I'm not sure what it is about jury duty that appeals to me so much...maybe it is being involved in American democracy, because it is a sociological gold mine, or maybe just because I love watching Law & Order, CSI, etc. Anywho, I was excited to go.
I rode the bus downtown, which was super simple since I basically live at the metro station. I had to walk a few blocks downtown, but then I found the right building. I had to be there at 8am and I walked into the big auditorium-type room at 8 on the dot. I found a seat and sat down. Of course I had brought snacks and a couple of different books, but mostly I just dozed in and out. And would you believe that just a row or two ahead of me was someone I knew? Out of all of the people in Houston...what are the odds? He is a student at the studio where I work.
At 11am, after I had eaten almost all of my snacks, visited the restroom a bunch, read chapters in both of my books, filed all of my nails, had mini naps, and had been sworn in, they finally called my number- 3212. I, along with 64 other people, headed to a different room to wait in the "red" area. Soon a bailiff came and gave us some directions and then marched us over to the criminal justice center.
There we went through metal detectors and then crammed into the elevators to go up to the 19th floor. We were headed to the 176th district court. In the hall we had to line up according to number, which proved to be more difficult than you would think. Once in order, we marched into the court room where the judge, district attorneys (prosecution for the state of Texas), defendant and his translator (he wore headphones the entire time because he didn't speak English), and defense attorneys were waiting.
The judge welcomed us and gave a few instructions and then told us that it was a murder case we were being selected for- yikes! Before we got into anything else, we broke for lunch. I ate at the cafeteria in the building and then headed back up to the courtroom. Once we were all back we proceeded with the judge giving us a few lessons on certain laws and what our responsibilities are. He also read the indictment- accusing the defendant of committing murder (on my wedding day no less!) Then the DAs got to ask us some questions...this took a long time. They went over all sorts of hypothetical situations and then would ask us what we would do or ask for people to raise their hands if they thought they couldn't do a certain thing. Then the defense got to take their turn doing the same things. Basically they wanted to make sure we could give this man- and the state of Texas- a fair trial without any bias.
It was funny to me that everyone was annoyed it was taking so long because it was only taking so long because everyone had to raise their hand and tell some experience they had and go on and on. I found the process interesting...they explained that in Texas you can have a guilty verdict based solely on circumstantial evidence and don't need to provide a motive, forensic evidence, or the murder weapon. They explained a bunch of things that I found fascinating...I was really hoping to get picked so I could hear more of the details!
However, at one point the district attorney asked everyone a question...he posed the question of "If you had to answer just one, what is your first thought/natural inkling when thinking about someone who has broken the law: punish or rehabilitate?" He went down the line and asked every single person for an answer; almost everyone was saying "punish". When he got to me, I had to say "rehabilitate"...not that I don't believe in punishment and not that I think every person for every crime should or could be rehabilitated, but my natural impulse was not punishment! Hello, does anyone remember that I wanted to go into prison reform in college? (For those of you who don't know that, I was passionate about it and still am...but the more I studied Deviance the more I realized I had no solution that could work for everyone and so I moved on to Modernity...don't get me started on Modernity!!!)
That sealed the deal- I knew I wasn't getting picked after that. We are in Texas after all! But it was the honest truth. Soon they selected the jury and I was left out :( They gave me an excuse letter for work, a pass for the bus home, and then sent me walking. Nuts. I walked a few blocks to the bus and then was on my way home...for about 10 minutes before going to the studio for the evening.
Anywho, I think I am probably glad I didn't get picked just so I didn't really have to determine someone's guilt or innocence. But it got me thinking about the justice system a lot this week...the whole process is sociologically fascinating with unusual human interactions happening all over the place and I couldn't help but try to analyze some of them. I would love to have the time to just sit and observe and study these interactions over and over to see the true patterns of social behavior.
I am glad I got to go this week...as you can probably tell by the length of this post! But now I will leave you with a question: if you were faced with the question I was (punish or rehabilitate), what would you say and why?