On Jury Duty: Point Three: The State of Alabama is Actually a Really Small Town
Alabama is the biggest small town on the planet.
I said before that a large part of the federal jury selection process involves repeating the answers already given on the million page questionnaire. For the most part, the judge could have given us copies of the forms we’d returned and said, “if you said yes and this would bias you, speak now or forever hold your peace.” But he didn’t, and we went through all of it verbally.
A shocking number of us responded to the “aside from traffic violations, have you or a family member ever been convicted of or arrested for a misdemeanor or felony?” question. Now, the judge clearly said we didn’t have to humiliate ourselves. We could approach the bench to respond. In my case, it wasn’t my own dirty laundry, so I didn’t mind saying “It would be faster to ask me what she wasn’t convicted of.” (I suspect this response is one of the reasons I wasn’t selected, by the way.)
But boy howdy, people were willing to proclaim, “I got busted for X when I was twenty,” or “Yeah, they got me for Y when I was a teen,” in front of a whole room full of people who, as it turned out, were not strangers.
Because not all the questions had already been asked. The ones about interrelationships got mindboggling results. They all boiled down to, “Do you know or are you related to anybody in the judge’s office, the prosecutor’s office, on the defense team, on the rest of the jury panel, or who might take the witness stand?” The judge said in advance there would be a ton of yes answers. He was right.
I’d be willing to bet forty out of fifty people knew somebody. It was all acquaintance stuff. “Lawyer X’s son goes to the same doctor as mine.” “Same gym.” And, my personal favorite, “We live in the same small town, county, whatever.” Twenty three counties or so in the district, but it was like a game of six degrees of separation. If we’d gone on much longer, we’d have reached Kevin Bacon.
I’m face blind, so it takes me a very long time to associate an image with a name. Often, I randomly (and accidentally) assign people a name in my head (which I promptly forget), and that only confuses matters when I try to remember the right names.
If I stare at a stranger long enough – say a whole morning – I will gradually become convinced that I know that person from somewhere, though I won’t recognize that person forty minutes after looking away. I have learned to ignore my instincts in this area. They suck.
By the time this question came up, I’d been staring at the rest of the room for hours. I was sure I knew ten of my fellow potential jurors. From somewhere.
I stayed seated when asked, but ultimately realized I do know of one guy (and that if I could associate names, faces, and jobs, I would have been aware of this simply from hearing his name) and that I have absolutely, without question, met one woman at a party. Somewhere. I think maybe Halloween. Possibly. We might both have been involved in planning the party. But I’m not sure. She didn’t identify me, either, so I was at least not alone in uncertainty.
And I wasn’t asking, “Um, can each and every one of you tell me if you know me?”
Because it’s one thing to snark about others, and quite another to admit that you can be an idiot yourself.
Monday, I’ll pound the final nail in this coffin and talk about the law.