Grand Jury (Day 19) Good People

Damn that Sanipac. Technological advances have brought us commingling, so we no longer have to sort our recyclables. Paper, cans (unflattened and still with labels), plastic — it can all be thrown into the same bin for automated sorting later. This ups the level of recycling and makes everybody’s life easier. But it makes it harder to tell the good people from the bad people.

Unsorted recycling joins DVDs (no need to rewind) and those shopping cart islands the grocery stores place every ten feet in their parking lots. Back when we had to bring shopping carts back to the front door or risk another driver getting dinged by an errant cart in the lot, the good people were easy to spot. Now bad habits are either acknowledged and mainstreamed or hidden completely from view. A local comedian brought this unfortunate trend to my attention, specifically around smoking. He wondered how now high school boys can tell who the “easy girls” are. (The common wisdom when he was in school, he recounted, was “if they smoke, they poke.”)

What does this have to do with jury duty? As fate would have it, yesterday I saw a person who appeared before us a few hours earlier. He was smoking at a bus stop, looking much less innocent than when he came in to speak with us. Then tonight, I saw another person who had been called before us, also smoking. And, as strange as it sounds, earlier today there was a third “familiar face” on a downtown sidewalk (not smoking, in that case).

With each reunion, the impression came stronger to me: who we met in the room was different than who I saw on the street. One was more believable after seeing her when she didn’t expect to be seen. One was less believable. One was about the same.

Not to pick on smokers, but if we could allow smoking in our courtrooms, I think juries would have an easier time gauging a witness’s credibility. Some people need a cigarette to be comfortable, so what looks like a nervous tick (a.k.a. guilt) on the witness stand might nothing more than nicotine withdrawl. On the other hand, others display a certain bravado when they have a tobacco stick in their hand that shows off a whole side of them that’s hidden without it. Going to court is nerve-wracking; allowing participants in the system to take care of those nerves in the way that suits them best can sometimes speak volumes about their character.

People smoke to calm their nerves, to look cool, or to just be themselves. Not allowing that while a panel of their peers try to determine their believability or their character or their guilt — it makes everything harder on everyone.