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Saturday, February 01, 2014

The End (of both Winter #2 and Jury Duty)

Yesterday dawned bright and sunny, and warmed up rapidly. The snow began retreating right away. But I could not tarry to enjoy the dawning of Spring #2, as I had a jury to sit on.

So, once again, off to the courthouse. I bypassed the assembly room, and went straight on back. I’d left my Juror badge at home, because the wife hit me with three last-minute things as I was trying to edge away, but they got me another one.

“Why are there seven of us?” one of the jurors asked. “I thought the judge said they were going to pick six people.”

“I assume one of us is an alternate,” I said. “But I figured they would have told us who.” Nobody wanted to speculate further, then the bailiff came and led us in. It used to be that the judge came in last, there would be an “all rise,” and then everyone could sit after the judge did. Now, it’s the jurors who come in last, and everyone stands for us. Things change, ever so subtly, over time. (The lawyers address the judge as “judge” instead of “Your Honor,” as well, something I’ve never managed to feel comfortable with.)

So… on to the trial. New Year’s Day last year, a cop pulled over a woman doing 78 in a 55 zone. This is the edge of the retail district, and there have been several nasty wrecks at the stoplight just up the road. They smelled like booze, and she had a few bobbles during the field sobriety test. He took her in, and she blew a .17 on the in-house breathalyzer.

Now, I had mentioned some interesting stuff in Thursday’s post. With the trial over, I get to tell about it. During voir dire, the defense attorney asked “has anyone had classes in computer programming or engineering?” Several hands went up, mine being one. Most people had basic things like Excel training or a general introduction, one had a Java class.

Then, he got to me. “I had three years of electrical engineering classes at Michigan Tech before I switched majors.” Programming languages? “Yes, FORTRAN, Pascal, I taught myself C and C++, did some recreational assembler programming,” etc. It was pretty easy to put two and two together… he had mentioned the brand of breathalyzer they use at the local cop shop in an earlier question, so I figured he was going to work that angle. Calibration procedures? “I’ve never done them, but I have a general idea of how it’s done.” I figured that there was just no effing way that he’d want me on that jury.

So (remember, this was Thursday) when the clerk called off the numbers of those of us selected, I was shocked to hear my number come up last.

Back to Friday. We heard the opening arguments, and then we (for once) got to go to lunch on time and without a huge rush to get back. I walked to the local Pool Room, where the onion rings are second only to The Varsity’s, and got a chicken sandwich to go with them.

I have to hand it to the defense attorney: he did the absolute best he could with an open-and-shut case. He pulled a nice head-fake, making the main thrust the less than courteous behavior of the cop (e.g. he put on a raincoat, and made the poor tipsy woman do all her field sobriety tests in the rain). He did try a clever dodge—the cops calibrate their radar devices daily, while a trained dude comes in quarterly to calibrate the breathalyzer—but mobile gadgets need more frequent calibration. It didn’t help the DA, when he sort of overstated his case to begin with, but in the end the defense couldn’t overcome that pesky breathalyzer reading.

When it came time for the jury to do its thing, the judge called my name. “You are the alternate juror,” he said. Surprise! That meant I got to sit by myself in another room while the other six did the hard work. The bailiff was kind enough to let me keep the note pad they had issued me, so I did a little writing while waiting to see if I’d get called in (not an idle thing: one juror actually did have a heart attack earlier in the week, and the alternate got the call). I had time to fill up a sheet of paper on both sides, then the bailiff said the others were ready.

So in we marched, me at the end of the line this time, and the other jurors had reached the same (reluctant) conclusion that I had. Guilty. Again, to my surprise, the DA suggested a very lenient sentence, since it was her first-ever brush with The Law. She got off with a sentence slightly lighter than what The Boy got for having a small quantity of dried leaves, and he wasn’t operating a motor vehicle under its pernicious influence at the time.

So that was the end of jury duty. We shuffled down to the clerk’s office to get a “proof of service” letter. I probably won’t need it, but it’s always good to dot your Ts and cross your eyes.

I learned a few interesting tidbits in this whole thing. For example, on Planet Georgia at least, they can’t administer a breathalyzer test within 20 minutes after you burp. So if you keep belching every 15 minutes, you can defer having to blow until you sober up. :-P The Boy claims that putting mustard on your tongue will defeat the breathalyzer as well, but how many of us keep a bottle of mustard in our glove box for the Blue Light Special? You can also ask for an “independent test,” which is something the cops are required to tell you, but don’t exactly make a point of. (On the stand, the cop admitted to some less than 1% of DUI arrestees asking for one.) I’m certainly not advocating driving while bombed—remember, I was ready to vote guilty if need be—but I’m always one for people outwitting machines and knowing their rights. Do what I do: drink at home and write weird stuff. Don’t let the cops steamroll you, but remember that most of them are trying to do the right thing.

So. Spring #2. It was nice enough that I took Mason outside today. I would have built a fire in the firepit table, but he’s not exactly the kind of kid who likes to stay in one place. We had a pretty good time until the sun got into the trees and the breeze came up. Suddenly, it felt like the first of February all over again.

Tomorrow is Groundhog Day. I sure hope the real spring comes early. Especially after January. On the other hand, it was a good month for book sales…


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