The afternoon of her first day of jury over, Sunny dragged back to the car she had parked badly in the courthouse lot. Slapped across both side windows were day-glow pink notices: “This vehicle is parked illegally! You are in danger of having your car towed!”
Sunny felt her blood pressure sky-rocket. Here she was doing her civic duty and wasting her whole day, and just because she was parked across two parking spaces, some rent-a-cop took exception with her. She scratched at the stickers, hoping to peel them off the windows, but found they were stuck fast. She drove back to Black Mt. with her day-glow warning on both sides of her car. Was it her imagination, or were other drivers on I-40 giving her dirty looks? Her face burned. She would surely get out some Goof-Off when she got home and scrape off the ugly stickers before she returned to court the next day to be a paragon of clean living, passing judgement on other people.
The jury were directed to the deliberating room when they reported the next morning. It was a musty dark room with one dusty window looking out at a rusty fire escape. They took seats randomly around a long oak table.They had all the facts, and also directions from the judge to be sure they were deciding on guilt or innocence based on the letter of the law, and not on how they wished the law were written. They were to decide whether the accused had knowingly violated the restraining order filed by his battered girl friend.
Members of the jury introduced themselves but promptly forgot each others’ names, then looked around uneasily at each other. How to begin? Finally a guy with a braying laugh guffawed as if something was funny. He said he would be happy to get the ball rolling. “Ah believe we should just take a poll of the jury and mebbe we can be all finished here quick.I spect we already see eye to eye.”
Everyone breathed a sigh of relief. Yes. Let’s get moving. Let’s get this over with.
“Ah think we can all agree that this man is INNOCENT. Didn’t nobahdy see him at that gal’s house.”
“Wait a minute!” Sunny cried out, stunned. “The man told the police that he had been there three days! The order stated that he couldn’t even be in her neighborhood.”
A red-faced woman spoke up. She had introduced herself as having had experience with the law. She had had a DUI “just last month.” Was she treated fairly by the police? “Hells yeah! I was dead drunk!” she bragged, chuckling.
“You wait your turn, missy!” she shouted at Sunny. “We agreed we would go around the room. Go to the next and don’t interrupt.”
Sunny was appropriately chastened. But still…
The next juror was polled. She was a middle-aged woman who had retired from the pharmaceutical industry. She pushed her glasses back up the bridge of her nose. “The judge instructed us to decide this case based on the way the law is written. The law states that the defendant was told to stay far away from his girl friend, from her home, and from her neighborhood. It is quite clear to me that he violated the restraining order even being on his bicycle near her house. He is guilty.”
The mullet guy was now red in the face. “But didn’t nobody see him in her house!”
“No, but…” the woman began.
“Now’s not the time for argument!” boomed DUI woman. “Next!”
The next juror was a young woman who was a middle school principal. “I’m undecided,” she claimed. “I agree that the accused violated the restraining order, but did he knowingly violate it? If he was drunk, as he surely was, he might not have understood what a restraining order meant.”
“So you are saying that being drunk is an excuse for breaking the law?” Sunny burst out. “Ignorance is no excuse for breaking the law!”
DUI woman burst out,”Who you calling stupid?”
Mullet guy answered no one, “He didn’t know no better. Didn’t no one even see him at the house!”
The next juror, a well-dressed hospital employee of some kind, broke in. “I believe it’s my turn. I have been giving this case a great deal of thought. The judge warned us to abide by the letter of the law. He said not to consider what you would prefer the law to be. I believe it is clear that the man violated the restraining order.”
Sunny was nodding her head encouragingly.
“But,” the woman continued, “I can’t get around the issue of whether he knowingly did so.”
“Right! And din’t nobody see him at her house!” burst out Mr. Mullet.
She ignored him, as did everyone else. “He admitted to the police that he had been at her house for three days. If he understood the restraining order, he wouldn’t have told them that. I don’t think he understood what a restraining order is, so we can’t convict him of knowingly violating one. Even though I wish the law were worded differently, you know if it didn’t use the word “knowingly”, it does say that, so I believe we have to find him not guilty.”
