Wednesday, April 6, 2011

To Slowly Suck The Life Out Of A Mockingbird

“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


  1. A friend of mine who is a religious jewish woman like me tried to get out of it b/c Shabbos starts at 4pm in the winter.
    As a last resort before the judge, she lifted the wig off of her head a few inches and declared "This isn't even my real hair".

  2. Not thrilled about remaining in closed spaces. Wouldn't want to have to experience that!

  3. Sounds like quite the experience! Can't wait for my turn to check out "The Beauty Pageant."

  4. When I was being Voir Dired on a murder trial years ago our group waited for one woman to be questioned for an hour and a half by the prosecution and the the defense. Finally, she came back saying that she was dismissed. We asked why and she replied in disbelief: "All I said was that he looked like such a nice little boy sitting there." With that she was dismissed. Sometimes you wonder if you'd be better off with the judge rather than a jury of your peers. Hope I never see that day.

  5. C'mon, you couldn't convince 'em that presiding over Stuph File is like being the minister of a cult??? That shoudl've freed you right there.

  6. So, you were merely nominated but not selected. Still, being nominated can be impressive,for example for an Emmy or perhaps the Nobel Peace Prize :)

    Of course Peter, some may suspect you lead some sort of cult with your large following, and perhaps we all qualify as a cult?

  7. You can always say you are prejudiced to people who are accused of things. That might work.

  8. A horrible experience, but worth it for the blog material!
    Here's my alternate title suggestion:

    The Pelican Unbearably Long

  9. Great post, Peter. I haven't been called yet, but I understand that lawyers don't like mystery writers. They know that we believe things are not necessarily as they seem and that people can indeed lie under oath!

  10. Would you say that was an injustice to those who did not get to model. Or that the faces of the just ones were left behind. Could be the majority were victims of suffering injustice from the ordeal.

  11. A fiend of mine stated that the Justice system is a system of injustice ...disqualified!

  12. A very interesting article! I love the way how everything is compared. It gives us a better insight on what to expected if we ever get chosen as a possible candidat.

  13. Funny, I would have thought that the fact that you're on TV would have disqualified you from jury duty. But that may be because a friend of mine, who's a newspaper reporter, seems to think that he would automatically be disqualified. I'm now beginning to think that he may be in for a surprise.

    Thanks for sharing this Peter. I really enjoyed it. Plus, it's been awhile since I've stumbled across a good Steve McQueen reference.

  14. Sounds like quite the adventure Peter! Never a dull moment in or near the courts, that's for sure! Imagine the tale you could have told had you been selected!!!

  15. I know a few people who qualify for all the exemptions you listed. That alone should probably exclude me.

  16. Too funny! Deep down, you knew good and well that you weren't going to be selected right?

  17. as a writer, you have inspired me to write about being "one of the chosen"
    but I'm afraid the "justice system" does not always live up to its name...

  18. I laughed so hard and out loud several times while reading this.

    You have a very sharp wit and your gift of description is fabulous. I could almost envision sitting in the same room with you sharing your experiences.

    There is a mystique about jury duty and most of us, if we were honest, would say we would like to pass on it because it is such an onerous responsibility and because it would interfere with our personal lives.

    But...someone has to do it.

  19. Hilarious! It's good to know that the wheels of justice are just as efficient back in my hometown as they are here in the USA.

  20. Quite an inside peek at the jury selection process ... I wonder who won the "Miss Congeniality" prize?

    Atticus Finch, Perry Mason and Clarence Darrow would certainly be embarrased!

    "And justice for all", indeed!

  21. Hey Peter,

    Had to do jury duty my self many years ago in the state of Maryland. Couldn't get out of it because I was a state employee at the time.

    Served on two juries, one civil, one criminal. When we delivered a not guilty verdict on the criminal case, the DA followed us out into the hall and harassed and insulted us.

    They treated us like dirt. Mean and nasty to us, as though we had committed some kind of crime by serving. Or simply existing.

    Hope to never do it again.

  22. So you weren't selected, but as the saying goes: "always the bride's maid, never THE bride"...maybe next time Peter, maybe next time...! LOL

  23. Wow! to chances out of 200 and you weren't picked. Maybe you will have better luck with 649

  24. Entertaining!

    I was called for duty about three years ago. The process was considerably longer though. In Ontario they can keep you until you are picked.

    I spent two days in a room with several hundred people all waiting to be "chosen". Toward the end of Day 2 I was called. Turned out to be for a murder trial.

    The unnerving part of the process was when we were marched into the court room where the lawyers got to question us as each side had refusal right to a certain number of potential jurors. All this taking place in front of the accused where the attendant called out your name and where you worked, a little unnerving. I actually made the cut.

    The Judge informed us the lucky that this particular trial may take as many as three weeks. We were then taken to another room to await our fate.

    Two hours later good fortune smiled when an officer came into out room and informed us that we were dismissed as the case had been plea bargained and we were free to go.

    Quite an adventure seeing the justice at work.

  25. Cult leaders should protest by demonstrating outside City Hall wearing cheap wedding dresses from Filene's.

  26. But, Peter -- didn't you have your Kindle with you? you could have been reading a good murder mystery while you waited, or a legal thriller.

    Jury Duty Law #1 -- If you are called, bring a good book!

    1. Steve,

      Yes, I did have my Kindle with me and I did read some, but the surroundings of what was going on was just to juicy to pass up on. This is a blog piece that basically wrote itself!

  27. I did jury duty once when I was living in Toronto. I remember the lawyers choosing each of us based on how much they thought we might support their position.

    I remember thinking that the trial was not quite fair, because a lot of information is withheld; anything not having to do with the actual facts of the case such as the history of crime of the perpetrator, which does not give one a complete picture when you are trying to make a fair decision.

    I think when judging a situation you have to take into account the whole picture as much as possible. Presenting only a slice in my opinion is not telling the whole truth. Their history of crime is only one example.

    I think knowing as much about the people involved as you can is important. People tell half truths all the time which is not the whole picture.

  28. Here in Holland, we have no juries.... all very civil. Court system has judges who listen to cases presented by the defense and crown..... the number of judges on any one case depends on the severity of the case. Leaves the rest of the population to do important things like ride bikes ( yes so very cliche!!), complain about our taxes and how lousy the weather is. Would rather be entertained by watching juries on TV rather than live it...... feel for you.

  29. as some comedian once put it........

    I do not want to be judged by a group of people who were not smart enough to escape jury duty!

  30. Addendum to this article. Years later I was chosen once again with the same result, not picked. But this time it was a little more unnerving. It was in September 2014 and the jury in question was for the Luka Magnotta Murder Trial. It was unnerving because this time not only was the courtroom swarming with journalists covering the story, but you had Luka Magnotta creepily staring at everyone like he was imagining new victims. And you really don't want to have a staring contest with someone who dismembers people!