Penalty Fazed
I've always believed I have the makings of a fine trial lawyer.
After all, I'm a pretty good speaker, a passionate advocate for my pet causes, and utterly unfazed by controversy of any sort. Aside from the fact that I'm not particularly analytical, objective, or mindful of details and am extremely emotional and likely to burst into noisy, public tears at the drop of a hat, I think I'd be an absolutely stellar addition to the Massachusetts Bar. I even toyed with the idea of going to law school at one time, and if I hadn't nearly flunked out of college and had maybe thought about studying a little for the LSATs, I am quite sure I would have a Harvard Law diploma hanging on my wall even as we speak.

Unfortunately for our judiciary, however, I never did make it to law school; thus, my entire legal education consists of two paralegal courses, a stack of dog-eared courtroom potboilers piled next to my bookcase, and an encyclopedic knowledge of every facet of the first O.J. trial. To add insult to injury, in spite of my highly acclaimed appearance as Angry Juror Number Twelve in a recent community theater production of Twelve Angry Jurors, I've never even been selected to sit on a jury.

I have been called for jury duty a couple of times, and, unlike the majority of my friends - some of whom actually changed residences to avoid serving - I never failed to appear at the Suffolk County Courthouse, eager to fulfill my civic obligation with great enthusiasm and unwavering conviction. Alas, in each instance my service was not required (the cases settled so quickly I didn't even get to sit in the box to be voir-dired by crafty defense attorneys) and I was summarily dismissed with the thanks of the court.


Because I don't really know anyone who's served on a jury, I've always had a morbid curiosity about the goings-on behind that locked door and was, therefore, quite excited to tune into a new ABC documentary series called In the Jury Room, which takes the audience behind the scenes for actual jury deliberations during a real trial. I was thrilled at the prospect of witnessing justice in action! Twelve ordinary citizens would be grappling with the intricacies of a death penalty murder case, weighing the rule of law against good old-fashioned American values, until, ultimately, the wisdom of the common man would prevail and justice would inevitably triumph.

I was aghast to discover how unwise the common man happens to be.

Granted, it was only a one-hour TV show, heavily edited for time and content, but, even so, it shocked me to see how little thought some of the jurors actually gave to the penalty they sought to impose. Death? Sure, why not? shrugged the plump, rosy-cheeked Midwestern grandmas who sat in the jury box and dismissed another person's life with a scoff and an eye-roll. Next?

I guess it stands to reason. Our Constitution gives me the right to trial by a jury of my peers. My peers? I hate most of my peers! I don't even particularly like myself, and if I were on trial for my life I sure as hell wouldn't want me on my jury, let alone anyone who could be considered my peer!        

After all, my  peers have turned telemarketing into a multibillion dollar industry.

My  peers have video screens installed in the dashboards of their minivans so they won't miss the game on their way home from church.

My  peers collect Hummels and Beanie Babies and trample little kids in Wal-Mart on Christmas Eve just to grab the last George Bush Fighter Pilot Action Figure off the shelf.

And forty percent of my so-called "peers" still believe that Saddam Hussein was personally responsible for the 9/11 attacks and, when challenged, simply huff, "Well, you can't prove that he wasn't."

No, and you can't prove that little green men from Mars weren't either.

Oh, and my peers also believe little green men live on Mars.

I used to support the death penalty, if not in practice than certainly in theory. People do horrible things to other people, I reasoned, and if the death penalty could be administered fairly it would be an appropriate punishment for the likes of Ted Bundy,  Kenneth Lay, and Hannibal Lecter. And if a member of my family were murdered, not only would I want the murderer to die, I'd want him tortured, burned alive, and then killed again. Slowly.

And that's precisely why I wouldn't be allowed to be on that jury. Because my judgment would be understandably compromised by my thirst for revenge. I'd want so desperately to believe I was taking action against my loved one's killer there's no way I'd be able to remain neutral. An independent panel of citizens is supposed to be more objective. They’re not supposed to be swayed by emotion. They are supposed to examine the evidence, give thoughtful consideration to the facts, and render an impartial verdict.

But no one is impartial. A jury of my peers would be as spiteful, vindictive, petty, and prejudiced as I am. And, while I can't off the top of my head think of a better means of dispensing justice than our current system, I do think you have to take every verdict with a grain of salt. If for no other reason than once or twice we might just make a mistake. I don't think there are enough appeals courts in the world to guarantee that some poor schlump in Texas won't find himself straddling old Sparky simply because Billy Ray Redneck watched one too many Chuck Norris movies and doesn't seem to grasp the concept that death is certain but verdicts never are.

Still not convinced? Fine. Just ask yourself this: if, through some horrific chain of coincidences beyond your control you were to end up on trial for your life, would you really want your fate left in the hands of someone who would vote you off the planet without a second thought but would agonize for days as to whether or not to blow $199.99 on a commemorative Elvis plate from the Franklin Mint?

Thank you, ladies and gentlemen.

I rest my case.