Sunday, April 1, 2007

Real Hot American Extreme Justice

Dear Friends, 

The April Hard Taco song, "Jupiter" is an homage to an actual Barnum and Bailey circus horse from the early part of the 20th century. Jupiter's act consisted of floating around the big top suspended from a large hydrogen-filled balloon. He was undoubtedly the first horse to accomplish this feat, and it is likely that he was also the last.
Booty call / Civic Duty Call 
I had the honor of sitting on my first jury last week. Anyone can be summoned for jury duty, of course, but they don't select just anybody to sit on the panel. Have you ever wondered if you have the grit to disburse real extreme justice? Let's find out. I'll give you the facts and you decide the verdict. 

Please note that none of the names have been changed, since all of this is now part of the public record. However, if any of the named parties prefer that I give them pseudonyms, please threaten me in some way, and I will be happy to change them.

The defendant, David Carden, was accused of driving while intoxicated.  On the evening of February 23rd, 2006, he met his accountant at Banfield's Bar and Grill to go over some back taxes. When their business concluded, the defendant consumed one "Jack and Coke", left the bar, and drove towards his brother's house on the north side of town. A couple of miles into the trip, he dropped a lit cigarette on the floor of his car. When he bent down to pick it up, he drove off the road and totaled his car. 

An experienced police officer arrived on the scene a few minutes later and ran the standard battery of sobriety tests. The defendant was able to successfully walk a straight line and stand on one foot counting backwards. However, when asked to say the alphabet (forwards, mind you), Mr. Carden got stuck at Q, and then skipped to W, X, Y, Z. He was brought back to the police station and given a formal Breathalyzer test (the "Datamaster 2000"), which he failed. 

If you're thinking, "Guilty! Guilty! Guilty!" you might have what it takes to be a U.S. Citizen. Nevertheless, I suggest you hear the rest of the evidence before lurching to conclusions like a total idiot. 

Galloping Through the W-2 
Jeffrey Strauss, the defense attorney, called only one witness besides the defendant himself. I can affirm that what follows is more or less a verbatim transcript, because I was taking notes. 

"The defense calls Robert Binang to the stand. This man is my client's accountant. However, I will have you know that this man goes by many other names." 

With that, Mr. Binang took the oath and sat in the witness chair. Mr. Strauss then launched into a series of questionably relevant questions. 

"Mr. Binang. Is it true that you also go by the name... FARM ANIMAL?" 
  "Yes, it's true." 

"And Mr. Binang, is not also true that some people call you... STALLION?" 

  "Yes, sir." 

"And finally, Mr. Binang, is it not true that most people at Banfield's know you simply as...PONY?" 

  "It's true." 

The rest of the examination made no reference to these monikers, whatsoever. I wasn't really paying close attention, though, because the mention of accounting reminded me that I had not yet filed my own taxes this year. Instead of dissecting the testimony, I just kept sizing up The Farm Animal, wondering how much he would charge per hour to go over my deductions. 

Seeing How it Goes  
The most remarkable moment of the trial came during the defense's closing arguments. Mr. Strauss walked back and forth in front of the jury,  insisting that the defendant's failure to properly recite the alphabet was not significant. Mr. Carden had, after all, passed the balance tests with flying colors, so he could not have been drunk. 

"I can't ask you to stand up and do these balance tests," Mr. Strauss told us, "but I invite you to say the alphabet and see how it goes." 

What? I looked around at my fellow jurors but no one else seemed to have caught that. Did he just ask us to say the alphabet... and see how it goes? Was he challenging us, the jury of this man's peers, to recite all 26 English letters in order, and determine for ourselves if this task constituted a reasonable measure of sobriety? 

Scratching Our Nails on the Chalkboard of Real Hot American Extreme Justice 

The jury reached a guilty verdict in under a minute. For the sake of appearances, we hung around in the jury room for another 10 minutes pretending that we were carefully delberating about the strengths of the Alphabet Defense. 

I have to say... I am convinced that if the defense attorney had come up with a memorable catch phrase, his client would still be free today. For future reference, Mr. Strauss, I suggest,"The alpha-bit... is some tough shit. You must acquit!" 
With warmest regards,