Wednesday, January 30, 2008

People Getting By (Or Not...)

My day at jury duty was a trip into the real world, and left me with mixed feelings, of hope and sadness. I waited with several hundred other potential jurors until the lunch break. I wandered over to the Hyatt Hotel, the media center for Superbowl 42. ESPN Radio was broadcasting live in the street and I saw lots of people here for the game festivities, most notably Terrell Owens.
After lunch, I got called as part of a group of 50 to begin jury selection. The defendant was a homeless man charged with variety of crimes, some very odd. The Judge was experienced, kind and very direct. The Public Defender was new on the job, admitting nervousness already evident by his rambling; luckily for the defendant, his boss was involved.
The first two people were dismissed as they did not understand English clearly. The second group was people who had been impacted by sexual crimes, either themselves or a family member. The third group was people who would experience hardship from a five day trial. This was my view of the real world -- caregivers for elderly parents or grandchildren, self-employed people that would lose income, teachers, people working multiple jobs...the list goes on. I was struck by the fact that most people have hard lives, but manage to get through and be happy. The judge kindly dismissed all of them, leaving 34 of us to be interviewed for 10 juror slots.
Introductions were next -- you tell your employment, your family situation, spouse/significant other employment, prior jury experience. It was a cross-section of the world in that room -- probation officer, medical billers, security guards, bank executive, semi-conductor manager, several postal employees, retired correction officer married to a hospice chaplain, high school teacher married to a firefighter, a business manager married to a hairdresser with one of his children in Iraq. ..again lots of diverse people with one thing in common. They were there, like it or not, to do their civic duty as a juror.
Questions that followed were to determine people's views on homelessness, perception of privacy in a public bathroom, opinion of a defendant if they choose not to take the stand (their right in any trial). People were honest, but no one tried to get out of their possible selection. The attorneys were trying to find out which people had more open opinions based on what they are exposed to in their daily lives. I suspect I came across as sheltered, or privileged. Honestly, I would have been a great and fair juror on this particular case.
In the end, the ten people selected were reasonable choices. I walked to the parking garage with a group of others that were excused from my trial. We passed the jail building and some abandoned warehouses. Homeless people were setting up their camps for the night; there were several asking for money.
It struck me, when we were asked for "85 cents to buy a supervalue meal today" by a man on the street....he was worrying about surviving when, a few blocks away, the Superbowl festivites were spending millions of dollars. That is about as far away from his world as it could be.
I am hopeful for all my fellow potential jurors, their lives and for taking a day to honor their jury commitment. I am very sad for the many people on the street.
I did not get selected for the case, but I learned a great deal about life yesterday. The homeless person loses their stuff, stability and dignity. They are forced on the street for whatever reason, subsequently ending up in the legal system due to their misfortune. That is really sad.