44 Cherry Street

Sunny has Jury Duty…

Sunny awoke on Monday morning with more than the usual Monday-morning blues. Was it the cold, rainy weather? Was it the bad dreams that had kept her from sleeping soundly the night before? Yes, but more than these was the realization that she had to be on jury duty in Asheville by 9:00. She had never before had to report for jury duty, but when she had answered her summons by calling the proscribed number the night before, she was disheartened to learn that she was not excused.

Not wanting to be chosen for a potentially long trial, Sunny chose her clothes carefully: striped leggings, her Harley-Davidson dress made from old men’s shirts, and purple boots. No use hiding under a basket. After downing a big tumbler of kefir, she dashed out of the apartment and drove quickly to Asheville. She didn’t want to be late; she was answering a summons after all, and didn’t know what the repercussions of lateness might be. Of course, there was a wreck on I-40, and Sunny took a quick detour onto Tunnel Road, arriving in the court house parking deck just a few minutes late.  She grabbed the first spot she found, parking badly, and ran into the courthouse.

Her instructions had been to go up to the second floor and go into the jury selection room. Once she had checked in, she rushed into the room, already full of disgruntled people. It was ten minutes past 9:00. She was not the last person to arrive. And she sat down in an empty seat and waited. And waited.

Finally at 11:00, the woman who had checked everyone in stepped into the room. “Thanks so much for coming,” she gushed. “Jury duty is a service to the community, and  we are delighted to facilitate your present service. We have two trials coming up, and I will divide you randomly into two groups to be screened. Please be patient while we wait for Them to get ready for you.”

At 11:30 half the room was sent to the courtroom, and Sunny and her group were instructed to wait until they were called. And wait and wait. Sunny finished reading the mystery novel she had brought with her and wished she had brought more than one book. At twelve thirty, her group was dismissed for lunch and instructed to return at 2:00. Her idea that she would be released before lunch fizzled away.

After lunch, the grumbling group was led to the courtroom to await jury selection. The man beside her on the bench was praying under his breath, “Please, please don’t choose me.” But Sunny was confident that she was too liberal to be chosen. She also didn’t believe that sending someone to prison was going to make him or her a better person. She had too many preconceptions about the criminal justice system.

When she was called up to the jury box to be questioned, she was relieved because she knew it would be only a matter of minutes before she would be excused and she could leave. The only questions she was asked, however, was her name, residence and occupation. She wanted to shout, “I don’t believe in capital punishment!” but the subject never came up. She was on the jury! Both the prosecution and the defense agreed that she was a satisfactory juror. She looked around her at the others chosen for this jury, and calmed herself by deciding that except for one obvious redneck, the group looked normal enough, and surely they would agree quickly on a verdict. She was wrong. Again.

After the lucky people who were not chosen for the jury were excused, the state rolled out its case. While the DA spoke, Sunny looked at the accused. The man was rough. He was slouching in his seat beside his well-dressed lawyer, and stared back at her with his mouth hanging open. His dark hair was slicked back in front, but cascaded down his neck in a luxurious mullet. He was wearing a white shirt many sizes too large and half-way unbuttoned. He had a leg brace and a black eye.

The man was accused of knowingly violating a restraining order filed by his girl friend. This had all transpired six months before in early May. She had accused him of beating her so soundly that he had broken her back. A hearing was set six weeks later, and the accused did not show up. The hearing was then postponed and an emergency restraining order was issued.

A few weeks later, the police were called to the accused’s “man cave,” a shack behind an elderly woman’s (his mother?) home in Leicester. The man told the police that his girl friend, who was at that same time raging and drunk, was trying to break into his shack and take all his beer. He wanted her removed from his yard. Both parties were reminded about the restraining order, both acknowledged that they understood what that meant, and the girl friend was returned to her house by the police.

At the end of May, the police received another call. This one was from the girlfriend. The accused was at her house, violating the restraining order, and he would not leave. As the police car raced to her home, they spotted the accused pedaling his bicycle away from the house. He, naturally, had long before lost his driver’s license. They questioned him and directed him to follow them the few blocks back to her house so they could get to the bottom of what was going on.

Back at the house they asked both parties what was going on. She claimed he wouldn’t leave her house. He claimed he had been there for three days, but was obviously leaving on his own. The police reminded  both parties about the restraining order, and they drove the defendant back to his man cave.

The defense lawyer got up to present his case. All he had was a disparity on the dates of the original restraining order and a question about whether the police were telling the whole truth. Then he rested.

The jury was released and ordered to return bright and early the next morning. Sunny was angry. Why didn’t they just let the jury decide right then? Why did they have to return the next day? She would soon find out.