By: Christine M. Lasek
I don’t want to tell you my name and occupation.
I don’t want to tell you my spouse’s name and occupation.
I will tell you about a time I was the victim of a crime. About how “a perv exposed himself to me at a Starbucks.”
When I tell this story to friends, I say “whipped his dick out.” I add “Must be something about that green apron,” because that’s what makes people laugh.
The defendant sits between his two lawyers, and when one of his lawyers approaches the judge’s bench, the defendant follows. This is not how it is done on Law & Order, but no one else seems to think it’s odd.
The defendant is wearing a light blue shirt. A spotted yellow tie. A pair of belted khakis that aren’t wrinkled but don’t have a pleat down the front of the legs. And I wonder if, like on Law & Order, his lawyer coached him on what to wear. If market research and complex algorithms have deduced that this combination of shirt/tie/khakis will signal “Innocent” in a potential juror’s brain.
The judge reads the list of charges like the titles of abstract paintings: Two Counts Simple Assault. Two Counts Aggravated Assault With Intent to Commit Murder.
But the images become clearer as the jury pool is questioned by the prosecuting and defense attorneys: Raise your hand if you have ever been the victim of domestic violence. Raise your hand if you own a gun. Raise your hand if you have medical training and have ever treated a gunshot wound.
Forcing us—the physician assistants, the bartenders, the psycho therapists, the Walmart managers, the creative writing professors—to own the details of these alleged crimes.
And now the man in the shirt/tie/khaki combo isn’t just the person the defense attorney has the privilege of representing. He’s the man who may or may not have beaten his wife or girlfriend. He’s the man who may or may not have shot his wife or girlfriend. He’s the man who, if convicted, may or may not get out of jail in three years for good behavior.
Three years, which is probably not enough time for me to get a new job and move away, but could be enough time for the defendant to nurse a grudge against the members of the jury who convicted him. To memorize the faces that go with the names and occupations in a university town that isn’t that big.
Or maybe it will just be luck. He’ll recognize me through the window at El Salto. Gun me down half way through my second Corona Light. My last meal will be shrimp fajitas with that spicy green tomatillo salsa I’ve developed a taste for.
On Law & Order, the names are changed to protect the innocent.
The prosecuting attorney tells the jury pool members to raise their hands if they have had a negative experience with law enforcement. One man, whose name I will change to Margaritaville, raises his hand. He is wearing sandals and rumpled linen pants. He swigs from a beat up water bottle. His sunburned face is perpetually sweaty.
Margaritaville tells two stories: 1) A police officer pulled his gun on a young unarmed man prior to arresting him and, when Margaritaville reported the incident to the police office’s superior, the police officer returned in a different uniform and badge and interviewed Margaritaville about what he saw. 2) A police officer arrested Margaritaville for riding his bike while intoxicated, forced Margaritaville to the ground, bloodied Margaritaville’s nose, and gave him a DUI.
The prosecuting attorney asks Margaritaville if these experiences will influence him when he hears police officer testimony during this trial. He asks Margaritaville if these experiences will keep him from sitting in judgement at the end.
Margaritaville says he’s not sure but maybe he’s not equipped to judge another person. That maybe no man should sit in judgement over another man.
And maybe Margaritaville is right, and we should leave jury duty to the professionals. The actors and actresses hoping to break into the business do not question their roles as Juror Number 4 on Law & Order.
But then, after their defendant is convicted, he’ll go on to star in a Marvel spin-off on Netflix.
Probably their shrimp fajitas are safe.
Christine M. Lasek is the author of the story collection Love Letters to Michigan. Her work has also appeared in Another Chicago Magazine, Eleven Eleven, Sierra Nevada Review, and elsewhere. She is the Assistant Director for the Creative Writing Program at the University of Georgia. http://christinemlasek.com/