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the juror muzzle – an unnatural act

Imagine working at NASA and reviewing the shuttle disaster. Imagine you go in everyday for 5 hours of meetings straight. You get a 10 minute break every hour and a half. And for each hour and a half, your job is to just sit there and listen to everything everyone else says. You can speak if you can't hear someone. But you cannot talk for any other reason. You are not permitted to ask someone to clarify something. You cannot ask why they're not bringing up some aspect that seems relevant to you that would surely make this a whole lot easier for everyone. You can't ask someone to go get one more piece of information. You are permitted to just listen and take notes. That is your sole role during these meetings.

You also don't know exactly what questions you're going to have to answer in the end, so what sort of notes do you take?

Often for two to three days in a row, you will listen to the same two people speak. They will get into the details of an issue that you thought remained only for the nanotechnologists. And then you will discover there are conservative nanotechnologists and liberal nanotechnologists. There are ones who hedge and squirm and there are ones who paint grand pictures and then deny they painted grand pictures. And you get to decide who to believe when your area of expertise has never come close to rockets or the tensile strength of ultimatium cables.

You are one of nine "listeners." When you go on break, you stay with the listeners, which is not with the rest of the group. You cannot talk with the other listeners about what was said in the meeting. If you talk at all, you have to talk about something else. You remember those times when you've walked out of an important meeting and someone who was in there with you turned to you and said, "Gee, I wonder if it's going to rain tomorrow"? "Hello, where have you been?" is your response, spoken or not. And yet that is exactly what you and each of the listeners will do, because not talking is even more uncomfortable.

So you go to the meeting on Monday for 5 hours. Then you go on with your life - to your real job, home, family. You cannot talk with anyone about what you did or saw or heard. Maybe you tell yourself you're a spy in order to cope. You cannot look on the web to find answers to the thoughts the speakers didn't clarify enough for you. If you happen to see the news anywhere that starts talking about the event, you have to quickly turn it off.

And then you go in Tuesday for 5 more hours. And then Wednesday. . And next week. And the next.

Several times I wanted to stand up and ask a question or make a comment. Sometimes I even wanted to suggest a better argument or approach for the speaker - it didn't even matter which side they were on. I relied on my meditation skills to imagine seat belts around me and duct tape across my mouth. And this was just a 5-week civil case. No blood, guts, guns, bombs, espionage.

Even though I understand why it is done this way, I still believe that being on a jury is an unnatural act.

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