As we sat in the courtroom waiting for jury selection, after listening to the eloquent and persuasive opening statements by the judge about democracy, our system of justice, what an honor –and yes, inconvenience – it is to serve on a jury, all those who’ve died on various battlefields from Gettysburg to Vietnam to Iraq so we could have this system that “not even England has,” it occurred to me that the only kind of case I would probably be disqualified from would be a drunk driving case.
Sure enough, that’s what it was. He looked to be about 25 and pleaded innocent to the charge.
Out of the forty people called into the courtroom, they call the first twelve up to take seats in the jury box. I’m number eleven. They’ve given us a questionnaire to examine, with 15 questions on it. The 1stis something along the lines of, “is there anything that makes you think you could not be impartial.” The rest were things like (and I’m paraphrasing) “Do you agree that a person is innocent until proven guilty?” “Do you drink alcohol or have you ever had a problem with drinking?” “Do you drive an automobile?” “Do you know anyone who has been convicted of a crime?” “Do you contribute or know anyone who contributes to organizations like Mothers Against Drunk Driving?” etcetera.
The first thing the judge asked us was our name, where we live, how long we’ve lived there, what we do for a living, do we have children? And have we ever been on a jury before? Of course I told him I’m an actor and that, yes, I’ve served.
Three people said they’d had friends – one girlfriend – who were killed by drunk drivers, and were dismissed immediately.
When it came time for me to answer the questions, I said I could answer “Yes” to several of them, except the first one, the one about not being impartial, and that I’d have to say I’m just not sure.
“And why is that, Mr. Morrison?” the Judge asked.
“I’m clean and sober for 36 years.”
“Is there any way you could compartmentalize and put aside your history with alcohol and your sobriety – congratulations by the way – in order to see this case and the evidence on it’s own merit?”
“Possibly, yes. But as I said, in the interest of rigorous honesty, from my head, not my heart, while trying not to answer from my own experience, which I think we’re required to do –“
“Yes,” he interjected. “Of course.”
“I’d have to say, it’s not a yes or no answer. I’m just not sure.”
“Thank you for your honesty, Mr. Morrison.”
The lawyer for the defense questioned us – he was curious if my experience with alcohol would get in the way of seeing the case objectively.
“No, it would not.”
Then the lawyer from the DA’s Office got up. She was nice, and seemed more experienced than the defense lawyer.
She asked about how we felt about the police, if we had ever been pulled over by them, had any bad experiences with cops or if we ever felt like we’d ever been mistreated by them. A few of us raised our hands. Discussed tickets, family members. She finally got to me.
“Of course I’m grateful for their service and protection, I appreciate the danger they face and have worked with several great cops over the years on various projects. At the same time, as any reasonable person is, I’m concerned about the lack of training some have received in terms of racial profiling and dealing with people of color.”
Did I mention that the young man on trial was Latino? I guess I forgot.
At any rate, she agreed that’s something “reasonable people” would be concerned about and moved on to the next person.
Then she started talking about our possible need to see video evidence of the crime, which we would not be able to do, and was wondering if we would be able to judge the case based on the testimony of the police officers on the stand. She went on to reference television shows like Law and Order and CSI and said, “I don’t know if you’ve seen those shows, most of us have, but it’s just not like that in real life.”
Then she looked at me and smiled.
“Mr. Morrison, you’re looking at me funny. Is there something on your mind?”
When she said that I realized that I was making kind of a strange face. You know the one: We make it when we can’t believe we’re actually hearing what we’re hearing and several layers of reality and unreality converge to form a feeling of jamais vu, seeing something for the first time but knowing you’ve experienced it before. My face was a frozen mask of derealization. I didn’t know what reality was for a moment.
“Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to- I’m not looking at you funny on purpose. It’s just that- Well, I’ve been on those shows, and… You know, I’m not a lawyer, but I’ve played one on TV.”
Everyone laughed, including her, but especially the judge. For some strange reason, that probably only other actors will understand, I thought I was a shoo-in for a spot on the jury.
Minutes later, when they were asked by the judge something-or-other about weighing in, the Lady DA Lawyer dismissed me. The Judge thanked me and I walked out.
My last thought as I left was about all the times I've been rejected for a role I auditioned for and how it’s impossible to escape that feeling. Like I said, derealization.
I have a feeling that kid is innocent. I hope they find that.