New York Diarist

Erin Isikoff
Juror Dismissed
Spring 1996

The summons to serve my city as a Criminal Court juror offered an address on Centre Street but did not indicate whether to use the City Hall or Canal Street subway stop. The pouring rain made my decision one of import. I chose City Hall and so walked six wet blocks instead of one. The door the summons indicated, the south entrance, was locked. I retraced my steps to the north entrance.

Though I was called for 8:30 a.m., jury duty looked far from beginning. I discovered that 8:30 was a feint. The system plans for tardiness, and thus generates it.

At shortly after 9, and well before many people had arrived, the jury clerk started the video, meant to uplift our spirits, I suppose. A judge invoked and intoned, but I was not bedazzled by the notion of good government at work: I could not believe any of the people so obviously reading cue cards. The most absurd line of a completely absurd film was one juror's testimonial: "I can't explain it to you. It's something you have to experience for yourself." What was this, an advertisement for a car? The video's purpose was to explain; if it couldn't, it was another waste of our tax dollars.

Finally we entered a courtroom. Her Honor was very bitchy. Every juror (this is New York City, after all) had a story and an excuse. One guy I pitied: some ad exec who was supposed to lead a corporate retreat the next week. But he couldn't defer because he had done so five times. "Tough," the judge said, "that's why they call it jury duty."

The only time this judge restrained herself was when I thought she should have let loose. One guy on the panel was either drunk or incoherent or both. He said he didn't do anything and couldn't say whom he lived with or what they did. Questioning this guy was a complete waste of all our time, but the judge went on and on. When she asked him if he had ever been the victim of a crime, he said yes. When she asked him if he reported it, he said: "They took care of it in the neighborhood." Everyone but the judge laughed. Still, she didn't reprimand him for taking the law into his own hands. In this court, unqualified miscreants get the velvet glove, and yuppies the iron fist.

In my case, the judge's personality and the two-week guesstimate for the trial were all I needed to make my decision: evacuate the premises as soon as possible. Yet something made me refrain from admitting that I don't consider indicted people innocent until proven guilty and that I do think the defense attorney has a burden of proof. Somehow, I kept my mouth shut. A sort of civic pressure, a political correctness of the courtroom, drove me to conceal my prejudice.

The lawyers interrogated us after the judge was through. I hated being evaluated by the key players as a possible tool in the battle they were waging. When my turn came, my escape plan crystallized. With steely determination,  I told the defense lawyer the whole truth and nothing but the truth. I found it highly "far-fetched" that police officers would lie on the stand about his client. We know why she might lie, but why would they? I'm very "pro-police," I didn't hesitate to tell him, very "let's crack down on crimes just like the one your client allegedly committed." Juror dismissed.

I don't feel ashamed about this, because I got recused for telling the truth, not for lying. I never expected it to be that sort of scam. Everyone with an opinion, every skeptic, every honest person, every talkative person, every self-indulgent person was outta there. I am all of these. In the elevator back to the central jury room, one woman told me she enjoyed my "performance." She said: "There's always a way to work it." She really missed the point. I didn't have to lie to get dismissed; all I had to do was to be brave enough to tell my truth.

I left with disgust for the whole adventure. Juries should be made of people who know victims and their sufferings, who think crime is horrendous, even objectionable, and who honor the police. Our system is set up to weed me out just where it needs me.

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