Cannabis, Candor, & Courtroom Drama

“Thank you for your candor, Mr. Lay-zer.” the judge intoned, and with that I knew my fate had been determined.

It was around 2005 and I was in my 13th month of jury duty. At that time, federal jury duty called for 10 days of actual service or one year of being “on call”. The clock, however, did not begin until you had actually been called and served the first day. I had, by the time this call was issued been “on call” for 13 months. It felt like a side hustle at an occasional $15 dollars a day and a lot of worry and schedule-shifting.

This jury call was unusual. I was accustomed to reporting to a jury pool of 25-30 people, but when I had surrendered my phone for the day and passed the metal detector, I entered a juror’s room packed with 80-100 bleary souls.

There aren’t many comforts in a jury room, but there is coffee and I wonder about that. I mean, you’re pretty well limiting how long a court session can be when you immerse the jury pool (note the choice of words there) with java. Someone’s gonna have to pee or they’re gonna get pissed. Of course, it could increase the alacrity of the jury’s deliberations and save a little time there. Comme-çi comme-ça.

This was a big trial from out of town, moved to Lexington because of local notoriety in Northern Kentucky/Cincinnati. Thus, a large jury pool was summoned.

I gathered from the voir dire, the two defendants were accused of possessing a semi-truck full of marijuana, intending to informally retail same. I learned after the trial, that one of the defendants, instead of making that “one phone call” to his lawyer, placed the call to his girlfriend who was just then firing up the grill for a celebratory cook-out at their apartment homestead. Being an adaptable, quick-thinking gal, she ran to freezer and removed several chunks of cold cash and surplus inventory from the semi and employed them to get the charcoal started. The police arrived soon enough to preserve some evidence but not soon enough to prevent an escape of intriguing fumes. I understand attitudes improved and vocabulary decayed in Cincinnati for about a week.

Uh…that last paragraph…

…if you scrambled all the words in it and subtracted every other letter and divided by two and had a beer and squinted real tight, it might spell; “urban legend”…or not……oh, wow!

Whatever.

In court, the judge began the day by wishing the jury a “good morning” and then turning to the attorneys and wishing them the same. The prosecuting attorney, a local fellow, returned those good wishes. The defense attorney did as well, adding that being from Cincinnati, he admired the quaintness of such civility as a “good morning” in a courtroom. I, having just interpreted his comment as being called a hick, made a mental note that if I ever was caught with a semi-truckload of marijuana and made to miss a real interesting cook-out, his would not be my first phone number to call, even if it was a cute number.

I glanced at the judge and thought I caught a flicker of “Well, bless your heart and fuck you” in his visage.

I felt we were simpatico.

Actors are often foolish that way.

Voir dire began.

The judge, in order to expedite the process, decided to ask some basic winnowing questions to the group. Useful queries like;

  • Is anyone here not a US citizen?
  • Does anyone here not speak English?
  • Does anyone here not know how many fingers are on their left hand?
  • Does anyone here not have a pulse?

We handled those pretty well as a group.

Then he asked a hard one – I wanna be sure I get it right;

“Does anyone here think…let me say this right…uh…marijuana is illegal…should it…maybe it…well…uh…lemme just say it. Does anyone here think marijuana should be legal?”

I raised my arm, confident in the belief that it would be lost in the forest of other raised arms.

My arm was a specimen tree, alone in a sunny field, commanding the attention of every eye in the universe.

<< A side note, if I may. >>

I had determined early on in the jury process that the best way to repel being selected for a panel was to look as much like a 2005 Republican as I could. I showed up every day dressed in gray slacks, blue blazer, light blue Oxford button-down shirt, double-Windsor-knotted tie (red, white, and blue foulard), short hair, and glasses…and flag pin. If I coulda found a place to slap on a flag decal, I woulda. I think it kept me out of a few juries, but it made me the foreman of almost all of the juries for which I was selected. Comme-çi comme-ça.

This side note is only important to truly depict what the judge saw when his eyes followed my specimen tree arm down to the rebellious source that raised it.

<< End of side note. >>

Where were we?

Oh yes.

My arm was a specimen tree, alone in a sunny field, commanding the attention of every eye in the universe.

The person in the seat next to mine subtly adjusted his seating choice by two to the right.

The judge gazed, open-mouthed, in my general direction. I suspect he was reconsidering the accuracy of his “good morning” greeting.

An exchange of information ensued.

“Your juror number, sir?”

“Juror number 73, your honor.”

“(Consulting his print-out) Mister……Lay-zer?”

“Close enough your honor.”

“Mr. Lay-zer, did you understand the question?”

“I think I did, your honor.”

“So…you are saying you believe that possessing, selling, and using marijuana should be legal?”

“I do, your honor. I have been in the alcohol retail business for over thirty years. It seems to me that it would be hypocritical for me to believe marijuana should not be legal.”

“I see…”

A longish pause before the judge continued; “Believing as you do, do you believe you could render an impartial verdict based on the facts to be presented at this trial?”

“I think I could, your honor. You are asking me to make a decision based on the law as it is, not as I think it should be. I think I’m capable of that.”

“Hm-m-m-m. Well, thank you for your candor, Mr. Lay-zer.”

I knew then I was about to get the rest of the day off.

I made another mental note. If I ever was caught with a semi-truckload of marijuana and made to miss a real interesting cook-out, I would not want this particular judge.

BUT, if I was the taxpayer lookin’ to keep juries fair and impartial…I might.

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