I think about the jurors who “are just glad to go home, finally.” I mean, I was. I think about how easy it would have been to just throw out that summons. To not answer. Ever. I know many of you reading this are probably thinking the same thing. Look what she got herself into…
I thanked the Defense Attorney for this experience. The courtroom part of it, anyway. I learned so much about this process. And I got to study people like a muthafukka. I tried to stay open, tried to separate my own thoughts and opinions from evidence, and decide what was right, and what was wrong, according to the law.
No matter how this turned out, I know that I did.
I wanted to report to you that jury duty is worth it when you serve! But I don’t know if I feel that way. This is a system many countries aspire to. Or should offer to their citizens. A fair trial. But in this case, the defendant will remain in prison, until a re-trial. If it’s another hung jury, the process will repeat. Again, and again… Is that a system that is working?
But. Time to let it go. So, Godspeed, all you jurors who I only know by your seat numbers. And you upholders of the law. You monsters, you angels, you crazy family members in the hallways. Goodbye broken water-fountains, and soap dispenser that looks like it has soap in it, but doesn’t dispense any. So long cafeteria smell and cartel affiliates in business casual. Sayonara wrinkly snack shop hot dogs and hard-boiled eggs next to the register…
Time to take my justice on the road.
Please don’t pick me again any time soon.