L. Neil Smith's

Number 2, November, 1995

Juror: Not Guilty

By Robert B. Boardman

Exclusive to The Libertarian Enterprise

DISCLAIMER: The following is a fantasy. The writer has never served on a celebrity jury, although he has twice suffered the indignities that lead up to a juror being disimpaneled. So, let's pretend he's a member of the jury.

         I am a sovereign American, and my rights are protected by the Constitution.
         I claim a three-digit IQ and a college degree. Now I'm sitting in the panel room, and this lawyer is asking me questions. Fortunately, I don't have to answer them, because the Constitution says, "The right of people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, shall not be violated. . ."
         He's asking about my income, my past and present health (physical and mental), what political, religious, or other organizations I belong to, and what sorts of journals I read, and do I listen to talk radio.
         "Pardon, your honor? You say I DO have to answer those questions?" Now I'm thinking fast, because the judge has just told me that failure to answer these questions constitutes contempt. "Your honor," I say, "What is contempt? Aren't you showing contempt for my right to privacy?" A nervous laugh runs through the spectators, and I can almost imagine the TV networks cutting to commercials.
         Now Hizzonner is pounding his gavel, and fixing me with his stare, asking me if I want to spend some time in jail. I humbly say No. Just in time, too; it's lunchtime, and the judge calls for a recess.
         One nice thing about court, there's plenty of time for a good lunch and some reflection. I think about what it would be like to spend a few days in jail, and I don't like the picture. So I guess I'd better go along with the program, even lie if necessary. At lunch, I'm talking with a veteran juror, and he's telling me about some of the other questions they might ask. He says they're gonna want to know if I ever read pornography, do I think a person would ever be justified in beating their spouse, have I ever fantasized about killing someone.
         Hell no, your honor.
         Back in the panel room, these questions and more are asked, and I forget all about the Constitution where it says, "No person . . . shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself. . .", and I just give them a socially acceptable and politically correct answer.
         I watch as my fellow inmates fall one by one to the preemptory challenges, mostly because they read the papers and think they know something about the case. When it's my turn, I think fast and say, "Yes, I've glanced at the headlines, but I shore haven't made up my mind, nosirree."
         Of all the dumb things I've said in my life, THAT's one I wish I could take back. Because it was the right answer, and they didn't send me home.
         Questions come up from the lawyers, asking me if there's any reason I couldn't be sequestered for a long time.
         Well, how do you answer a question like that? I have a life? I have a job?
         I have bills to pay?
         I try all of those and more, but the judge says, Yeah, but do you have any SPECIAL reason that you couldn't serve?
         Remember, I'm new at this stuff, and I have faith in the system, and I can't really believe the trial will last very long (because the Constitution says, "In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a SPEEDY and public trial. . ."), and maybe I'll learn enough from the experience to make it worth the sacrifice of time and money. "Well, other than the reasons I've already given, I guess there's nothing special."
         But I remember that I have a friend who's a member of the Fully Informed Jury Association, so I have an ace card. Finally, I raise my hand. "Your honor, please tell us the rules abour jury nullification." But even that doesn't work, Hizzonner ignores the question, and I am on the jury!
         The trial begins. The judge tells us what being sequestered really means.
         We will not go home. The Constitution says, "Congress shall make no law. . . abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble. . ." We will be told what to read, what to watch on television, what to listen to on the radio. It finally dawns on me, this guy's not kidding. I am a prisoner! And I haven't been charged with a crime. (Talk about civil forfeiture!)
          The prosecution presents its opening arguments; the defense responds. I listen carefully, believing that I will soon be asked to decide which one is right.
         The prosecution calls its first witness, and the judge tells the jury to leave, but, of course, don't go anywhere. Just go sit in a room and the bailiff will bring you a movie to watch and some censored newspapers to read.
         We'll call you when we have anything fit for you to hear.
         So I sit there, wondering if I'll still have a job next week, and the bailiff calls us back into the courtroom, and some boring evidence is presented while I try to figure out how I'm going to make next month's car payment.
         The second day is even longer than the first, and I start to wonder if this thing is going to take all week. My feet keep going to sleep, and I wish they'd give us seat belts so I won't fall over and get hurt if I doze off.
         Suddenly it's the weekend, and court is adjourned until Monday morning. But we of the jury have to stay in our hotel rooms and not talk to anyone.
         Eventually Monday comes, and there's a full week of legal maneuvering, and suddenly it's Friday again. We're no closer to the end than we were on Monday.
         But I can get used to almost anything, and eventually the weeks are going by fast. The defense is presenting witnesses, and there's some testimony about a white guy saying nigger, and I think, That's funny, I once had a black guy call me dickhead, but it didn't bother me because we were friends. I go back to thinking about that lovely lady I met about a month before I was incarcerated, wondering what are the chances she'll be involved with someone else before I get out of prison -- I mean, before the trial is over.
         I once heard a motivational speaker say he never talked more than a quarter of an hour, because if a speech lasts over twenty minutes, the audience drift into sexual fantasies. He was right. My favorite times in the trial are where the lawyers and the judge start getting into it, because I know they're going to want to talk privately -- sometimes for days -- and they don't want the jury to hear it, so we can go walk around at least. But it does make me think that we won't be privy to all the information, despite the Constitution saying "In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and PUBLIC trial, by an IMPARTIAL jury. . ." I wonder how I can be impartial when the lawyers and the judge spend all day practicing mind control. Weeks turn into months. My boss has learned to get along without me; my girlfriend has met someone else. I'm beginning to know what sensory deprivation is. I can feel my brain getting soggy. People call my name, and sometimes I don't even notice it. Some of the other jurors seem depressed; I wonder if I seem the same to them. I want out of here! Suddenly the trial's over! Closing arguments have been given, and we the jurors are alone with our consciences. You can feel the tension; you can see that none of us really believes we're about to be turned loose, to regain control of our lives. Like high school graduation. Oh yeah, is the defendant guilty? What do I care? I'm free!

Robert B. Boardman is the author of sf novels Savior of Fire, published by Blue Note Books, and The Trashers, as yet unpublished. He is currently managing director of the Nepenthe Project, a startup center in Houston for making liberty-oriented movies and videos. email: RBBoardman@aol.com

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