Sunny could see things were not going well. Day two of jury duty was already half over and it looked as if the jury was divided and not even close to agreement. The walls of the room were closing in and the seat was getting more and more uncomfortable. The mean, ultra-serious policeman who was posted outside the room walked in and announced a lunch break. A two hour lunch break. While a two hour lunch seemed luxurious, it only served to extend this day of jury hell even longer.
After the lunch break, the members of the jury were full and sleepy. Everyone was eager to go home and sleep off the long lunch, but the members in favor of declaring the defendant innocent had obviously spent the break digging in deeper. Red-faced DUI woman kicked off the discussion. “I just want to say that that man is innocent. He don’t know nothing about no restraining order. And besides, his girlfriend is no good. She just swore out that order to make their sex life more exciting.”
Sunny wondered where this latter bit of information was coming from. The girlfriend of the accused had refused to testify. So, maybe DUI woman WAS the girlfriend…
Another member of the jury who had been silent so far, spoke up. He was a quiet, bookish-looking fellow who was sitting beside Sunny scribbling into a notebook the whole time. Sunny had strained to look at what he had written and saw that he had covered pages with numbers. Math problems? Random numbers? Who knew? “I have another concern,” he said. “We were told that the summons was sent to the home of the accused, but it was received by a woman named Anne Foley. I want to know who she is and why she isn’t hear to testify. How do we know she ever gave the summons to the defendant?”
The principal jumped in. “We were told that the law, as it is written, states that the summons is legally binding if it is delivered into the hands of an adult at the defendant’s address. That is the case, so we must assume that the summons was legally delivered.”
Numbers man snapped back at her. “I have a 20% doubt that he ever received the restraining order. The judge said we had to be 100% sure of our decision. I am only 80% sure. I will have to say that the man is therefore innocent.”
Another heretofore silent juror was turning redder and redder in the face. He burst out of his seat and spat out, “Are you all crazy? This guy is so obviously guilty, even by his own admission! He admitted he was aware of the restraining order. He admitted that he had been at her house for three days, and the police picked him up just a short way from her home, which he was also forbidden to do. You are saying he didn’t understand what he was doing?? So if I commit a crime and then say I didn’t know it was against the law, I should be found innocent? No! Ignorance of the law is not an excuse!”
DUI woman’s face was scarlet. “I will never give in. I will stay in this room for the rest of my life, and I will never agree that he is guilty.”
As if to agree, Mullet Guy guffawed and added, “And didn’t no one never catch him at her house. That’s right!”
That was enough for Sunny. She had had it with these people, and she could see that the idiots were going to win. She couldn’t stand to be in the same room with these morons, and would have to throttle Mullet Man if he said once more that didn’t nobody never see the defendant at his girlfriend’s house. As if that mattered… “All right! You win!” Sunny blurted out. “I give up. I’ll change my vote. Innocent! The man is innocent.”
The pharmaceutical woman and the other juror who saw that the emperor was not wearing clothes both nodded. The man shook his head sadly, “It kills me to do this, but I can see that this is a battle I won’t win. I’ll step aside and agree to a verdict of not guilty.”
Mullet Man guffawed again and rubbed his grizzly chin. “That’s right!” he chuckled.
The jury filed into the courtroom to pronounce the verdict. Even the defense lawyer and the accused appeared stunned by the “Not Guilty!”
Sunny kept her head down and fled the courtroom and the courthouse. She had always wondered why the wrong people got elected. Why did candidates who so clearly did not have the interests of the poor and middle class at heart receive the votes of the very constituents they laughed at? She now had her answer. The majority of people can’t see the forest for the trees. They allow ads that tell outright lies to influence them. If they hear something often enough, even if it makes no sense, they believe it to be true.
No wonder the country is in such a bad place, she mused. Discouraged and disheartened, Sunny drove back to Black Mountain. She stopped at The Artisan and had Kurt select a steak for grilling; she picked out a bottle of wine, and decided to drown her sorrows.