It was the early 90s and I was a victim of the economic downturn. The partnership that had employed me went through three rounds of layoffs and I got the heave-ho in the second, which in retrospect was among the greatest annoyances.
It’s bad enough to get picked for jury duty while still getting paid. I was on jury duty while on unemployment. Further, a couple weeks earlier I had been mugged. Mid-afternoon, what I thought was a jogger approaching from behind, a stiletto in the back of my left thigh and shoved headfirst into a car hard enough to scrape paint from the car onto a lens of my glasses. I blacked out, and came to as my back pocket was being shredded for the $40 – 45 in my wallet.
It happened on a sunny afternoon on Clayton street in San Francisco, a block from the post office near Haight street. Simply reacting, I started yelling, and people were out on the sidewalk to help me really fast—as were the police and an ambulance in which I rode to the hospital with my head taped to a long board behind me, from my head to my kester. My only ambulance ride, and I was curious to look around but couldn’t see a thing other than the interior roof because I was immobile.
Patched up, I was out of the hospital in a couple hours. Someone found my wallet and tossed it in the gate to my flat. The muggers were seen fleeing back across Golden Gate Park’s Panhandle; they probably had a car ready on the other side of the green parkway, making pursuit difficult, probably enroute to their crack cocaine fix. Anyway, I mention this because I still had the black eye when I answered the jury summons, although I think the brow stitches had been taken out.
And then I was empaneled, and somewhat curious about the circumstances that first day when we were told the defendant was accused of indecent exposure. He certainly looked like an upright, clean-cut young man.
During opening arguments we learned that out at the end of Golden Gate Park, near the old wind mills, there are soccer fields where Hispanic families would gather and have picnics while the young men played soccer. The children would wander off, as playing kids do, and that’s how they discovered the gay trysting spot near the windmills, in the bushes.
So the parents complained to the city, which meant more police patrols at that end of the park, and is how horse-mounted police came across the defendant and a newfound friend in a state of undress.
Which only begins to hint at how the trial was a bit surreal, at times. For instance, among the first to testify was the police officer who made the arrest. He clearly wanted to be elsewhere. He was asked if he noticed anything about the defendant’s, umm, manliness. He said, “it was kind of small.” I remember the defendant frowned at that, all in the solemnity of the courtroom.
I’m not making this up.
It turned out the defense consisted of an attack on the cop’s credibility – the defendant claimed he was wearing a piece of penile jewelry, called a Prince Albert. an example of which was even introduced as evidence.
Ah, San Francisco.
The defendant testified that they were kissing but “not making out,” whatever that means, and that they were just wrestling playfully.
In voir dire, the process of selecting the jury, we were all asked if we could listen to police testimony with an open mind. We were asked repeatedly if we could be objective. And yet, the first thing that happened in the jury room was that two people claimed they didn’t believe anything the police said. They knew the police lied.
Hello? And how honest were you during voir dire?
It was awful.
Despite the judge’s admonition to keep an open mind and listen to each other, one guy actually said we should all pick sides then fight it out.
A number of jurors got hung up on the concept of “beyond a reasonable doubt.” We had lengthy discussion on what that meant. Well intended, for the most part (idealistic, even), but ultimately a sort of semantic noose.
I hate to get too caught up in identity politics. I firmly believe in gauging individuals on their own merits. But there were two Asian-American women who saw it as I did. I still clearly remember one who said, in her accented English, “men don’t go meet other men in this way jsut to hold hands.” They were pragmatic, I think, refreshingly honest about men, and the three of us tried to convince those caught in the middle ground.
Those who believed the defendant innocent focused on me – what would it take to change my mind? I guess they thought if they could sway me the rest would follow.
It didn’t happen, and for the second time I was part of a hung jury. Frankly, this time I was the reason it was hung. Apparently better than the defendant. (Sorry.) It was pretty exasperating. The district attorney clearly didn’t want to spend his time on this crap, and he fled the courtroom as it ended, but I hurried out the door after him and chased him down in the hallway. It hadn’t been entered in testimony (for good reason) but I was curious – what happened to the other guy?
“Oh,” the prosecutor said, “he pled guilty and paid the fine.”
Yeah, that was a couple weeks well spent. Some guy defending his constitutional right to traumatize children. I’m sorry, pal, but get a room, ya know?
So I’ve been on three juries now, twice we were hung juries, and now I’m in an approximately month long trial on a complex medical issue again. Obviously I can’t write about it until it’s over, but I will say I’m already sizing up my fellow jurors. And I’m hoping, hoping.