(No, not LITERALLY . . . calm down, you Tea Partiers . . . )
So as I hinted yesterday, I had Jury Duty today. I went down to the Courthouse in San Antonio (which is the Bexar County courthouse, which for some inexplicable reason is called the “JUSTICE CENTER.” I kept looking over my shoulder for Batman and the rest of the Super-Friends, but I never did see them.)
I last had Jury Duty four years ago. At that time they called 300 of us, and only empaneled 200, releasing the rest of us by 3:00pm that afternoon. I had spent the day reading magazines and waiting for call that never came. I expected the same today.
No such luck.
They immediately began empaneling jurors for jury selection at 9:00am sharp, and I was selected for a 60-person group to sit on a criminal trial. They promised us we’d very likely be out of there by 5:00 pm at the latest.
And then they threw a bomb at us. The defendant was being tried for aggravated sexual assault; which in Texas essentially means rape of a person 13 years old or younger.
And everything went to hell quickly. The prosecutors began their questioning; has anyone served on a jury previously, has anyone ever been a witness in a trial previously, does anyone have any member of their family that is in law enforcement . . . standard questions, and people answered them fairly quickly and honestly.
Then the prosecutors asked if anyone had ever had a family member or knew someone who had been a victim of sexual abuse. You could see the discomfort on their faces as they answered; they hemmed and hawed; they asked to speak with the judge privately. One lady had to be excused because she became physically ill. But we al danced very carefully around the 800 pound gorilla in the room. Nobody admitted they were victims of sexual abuse openly. No one spoke of the unspoken taboo.
And then they asked me if I had a family member or knew someone who had been a victim of sexual abuse. And I took a deep breath.
One of my psychology professors at Valparaiso University once told me that Child Abuse would continue for one reason; Children can’t vote. And by the time kids can vote, they’re adults who don’t want to admit they were abused as children. So the whole thing continues to be hushed up and held in, and nothing ever changes.
And one of my advisers at VU had once told me, “If you keep doing things over and over again that you don’t like, at some point you have to ask yourself why it is you do that.
And all this swam in my head as the Prosecutor asked me if I had a family member or knew someone who had been a victim of sexual abuse. Why yes, Yes I did, in fact.
So I looked that pretty blonde Prosecutor in the eyes and told her, “I’m Juror number 30, and I was a victim of childhood sexual abuse. And a very close member of my family was also sexually molested, which is one of the reasons why we moved to Texas from Indiana. And the Prosecutor’s Office in Indiana refused to prosecute the case.”
I must have shocked her. She blinked hard like a deer in the headlights of an oncoming semi. Then she did something extraordinary: she started to cry. A tear actually rolled out of her left eye. She paused, then asked, “Would you be able to be fair in judging the case of the accused?”
And I told her “Dear God, No! I have no faith in the Judicial System whatsoever.” And I sat down.
And she pretty much fell down into her chair.
And all hell broke loose, quickly and quietly. It was all downhill after that. Suddenly every other juror knew someone or wanted a priate conference with the judge (which I took to mean they were victims themselves, but not quite so foolhardy as I to speak it openly.) The woman behind me began to weep openly during her questioning, grabbing my hand hard for support. She had never admitted her abuse to another living soul in 40+ years — but she did in voir dire today. It was a scene that was repeated over and over again. A licensed social worker spoke of his experience with abused kids. Several people had kids in their immediate families who had been abused by someone they trusted. One lady brought down the house and got us an immediate adjournment for a break after she told of how a vindictive foster child had sent her grandfather to prison for 20 years on a false accusation of childhood sexual abuse — that they later recanted.
And then the judge began to lecture us on a point of the law — over and over again. One of questions we began to get caught up on was about sentencing — would we be able to consider the full range of punishments should the accused be found guilty, from imprisonment to probation.
Only two people in the courtroom would even consider probation as a punishment. The rest of us told the judge we did not think Probation would ever be an appropriate punishment for the rape of a 13-year-old. And the judge just could not understand why we would not be open-minded about that.
In the end we got out about 7:30pm (not 5:00 pm) tonight after failing to empanel a jury. Only 2 jurors were acceptable out of the possible 60 — two out of 60!
Because we refused to consider probation for a rapist of a 13 year old. I’d like to think it had something to do with me making a tiny little stand for an abused kid, too.
But that’s just me; Me and 58 of my new closest friends.