On Trial!

August, 2003

Greetings, well informed citizens!

Months ago I received ample proof of my citizenship in the United States.
Never mind the fact that from my great grandparents on down we Maloneys have
been native-born Americans (notice that I did not say Native Americans, as
the closest thing I have to tribal blood touching my family genealogy goes
back about 10 generations, and may have come from somebody with ties to the
tribe of Benjamin- but this is beside the point).  What I received was an
official invitation to join a cross section of my peers into a party whose
sole responsibility is to decide the fate of some poor slob who ran afoul of
the local authorities. Jury duty.     For those of you who are not
with the due process of law, I will attempt to explain the events from the
perspective of one who has been called --twice.

There are a number of things that you should  have a grasp of, should the
'fickle finger of fate' find you and bounce your bewildered behind into the
penalty box.  You should know that when one is called forth for the purpose
of evaluation of personified guilt and innocence, one is not automatically
plopped into the juror's chair, handed a paper program that is used to help
distinguish between the accused, the prosecution and the accused's council--
and told to 'have at it'.   No sir, the process is much more involved. One
must be 'selected' for the job, from the jury pool. The jury pool (like the
gene pool) is a giant source of 'potentiality'-  a room full of summoned
guests who come in, sit down and read old magazines until their waiting time
is over, or have their number pulled to hear an actual real, live court
case. Those whose numbers are called are placed into groups of thirty or so
and herded into a stall in the courtroom.
      At this time, the judge asks each of the flock a series of questions
designed to root out the biased and the lame-brained. If you know anything
about anything even remotely associated with the nature of the crime
committed, then you are likely to yanked out of the room and sent back to
look over more old magazines. I have been told that this maneuver is to
insure an unbiased jury. This is a big lie. The real reason that the legal
eagles weed out those with technical expertise is that they don't want any
people smarter than themselves hanging around the courtroom. It is
embarrassing for them to get their polished egos all tarnished and dented by
some obviously inferior engineer or accountant telling the rest of the jury
that the lawyers don't know what they are talking about.
     This interview is my favorite part of the whole experience. It is my
chance to match wits with the court and council. My game here is to make
myself look as unattractive as possible without lying or tipping my hand. My
Attention Deficit Disorder is a prime resource here.  If I let my mind
wander about the universe, pretty soon the guy next to me is jabbing me in
the ribs and saying, "Hey! It's your turn- the judge is talking to you!"  So
I come back to Earth and answer his questions. One of the  questions that
the judge will invariably ask is, "Have you ever been convicted of a crime?"
My favorite answer-- "Convicted--- no sir, I've never been *convicted* of a
crime. This answer will make smoke come out of the prosecuting attorney's
ears.  The other biggie question is, "Have you ever been a victim of a
violent crime?" One of these days I'm going to pump up my courage and reply,
"Does that include marriage?"  I'd say that, but the judge would probably
call me up to the bench and rap my knuckles with his gavel, just for being a
wiseguy. "Place your hand right here, Mr. Maloney."  CRACK!  Back I go to
the jury room- to sit at a table and play poker with a bunch of other guys
who have swollen knuckles.

