The Plight of the Post-Doc


Civic Duty, Shmivic Duty! (part 1)

 JURY DUTY.  Is there anything more annoying, when taken out of context? I mean, I got stuff to do! Important experiments, etc!! I’ll be honest—when the summons arrived in my snail mail I was annoyed, but also a little curious, never having served before except for once in grad school where we were let go after lunch because there were no cases.  Many of my friends in NY have been called for jury but only one has ever sat on a case, so I figured this would be an easy day of hanging out at the courthouse, after which I’d be let go, free of civic responsibilities for the next 8 years.  I emailed my boss that I’d be missing lab meeting but would most likely be in the next day, and headed to downtown Brooklyn.

The jury holding area is like a giant airport terminal gate, but without the stinky airplane smell or screaming infants.  Unlike an airport terminal, the wi-fi was free, so I popped open the MacBook and settled in for a little internetting.  People were sleepy and disgruntled, so to pep us up we were shown an informative video about how awesome the jury system is.  As I’m sure you’re all well aware, one effective technique in demonstrating a thing’s awesomeness is to contrast that thing with something that is not awesome.  Accordingly, our video began with a re-enactment of trial-by-drowning. 

I’m not even kidding—I’m sitting there at 8:30 in the morning watching actors dressed in rags, their faces all dirty and toothless and whatnot, drag another dirty, toothless, rag-dressed actor down to a lake, bind his hands and feet, and toss him in.  Just how I like to start my day! Then there was a man-on-the-street sort of thing in which we heard sound bites from people who were all “Boo, I hate jury duty. Such a nuisance, why me, etc!” and then Diane Sawyer came on and explained why jury duty was so important, and then we had more man-on-the-street interviews with people who were really pleased about jury duty.  It’s what makes America great, you see!

Several hours later, they started calling names for a case.  My ears pricked up, my heart started pounding, and my internal monologue went something along the lines of don’tpickmedon’tpickmedon’tpickmedon’tpickme until I heard the dreaded words, “Dr Becca.”  I let out an audible sigh, gathered my things, and joined the parade to the courtroom.

Inside, we were given the opportunity to ask the judge to be excused. Since I wasn’t smack dab in the middle of a big experiment, I didn’t feel right begging out, so I stayed seated. Out of about 50 of us, maybe 15 or so were excused from there. The rest of us were introduced to the attorneys and defendant, whom we learned was accused of a burglary. Criminal case FTW!!  We then each had to answer a string of questions, which included “Have you or has anyone in your family been the victim of a crime?” “Are any of your relatives or close friends police officers?” and which ended with “are you capable of being an impartial juror?”

Ladies and Gentlemen of my readership, you would not believe what a bunch of WHINY-ASS BITCHES your fellow citizens are.  I can’t even tell you how many people claimed not to be able to be impartial because their fucking iPod had been stolen from a bar or wherever in 2003. They sucked, and the judge looked like she saw right through their pansy lies, but there was nothing she could do. If you say you can’t be impartial, you’re excused, the end.  Interestingly, the more I listened to everyone and their pathetic attempts to get out of jury duty, the more I felt compelled to actually do my duty.  

And so when it was my turn, I responded with the honest truth about my crime-free and non-police-knowing existence (so sheltered!). Naturally, then, I made it to the top twenty-two.  The attorneys then pressed us on some of our possible biases: Would any of us find it impossible to find a defendant guilty without DNA or fingerprint evidence?  Do we think it’s possible for a police officer to lie on the stand?  Do we think a police officer is more likely than other people to lie on the stand?  There was amazingly someone who said no, they didn’t think it was possible for a police officer to lie, and I don’t think they were just saying it to get out, either. All kinds, I tell you!

After a quick break, we were called back in to hear the big news. Of the 22 of us remaining, only 9 were chosen for the jury, including…yours truly! Picky attorneys, man. Since they were 3 jurors + 3 alternates short, the trial wouldn’t start until the next afternoon, when they’d had a chance in the morning to select the rest of the group.  Finally we were dismissed, and I walked home, thinking, well…I guess here we go!


Anonymous said...

I've always thought it would be interesting to have jury duty. Unfortunately, in Indianapolis, you call a phone number every day for a week and it tells you whether or not you need to come in. So it's particularly annoying: it would be nice to just clear your calendar and go.

I'm glad that you saw what punks the others were being and felt compelled to serve. +points for you. :-)

Prof-like Substance said...

What? No Kirk Cameron in the after-school-special-style video? Maybe he's a complete young Earth whack job these days, but when I am watching an after school special, I want... Nay. Demand Kirk Cameron. Diane Sawyer is nothing but a cheap substitute.

Comrade PhysioProf said...

I love that fucken video they show with the trial by drowning! Is Judith Kaye still in the video even thought she's no longer chief judge, or is it the new chief judge?

Anonymous said...

cool..interested in reading about part 2. :) like I said, never been on a jury myself. But can imagine it might not be fun if you were indeed in the middle of an important experiment. hope your boss didn't cause any problems because of you doing your civic duty. :)


Josh said...

I was called for jury duty while I was in grad school, and unfortunately for me, my scientific expertise led me to serve on the jury. A woman was being tried for assaulting a police officer after he sprayed her with mace. While the lawyers were asking us questions during jury selection, the defense lawyer found out I was a grad student and asked if I knew how mace worked. Since my thesis was on sensory neurobiology, I knew it down to the molecular details. I suppose the defense lawyer thought I would be an ally in the deliberations since they never really denied that she kicked the police officer and tried to say she couldn't control herself due to the mace. We found her guilty.

Becca said...

PLS, Kirk Cameron would have made my day! Was he in your jury video?

CPP, I don't remember who the judge in the video was, but guessing from the clothes of the people on the street, I'd say it was an old video. Terrible fashion.

GM- My boss was totally cool about it. I'm really just wrapping things up in lab now, so he really has nothing to be on my case about with just a couple months left.

Josh, that's awesome. I got to flaunt my stuff a little in deliberation with what I know about memory for fearful events, but not in front of the attorneys.

I'm thinking this will go at least 2 more posts, one for the testimonies and one for deliberation. So much to talk about!!

Prof-like Substance said...

I've never been called for jury duty that I actually had to go to. I was out of the country for a while and got excused from both state and fed duty a couple of times.

Anonymous said...

I'm loving reading about this. I was relieved, but also felt a bit let down, after getting excused from jury duty last year. Can't wait to hear the rest of the story!

Dr. Koshary said...

All I can think of somehow when I imagine this video is Steve Martin as "Theodoric of York: Medieval Judge" and ordering Laraine Newman drowned so he can see if she's a witch or not. It's a pity they don't show that video to bored potential jurors. Can't find it on YouTube, or else I would link.

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