Blind justice

Woke up a little later than usual and took my time heading over to the courthouse in Jersey City. It was all grey and spitty out, the kind of nice weather (depending on your point of view) that keeps most people inside. Checked in to the waiting room, then went downstairs to grab a sandwich in the basement cafeteria. Return to waiting room.

As you walked into the long room, there were 2 banks of very long pews on either side of the room, both sets facing the aisle in the center of the room. It was forbidden that anyone should sit on the right side of the room, so those benches sat empty and just stared at the 75 or so of us spread out across the other side of the room. I found a spot in the back row of the left bank of pews. I couldn't help but feeling like we were there to worship justice or something.

An old grizzled dude with a pony tail and a goatee sat near the front right and played chess on a table with a middle aged Indian (dots, not feathers) guy. A few people were playing solitaire on the computers in the back of the room. What good is a computer without net access, anymore? I sat and caught up on some reading, and finally they called all our names, lined us up, and sent us up a couple flights of stairs.

We ushered into the courtroom and packed into significantly fewer pews, which were shorter as well. A few extras had to sit in the jury box. Court started and the judge began to brief us.

I'm really not sure how much of it I can legally get into. There were lots of don't-talk-to's and stay-quiet's and whatnot, and I wish I had started taking notes sooner than I did, so I would know just exactly how much I can get into it here. So I'm going to use my best judgment.

It is a murder trial.

The guy sitting 10 feet in front of me would have the fate of his life decided in this building, possibly by some of the people in that very room.

(Of course death penalty doesn't really mean death penalty in a state that hasn't carried it out since 1963. But we were advised about it all the same. In reality, such a sentencing would be about the same thing as life in prison, you just call it something more grave.)

We were all prospectives at that point, and still are. After some introduction and lots of instruction, the judge sent us off to fill out a lengthy questionnaire. Another courtroom, more benches, lots of writing.

What are your hobbies / what do you do in your spare time?

When do you feel (if ever) that the death penalty should be used?

What newspapers do you read, and how often?

Have you, a family member, or a close friend at any time sought counseling from a psychologist / psychiatrist? If so, did you feel it was beneficial?

Are you or have you ever been a member of any social, political, fraternal...

and so forth.

I filled it out as fast as possible, I've found that the first answer is usually the most straightforward one, and I had no reason to be dishonest, anyway. Obviously a lot about my religion and church and whatnot played into the questioning.

I finished my packet before anyone else and stood up to turn it in. They gave me an appointment to come back for an interview in February. Slowly roll the wheels of governance.

Apparently they've been seeing groups like ours all week long, morning and afteroon. It struck me how many people they must have to see (I'm guessing around 500) to get just 16 jurors and some alternates (I suspect), for just one case. The judge hinted at a 2-3 week trial. There were probably some people in the room that believed that time frame. Anyway, there wouldn't be any sequestering.

But I'm not supposed to read about the case or research it in any way, which is weird. I could open up another tab here and read 16 different articles about the crime and the guy's history and anything else I wanted to know about it, but Lady Justice would be watching me, from beneath that blindfold. And she's got a mighty long sword.

So I won't. I'll blog about my experiences with it, as much as I believe I am able to legally do so, but that's about it.

When I was switching trains on the way back to the 'boken, I recognized one of the girls who had been in our group. She recognized me too, kind of strolled in my direction, and we made eye contact for more than a couple seconds, and she started to look like she was expecting me to say something. You spend a day in the same rooms with the same group of people and you start to get this tepid sense of camaraderie. Then there was this look of realization that I wasn't going to say anything, because, technically, we weren't supposed to be talking.

Rode the train back, hit BN and the gym, and headed home.

Thursday linkery gets pushed to Friday this week, but I'll make up for it with a particularly long and juicy post.

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