     After this interview, during which the attorneys and judge weed out the
wicked, the worthless and the wiseguys, the remaining thirteen are inducted
into the 'hall
of blame', and thus become a real, live decider of fate -- a jury. A dozen
of the well - chosen average (plus one spare - in case one of the others
either flips out or dies of boredom). Their thumbs are tested to see if they
can point up and down, then the case is called.
      Most people who have not yet been called in to assist on judgment day
have little or no idea as to the happenstance, procedures and general
wherewithal that transpires within the process of adjudication. Some people
live under the delusion that all court proceedings are of similar excitement
to an episode of "Perry Mason" or "L.A. Law."  This is simply not true. Most
actual courtroom dramas carry the same excitement level as a visit to some
distant cousin's tenth high school reunion. Either that, or a seminar for
Latin textbook editors-- either way it's going to be a long day -- or days,
as it likely turns out to be. It's not so bad really. The courtroom is
usually air-conditioned, the seats are soft and the lighting is somewhat
subdued in the jury box.  If you are really lucky, there may even be some
really good-looking person of the opposite sex within appreciable viewing
    The problem is that you aren't supposed to relax. As a juror, you need
to be keenly aware of every grindingly
tedious detail that is set forth before you by the Team of the Meticulous,
judge the validity of the Testimony of the Selfish, weed your way through
the Suppositions and Allegations of the Unscrupulous, in order to
discover---- The Truth. This is a difficult task, considering that there are
11 people sitting next to you who are just as opinionated (prejudiced) as
you are.   There may be times during deliberation that you may honestly
believe that one or more of your fellow jurors belong in the pokey with the
      The last time I actually sat in the penalty box  was on a drug
trafficking case in Chicago, down at the prestigious Cook county circuit
court located at  26th and California. The judge was a well-known (although
not at the time) rather outspoken member of the circuit court of Cook
county. The D.A.'s guy looked and acted like a tired short-order cook, while
the defense attorney distinguished himself as the king of the shark-faced
slimy weasels.
        The case was pretty simple.  An undercover cop bought drugs from the
defendant, radioed to the squad car around the corner, and boys in blue
picked him up.  Erle Stanley Gardner couldn't make much of this case, but
the defense attorney, Clarence Dimbulb, went to town on it. He objected to
everything, including his table in the courtroom. The defense stated that
the undercover officer took his eyes off of the defendant for five or six
seconds while radioing to the blue suits. In that amount of time, the
defendant could have run the 50 feet to a nearby alley and been replaced by
another man of similar description, wearing the same clothes and with an
identical scar on his hand. He stopped short of saying, "if the glove does
not fit, you must acquit."  Johnnie Cocoran couldn't have done much better.
    After two days of underwhelming proceedings, we were cast into the jury
room to decide the future.
    As I recall from about that visit, the jury rooms in the circuit court
in the City of Chicago closely resemble this inside of a pack of Marlboro
cigarettes. The walls in the room may have been white originally, but have
become tinted brown with the remnants of years of smoke filled
deliberations. The tile floor bears the marks of countless heels shuffling
around the floor, and judging by the burn marks on the linoleum, as many
leather-clad toes grinding out the remnants of spent cigarettes. A lone open
window faces the airshaft, this window also tinted brown with a coating of
tar that makes its glass surface as sticky as a post-it-note.  A dozen hard
wooden chairs and a long rickety old wooden table complete the decor, along
with a pervasive odor that leads the occupant to the impression that one is
standing inside the boardroom of Nicotine, Incorporated.
    Our first decision as a team was to select a forman from amongst
ourselves. Two of us campaigned for the job. My speech was poignant and
eloquent.  I said, "I believe that we have been shown enough evidence to
render a fair, impartial and unbiased adjucation to the court regarding this
defendant."    The other guy's speech was shorter. "I can get us out of here
in a couple hours", he said. We voted.  I got four votes, including one from
the winner. Then we voted on lunch (pizza vs. sandwiches) The sandwich crowd
won. After that, we got down to the case.It got pretty heated up in there,
and I was in the thick of it.

   We deliberated for three hours. I'd tell you in detail about what was
said in the jury room,  but I am not supposed to tell anyone about it. I
promised that to my therapist. All I can say is that I am SO glad it wasn't
a murder trial. We were stuck at 11-1 for over an hour. (Guess who was the
one dissenter.) All of the evidence told me that the guy was guilty. There
was a passionate plea for 'social' justice from some of the jurors, and that
swayed most of the touchy-feely crowd. I said that it was a criminal trial,
and that guilty people deserved guilty verdicts. That is why it is called
justice. But I caved in. We voted 'not guilty'. When we gave the verdict to
the court, the judge looked pretty steamed. He looked at us as if he was
going to say, "Is that the best you morons could do?"
    After the case was closed, the judge and council met us back in the
tobacco tank to give us some details that they couldn't tell us before.
Earlier in the week, our defendant had just been found guilty of armed
robbery (2nd offense) committed 2 months after he had been paroled from his
prior conviction. The drug dealing arrest came during his time on bail from
the robbery. The defendant's character witness was 'on loan' from Stateville
prison- where he had just been sent for a murder conviction.  The other
jurors looked at each other and shrugged it off. I was so irritated that I
couldn't speak. For the next 15 minutes the only sounds that issued forth
from my throat were a series of hisses and high-pitched squeaks.
     Jury duty. All this and more for ten bucks a day. It's not that bad
really, especially if you consider that it is the only way that you can get
a free lunch off the county without having to wear an orange jump-suit and
chrome bracelets. Besides that, it is not only your civic duty to make sure
that all defendants get a fair trial, but it is imperative that we keep all
lawyers under surveillance as much as possible. I define a civil lawyer as a
person who makes a personal fortune out of personal misfortune,  turning
your misery into his money. A criminal lawyer is redundant.  A bankruptcy
attorney charges you a fee in order to prove to your creditors that you are
broke. By that definition alone all lawyers are bankruptcy attorneys.  Don't
get me started.

Gotta go...... the judge says so.