Jury Duty – Lessons In Fact and Fiction

081223-N-8848T-530 GREAT LAKES, Ill. (Dec. 23, 2008) Legalman 1st Class Christie Richardson, a trial services legalman assigned to Region Legal Service Office Midwest makes an opening statement for the prosecution to a jury during a mock trial. Richardson was part of a legal team demonstrating the legal system for 22 Navy Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps (NJROTC) cadets from Chicago-area high schools. (Official U.S. Navy photo by Scott A. Thornbloom, Naval Service Training Command.)

The other night I settled down to watch a courtroom drama. In the story, defense attorneys in a gun violence case try to bribe a jury. As a writer of fiction, I know that authors get to construct a world of such extremes that few of us would want to live there. So it was with this movie. Both hero and heroine and the bad guy attorney set out to get what they could, double crossing each other to the tune of $15 million, which was the price for buying the jury’s verdict.

Let me tell you about my own experience of jury duty. While called several times, I’d never been selected before. So it was as a complete novice that I entered the jury room and met my fellow citizens who would rule on a drunk driving case.

The defendant aroused some compassion. She was a pharmacy student, and conviction could have ruined her career. But as the case unfolded, it became clear that she acted deliberately to try to deceive police. Taken to the police station for driving erratically after leaving a bar, she refused to take a breathalyzer test. She promised to take a (supposedly more accurate) blood test at a nearby hospital and submit the results. She knew that the level of alcohol in the bloodstream lessens after several hours and so she waited to go to the hospital. She did not realize that the hospital would note the exact time of the test, and report this to the police.

In the jury room, we jurors got acquainted. We worked in construction, the post office, and in real estate. We were young and old, homebodies and partygoers, and people who enjoyed a drink or two. We were not judgmental. But we had to be. We discussed the case carefully. We talked about our values. We talked about the importance of taking responsibility for one’s actions and for being honest. The young defendant had not injured or killed someone (though that was sheer luck) and so some of us struggled with the idea of hurting her future with a guilty verdict. In the end, we felt her lack of remorse and the fact that she’d tried to use her professional knowledge to escape the consequences of breaking the law must lead to a guilty verdict.

What I learned from my days as a juror was this: most people recognize what is right and what is wrong. Meet random strangers in a jury room and you’ll come out, as I did, full of hope for your fellow human beings. Still, criminal cases provide fodder for the writer. We have to create situations where characters do stupidmargaret-spence-5819_pp2-300x298 things. That’s because no one wants to read about perfect people. We
can all sympathize with a girl like our defendant, who was only as foolish as any of us. But we, her peers, found her guilty, because not to do so would make a mockery of the law.

Margaret Ann Spence

Margaret Ann Spence’s novel, Lipstick On The Strawberry, will be published by The Wild Rose Press in 2017. She blogs at http://www.margaretannspence.com.

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Feet of Clay, Example #1: Did Bob Dylan Sell Out in His Super Bowl Ad? Or What Is “True Cool?”

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“You can’t fake true cool,” said the Super Bowl ad starring Bob Dylan. No, but you can fake sincerity.

When I strolled by the television on Super Bowl Sunday, my biggest surprise was not the winning team. I was floored when I spotted Dylan extolling the virtues of the American auto industry. Here was a hero of my youth, hard-core counter-culture leader, patron saint of individualism and liberal politics, shilling for the business poster-child of America’s hyper-consumerism and waste.

I had heard his music as audio for ads, but I figured he didn’t have much control over that in the welter of copyrights and legalities. This was different. His music wasn’t featured. He appeared on camera praising Chrysler as a product worthy of purchase, superior to other cars because it’s American-made.

Discussions about his spot cover the gamut of opinion. Some people feel artists don’t have many options nowadays to make a living unless they include advertising. Or they think performing artists expand their audiences and fan bases in this manner. Others are puzzled and confused by this decision apparently in contradiction to his long-standing persona. The one says Dylan is just changing as he matures. Another that “Dylan stands as an image of integrity, independence, and authenticity,” so it’s good business sense to relate him to a produce.

Sorry. Not to me. Seems to me to be part and parcel of the traditional American attitude—make as much money as you can by any means possible so you can consume excessive amounts of everything. The ad also asks. “Is there anything more American than America?” and continues to eulogize our supposed virtues. An appeal to an unfortunate human value run rampant in many nations—xenophobic and parochial jingoism. Thinking your country is always the best and eternally right.

What’s the importance of “cool” anyhow, touted in the ad. The judgment about attitude, behavior, and style is a knee-jerk opinion important only to advertising copywriters and adolescents up to the age of thirty. “Cool” has no relationship to essential worth of a person or even a product or service, when compared to honest, intelligent, humorous, caring, beautiful, courteous, any number of qualities.

Also interesting, Chrysler isn’t even an American company any more. It is a consolidated subsidiary of Italian multinational automaker  I have no problem with that. I do have a problem with hypocrisy in advertising.

It looks like my high school social studies teacher came closer to predicting the future than others, including Bob Dylan or Chrysler. Mr. Balliat’s evidently revolutionary theory was that eventually all arguments pro and con about trade and manufacturing and business will shake themselves out, and those countries and groups of people who WANT to work in a particular industry and who are BEST SUITED for the responsibility will do so.

As for me, I own a Toyota.