“When you go into court, you are putting your fate into the hands of twelve people who weren't smart enough to get out of jury duty”
- Comedian Norm Crosby
Today I became part of a jury pool – a group of 200 people who would be whittled down to twelve jurors for a criminal stabbing case; a group that spent the better part of the morning trying to find a loophole that would get them out of jury duty.
Here in Quebec when the judicial system wants you to fulfill your civic obligation, it sends a letter informing you of where and when to appear, along with a series of reasons why you may be disqualified.
The list includes many ways to get out of a trial, so I won’t bore you with all of them. I’ll just list a couple from the Quebec Jurors Act
. You can’t be on a jury if you are, among other things: a person charged or convicted of a criminal act; a minister of the cult; a person afflicted with a mental illness or deficiency; a lawyer. Now isn’t that an interesting grouping?
The day started at 9:30am with the judge giving us our instructions and filling us with pride at the honour and chance to serve our common justice system, all the while as some people quietly grumbled about whether they would run out of time on their parking meters. He then explained to us that names would be called out in batches of twenty. They would be randomly chosen from the lucky pool of 200.
Once names were called, the “chosen ones” would line up in the order they were announced. Frankly, it looked like a scene from the Miss America Pageant. They would then file out of our courtroom and into another, never to be seen again, interrogated by both the defence and the Crown, thereby weeding out the convicted, the cult leaders, the mentally deranged and of course other lawyers.
The judge assured us that this would be a fast process. It is here that I remind you that justice moves at a glacial pace. His Honour informed us that before the selection process could begin, both sides had to hammer out some legal matters in another room.
So there we sat as time ticked by. At 10:30am a straggler who wandered over to the door noticed an oasis just outside in the hall. He yelled to the room, “Hey there’s free coffee and pastries out here!”
Three quarters of the crowd rushed to the door like it was a Boxing Day sale, or they were trying to get a cheap wedding dress in Filene’s Basement
At 10:45am the beauty pageant started in earnest. The first twenty names were called and were shuffled out of the room like quarantined POWs. We would never know if we’d see our comrades alive again. At 11am another twenty were picked. Some people had difficulty remembering their names.
But there was joviality in the room as people began to think this process was moving along at a torrid pace. However that was all the movement that took place for over an hour. Many in the room were beginning to understand why The Twelve Angry Men
were so . . . well . . . angry!
Just before noon one of the first 40 chosen, came back into the room. She had a huge smile on her face. She exploited her loophole and was free to go, but before leaving she wanted to impart her wisdom and reconnaissance on the rest of the class. Yes, the lawyers were acting like TSA officials, checking through the prospective jurors’ emotional baggage before they could embark on their legal journey. “Oohs & Aahs” were heard as she regaled them with the fact that she was a teacher of developmentally disabled children, and thus exempt. She had a greater calling than us mere mortals and was free to go skipping out of the courtroom. We watched her as she vanished down the hall. Unlike Steve McQueen on a motorcycle in The Great Escape
, there was no barbed wire to stop her.
At 12:10pm they came for only ten of us. This day was dragging on. Some people were now becoming claustrophobic, desperate to leave the room. Others didn’t want to leave. They were developing Stockholm Syndrome.
At 12:25pm they came for another 20. That means they had churned through 70 of us looking for that elusive twelve.
But then it happened. Ten minutes later, at 12:35pm, the daylight deprived, antsy, fidgeting, bladder filled remaining potential jurors were all told that the twelve had indeed been chosen. While this didn’t carry the gravitas of picking a new Pope, one could almost envision a puff of white smoke coming from out of the other courtroom.
My name was never called. I never got to the swimsuit competition or talent portion of the program. I was free to go – for now. After all, since I was on the jury list, it’s quite possible that I could go through this procedure again in the very near future, perhaps in just a few weeks.
Even though the spectre of having to repeat this process was hanging over everyone’s head, they all left quickly with a smile on their face. That’s because we each had a voucher to redeem downstairs for transportation and meal costs, and after all $20.30 is $20.30!
This day was just like the Academy Awards. We all lined up on a somewhat reddish carpet. We waited in a room for hours for our names to be called. Some were; most were not. And in the end, it was an honour just to be nominated.
That’s the Stuph – the way I see it