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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

A Trial by Trial

Do many people look forward to having teeth pulled? Do many people await a time they get cut-off in traffic? Do many people look forward to having a irreparable flat tire in front of an air pump? The answers on all these is probably no, so then why have I looked forward to jury duty with a passion since the first time I had it? And in fact, my first time turned out to be a sad experience.

A lot of people called me crazy, but when I got my jury summons in the mail last month I was actually thrilled. "To be part of the justice system is an honor" I would say. Two days ago I mentioned that I had an "important task" on that day and this was that task. As excited as I was, the events melted into one of the most aggravating experiences of my life.

Monday morning I arrived at the courthouse and, well, I arrived at the wrong courthouse. This was the first of many run ins with the sheriffs that are the security of the courthouses. I was simply told to go across the street (I should have remembered from my first jury duty, but it was cold and I wasn't thinking straight) so I did.

The first of many metal detector beeps occurred and I got the wand. I couldn't figure why I set it off, but every time I went through one I did and got the wand. Sometimes the officers were nice, other times a whole menu or orders were barked and I wanted to shut down just from input overload.

I entered the juror assembly room, or as I began to call it, the "hurry up and wait room". This room is on two floors and has many seats for all the jurors assembled. I found a seat in a row that had no one else in it, but quickly the room filled. I was amazed at how fast people started talking to each other as if they had known each other for years and was amazed at how people could do this. I had some reading material I had to read so I used this time constructively, but nonetheless I was speechless as to how strangers can communicate with ease.

After a couple of hours I got the need for some type of drink or food so I went upstairs to the juror's lounge. Inside I noticed a coffee machine that served hot chocolate. Not only hot chocolate, but only 50 cent hot chocolate! I was thrilled, so I got out my wallet and noticed I had no ones but had plenty of $2's. I looked around the room that had a dozen or so tables and tried to pick a person out to talk to. I wasn't comfortable with anyone so I started to think if I had time to walk to my car, which was parked at ScottTrade Center some five blocks away. I though this to be a bad idea so I then dug around my coat pocket as a last resort and there it was, two quarters!

The coffee machine poured my hot chocolate and let me tell you I do not lie when I say hot. Scalding hot would be more like it. What made it worse was that it was in a thin paper cup and there were no other aides to hold it. I quickly sat the cup on the floor and once again had a problem. This cup needed to sit, but all the tables had at least one person at it. Some tables had people talking, again like they were best friends, to some that had one person lost within the depths of a book. I didn't want to drink my hot chocolate by sitting on the floor, but I also didn't want to intrude on somebody's already claimed table. In the end the floor won as I could not ask if a seat was take and risk the wrath of whomever was already seated there. Odd thing is I watched person after person randomly sit down next to a person and nothing was said, but I still could not do it.

Hour after hour passed and my number was not called. Lunch was eventually given and I made my way to Maurizio's. I found this place in my first round of jury duty and since I did it the first time I had to go back. Not only was it routine, they also have the best pizza in America.

I got back to the "hurry up and wait room" and that's exactly what I did. My time started at 7:40 in that room and it wasn't until almost 3 in the afternoon that I got called.

I didn't care where we were going or why as I was just so thrilled to get out of that depressing room. Not only was I glad to get out, but I was the 13th person picked which meant I had a good chance to get on a jury so long as one person was disqualified and I wasn't disqualified myself.

Once we got to the courtroom the voir dire process began and I sat silently thinking about that evening's sunglasses experiment. I said nothing during all the questions, but when one of the lawyers asked me directly what I do and if I had been in a car accident I explained my work at TouchPoint and then said, "Yes, I have been in a car accident as, well, I hit a horse." This led to a round of laughter from the other jurors, and I think the judge as well, and then I was asked if I were injured and I mentioned the glass cuts. The final question was something along the lines of if the horse survived which with I responded with an elongated, "not so much." There was much laughter, but I felt the leer of a few animal lovers that saw me as public enemy #1.

Once this process was complete were left the courtroom for about half an hour and then we were called back. Would I be on a jury? This was something I wanted since the first time I heard about jury duty in 1st grade. A number was called, then another, and then another. I tried to remember the seating arrangement during the voir dire and I thought someone was picked that was after me so I got somewhat depressed, but not for long as my number was picked and I felt as if I had won the jury lottery.

Time was running short so we were dismissed for the evening and I rushed to the post office to send a few things that needed sent and made it to the bowling alley. Later, as I went to bed, I was so excited that the next day I would be part of the American justice system.

You may be wondering what the case was about and the only thing I am going to say was that it was a civil case and not a criminal case. Beyond that I don't think it is right for me to comment as it is irrelevant in my opinion.

Once the morning began we heard the opening arguments and it was something right out of a television show, or maybe a John Grisham novel. While other jurors looked bored I was intent on the mannerisms that the lawyers presented their information and watched to see how the judge reacted to any bit of information. I was having a blast.

