Friday, July 7, 2017

Autism at Jury Duty

It's been more than a decade since I registered to vote, and only just recently has the country finally managed to call me to jury duty.  While my experience was a very short one, and I did not end up on a jury, I did manage to make some observations which I hope will be useful.

First, the experience was very disruptive to my schedule.  I was required to present myself before 7:45am, downtown at the courthouse.  This essentially required me to get up at 6am to beat the rush hour traffic.  This is much earlier than I am used to, and very unpleasant to boot.  I tried to mitigate the annoyance by laying out almost everything I needed beforehand: messenger bag, filled with snacks, books, water bottle with hydration aid, supplements, blanket, noise-canceling headphones, etc.  I stocked my tablet with episodes of the funny podcast I've been listening to, and made sure I had several time-waster phone games installed.  I then drove downtown, where the process of getting there was made smoother by their accommodations for all jurors, which included free parking and a free bus ride to near the courthouse.  Unfortunately, I hate city driving and I was completely unfamiliar with the bus line.

With the help of another potential juror I met near the parking lot, I was able to get to the courthouse, where they promptly started me through security.  I had to leave part of my keychain with security, unfortunately, as it had a multitool with an inch-long blade on it.  I... honestly think I'd have a lot of trouble hurting anyone with that, but I guess rules are rules.  I had to pick it up on the way out, and the fuss kind of upset me.  But I tried not the show it, because this day was going to be long enough without me crying at the door...

Once through security, I was directed toward the juror waiting room, which was an off-white, somewhat dilapidated affair with hundreds of chairs, a few side tables, a projector screen, and dozens of humming fluorescent lights.  (Exactly the kind of light that drives some autistic people to distraction and causes migraines, oh joy...)  Other than the side tables, the room could have passed for a lecture hall in school.  Prior to walking in, I was directed to check in and compete a survey by a polite but warm staffer.  She would turn out to be our general guide and information source.

I committed some civil disobedience with the survey.  It asked for my zip code and my gender.  I was fine giving them my zip code, but they only had two boxes for my gender, and I identify as neither, thanks.  More importantly than my personal preferences, though, this was an opportunity to stand up for a minority group.  So I wrote my own box on the survey, checked it, and identified it as "Third Gender."  It would perhaps have been most correct to write "Neither" or "Other" in my case, but as there are so many gender identities, I opted for the most easily understandable objection.

(For any confused parties, there is a huge difference between sex (one's physical parts) and gender (one's identity).  While my sex is female, as I have breasts and other female organs, my gender is "agender."  Effectively, I would like you to take all your stereotypes about male and female and keep them far away from me, thanks.  I am myself, the concepts and stereotypes of "female" and "male" shouldn't enter into it.  Generally I just handwave this fact and concept, but in such a staple part of our country's judicial system, I felt it best to stand up for other trans and third-gender people.  What's the government going to do anyway, waggle a disapproving finger at me?  Insist I take it again?)

After turning in the survey, I snagged one of the side-table seats near an electrical outlet, figuring I'd be happiest if I could make disgusted expressions and smiles at the wall, and not annoy or confuse any other jurors.  I could also thusly limit my visual input, which would help increase how long I could stand being in a room with hundreds of other people.  Unfortunately, this seat was also near a wall, so I got to experience how poor the soundproofing of the room was.  I kept hearing thuds, bangs, and possibly someone hammering in a nail somewhere.  Out came the noise-canceling headphones, which helped somewhat.  They helped even more as people filtered in and the noise level increased.

This was alongside much more patriotic things, like an explanation of the great seal, and a story about a Supreme Court justice going to jury duty. 

The room, as I mentioned, contained a projector screen.  Onto this was projected a looping slideshow, which contained a number of useful pieces of information, most notably the bathroom locations, the options at the kitchenette, the location of a snack shop, and the wifi password.  I snagged pictures of the wifi password, because this was a very slow slideshow.  At least 15 seconds passed in between slide transitions, maybe as much as half a minute.  And there were many, many slides.

Starting with this one. 

While some of the potential jurors (probably the more awake ones, thinking about it), clustered together to chat with all these strangers, many others, perhaps excessively tired, simply spaced themselves slightly apart and got out their phones and books and such.  I was somewhat surprised by how uncommunicative many of them were, but I guess being woken up early for a job you don't want to do might have something to do with that.

The official court business referred to people by their numbers, not their names.  At number 117, I'd assumed I'd be one of the last people called for attendance, but I was very wrong.  All told, the numbers went up to 450, each person raising their hand and saying "Here" loudly when called.  In some cases there were discrepancies, with multiple people having the same number due to scheduling conflicts.  And in quite a few cases, people simply missed their number called, and responded promptly when their name was called.

After attendance finished, there was a video for jury orientation.  It started off very well, by threatening the choir instead of preaching to them.  Apparently you can be jailed or fined for not showing up to jury duty.  The rest of the video was basically a crash course in the judicial system.  The video guide person was of African American heritage, which I appreciated.  I was also amused to note that apparently some courtrooms use TV screens to help the jurors see evidence, and the deliberation room may include a microwave for convenience.  Also, "enpaneled" is a word, apparently.

After the movie, I started getting really cold.  It's July, it's hot outside, but this room started to resemble a refrigerator after a couple hours.  I got out the blanket I'd brought and wrapped it around my legs, and that helped some.  Our guide told us that there were two judges in attendance, each with a relatively short load of cases.  Most cases are settled outside of court, so jurors aren't always (usually not) needed.  After an hour or so, the guide-staffer informed us that one of the judges had gotten through his queue without needing a jury, and she would keep us posted on the other.

Less than 15 minutes later, she returned to tell us that the other judge had also cleared his queue without the need for a jury, so we were clear to leave for the day, and did not need to report back tomorrow or any other time in the week.  So basically, I got very lucky.  I was able to go home within 5 hours and get started on my routine for the day. 

While I do not particularly look forward to this happening again, I also wasn't overly worried I would be drafted for an actual jury, either then or in the future.  The reason for this is my bachelor's degree in psychology. Apparently the general trend is to choose jurors with less education, and especially ones without any background in law and psychology.  "The better to influence you with, my dear," I guess.  My father has told me this, but so did the section on the court system in my classes.  I think that knowledge helped me be less stressed about the experience as a whole.  That, and if the poor suckers did choose me for a jury, I have the knowledge to avoid falling for some of their tricks, and the fluency to explain those tricks to my fellow jurors.  I wouldn't mind being on a jury so much, but it was a fairly stressful experience overall, and one I'm not eager to repeat.

My general takeaways from the experience:
  • Definitely prepare ahead of time like this time, and pack a second blanket in my bag.
  • 10+ 45 minute podcasts to listen to is not enough if jury duty is going to involve actual juries, bring more next time.
  • The court system is surprisingly civil to people that aren't accused of crimes.
  • Leave the multitool at home next time.
  • Jury duty is super boring when it's not being super stressful, and not autistic-friendly in the slightest.

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