Witnesses were called and questions were asked. Objections were given and mini-conferences with the judge were held with the two lawyers. At one point in time there were thee mini-conferences outside the hearing of the jury in a row and I thought to myself, "cue the circus music".

After lunch there was, what I believed to be, the smoking gun of the case presented to us. This element was major and could not be discounted. Aftet this the closing arguments began and they it was up to us 12 jurors to come to a verdict.

It was 4PM and in a civil case only 9 of the 12 jurors must come to an agreement to reach a verdict. A foreman was chosen and it was game on.

The talk went fast and people stated what they believed to be right about the case. I thought this would be a quick home run of a verdict and we'd be done because I was sure that what I believed everyone else did too. This was most certainly not the case and I was in shock, or rather utter disbelief.

There was a quick poll and 8 of the 12 believed it should go one way. Three others had my belief, but the debate was brutal. If you watch news shows where one side talks over the other side you should have a good concept of what the conversation was like. It was loud and without structure. I kept trying to get my word in but could not find a path to get in.

Slowly I began to get very angry with myself. Why couldn't I state what was right? My logic could not be disputed as I was right. The belief I had of this case was concrete and it became a passion, but my lips could not say anything. This was all the elements I struggle with being on the autism spectrum all at once. With many people talking I could not follow or distinguish what was said, eye contact was minimal, and I had so much to say without the ability to say it. I quickly began to hate myself.

Time was ticking and some jurors began to think about themselves over the case. The 8 became 9 and then became ten. The foreman then said that we should go around the room, one at a time, to state what we believed. I was about the fifth in line and when I spoke people listened. I went on for almost a minute stating what I believed and why I believed it. I felt I was very convincing as heads nodded in agreement, but by the time everyone had their word in my words were forgotten. I began to speak, but no one would listen. Time was on people's minds and they did not want to come back the next day. People agreed for the sake of agreeing and when it came time to offer the verdict I did not sign my name on it because it was wrong. As the paper got the required 9, and then 10 votes I felt as if I had failed.

After the verdict was reached we re-entered the courtroom and I looked straight at the railing in front of me. These moments was like a sports team rubbing in the loss. You see, when I believe something to be right I want to fight for it. When I believe something to be right I am unrelenting in my belief. I will not be swayed and even when the numbers are against me I will stay in the minority because being wrong to appease a group is, well, wrong. Perhaps this is why I had trouble with my peer groups in school, but what is right is right and what is wrong is wrong and I will not yield my belief. The bad part is sometimes we are unable to put up the words with the rapidness that others can and our words may be quiet compared to other people who speak loudly. My one minute was filled with vigor, but my one minute was just one minute lost in the hour of debate. As the verdict was read I had lost the game and I wanted to cry.

To make matters worse one side wanted a polling of the jury which meant each juror had to stand as their number was called and state whether or not they had signed onto the verdict. As my number was called I said, "No!" with an attitude I have never had before.

Once this was done we left the juror's box and went into the juror's room to get our things and leave. Here three different people came up to me and said something along the lines of, "I fully agreed with what you said, but man, tomorrow, we just had to finish it today." This was no consolation and actually made me more angry. If one believes something is right one should adhere to that belief. Caving in because of a group makes no sense to me for then how does one have his or her own thoughts?

As you can tell from the length of this writing I still feel horrible over it. Perhaps you would say that I should be proud of myself for standing firm in my belief and not giving into peer pressure, but I don't see it that way. I see it as I was unable to sway people to my belief. Maybe if I were louder, maybe if I said more the results would have been different. I don't know, but what I do know is I didn't sleep much last night and am just  bitter and angry today. The feelings are not going away and are just as strong now as when the verdict was reached.

Some may say I am overreacting, others may say that in the grand scheme of life this event was a non-event, but to me, because I had an opinion of what was right, this was a major event. I wonder how long I will replay the deliberation and have thoughts along the lines of, "If I only had said this perhaps right would have won out!"?

2 comments:

  1. Aaron: You weren't defeated. You took a righteous stand and you held your ground. If you want to find peace of mind in situations such as this one, then you will have to accept the fact that sometimes our words are like seeds rather than hammers. You planted seeds in the hearts of people by taking the high road. Other people in that jury room used their words as hammers to pound their opinions into the minds of people. The words you planted in those people's hearts may not begin to grow until the time is right for them, but you can rest assured that the people whose minds were bruised and battered by hammers will become resentful of themselves for caving in.
    Our pride sometimes demands immediate, measurable results. Don't let your pride push you around. Have faith that your words will bear fruit.

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  2. Thank you for the affirmation for Aaron. Through his blog and presentations Aaron has planted seeds of hope. His harvest, as you stated, will not come today, or maybe tomorrow but it will come. He has helped so many families, teachers, professionals, and other on the spectrum. Your acknowledgment of his "righteous stand," I am sure will be a seed that you have planted in him.

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