There comes a point in a man’s life, as he sits in a courtroom awaiting a general court-martial, when he must ask how he found himself in this situation. I recently asked that very question. Fortunately, for myself, I was not the accused. Unfortunately, for the accused, I was tasked with determining his fate. This was regrettable for him since I do not have a particularly long attention span.
Defense Attorney: …and as you can see, your honor, this eyewitness testimony and DNA evidence clearly proves my client is innocent.
Me (thinking): Why did those castaways bring all that luggage if it was only a three hour tour? Oh look a bird…
If you ever get the opportunity to sit a court-martial, you should definitely jump at the chance, that way maybe I won’t have to do it again; you will also be reminded of the old adage that NAVY stands for “Never Again Volunteer Yourself.”
After what felt like a year (but in retrospect was only a couple of days) of preliminary preparations, the trial began bright and early on Wednesday morning. Twelve of us showed up in our whites and were ready to do… well, something. For the past two days we had been stuck in a deliberation room with a coffee maker that seemed incapable of brewing a pot of coffee in less time than it took to build the space shuttle and doing nothing. In hindsight we shouldn’t have been so eager to leave the deliberation room.
Have you ever watched JAG? It’s a courtroom drama series based on the Naval legal system starring actors far more attractive than anyone actually in the Navy, dealing with high profile cases. All the lawyers are former Navy SEALs, pilots, or other exciting specialties who decided that their real passion, apparently, was law. Well this was nothing like JAG. First of all this was not a high profile case. Don’t get me wrong, this guy was accused of some very serious stuff… but he wasn’t accused of anything interesting like going AWOL to save his brother from a gang which he turned on because they were selling drugs to special needs kids and as a result was placed in the Federal Witness Protection Program and then joined the Navy and is a Medal of Honor recipient SEAL just trying to help his family before he deploys to Iraq for his fifth tour. Additionally the lawyers definitely weren’t Catherine Bell and whoever played Raab; they weren’t former SEALs, pilots, or Marines. It turns out that the officers of the Judge Advocate General are just lawyers in white uniforms… it’s like TV has been lying to me this whole time.
When the court was ready the bailiff led us into the courtroom and announced, “All rise.” In our “jury area” or whatever it’s called they had kindly provided pitchers of water and styrofoam cups. Something you never think about is how loud it can be to pour water into a cup. This is because you have never filled a styrofoam cup in a courtroom. It has roughly the same sound and decibel level as flushing an airplane toilet over a hi-fi surround sound.
Judge: In the case of the United States vs. Seaman Timothy Floggington the accused is charged with the following violations of (SLOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOSH!) I understand that the accused has agreed to (SLOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOSH!) is that correct?
What is amazing is that while we were over there sounding like a herd of elephants snorking down water at Niagara Falls, neither the judge nor the lawyers even broke stride. They just kept on asking questions and making statements. There must be a class on these circumstances in law school.
Over the course of the trial we listened to some of the most uncomfortable questions asked to total strangers about their intimate lives, hygiene habits, texting history and every bad decision they had ever made in their life. I can’t even watch The Office without cringing and this was happening right in front of me.
Every so often the judge would dismiss us from the court room so that he could discuss something with the lawyers or maybe so they could make fun of us, who knows? So we would head back to the deliberation room and check on the coffee maker to see if any of us would be drinking coffee today. To keep our hopes up it would gurgle and bubble and every so often some brown liquid would drip into the pot. It’s entirely possible that it is still, to this day, working on that pot of coffee. When they were done making fun of us the bailiff would bring us back into the room where we would return to the trial from hell.
After all the evidence was presented we were excused to the deliberation room to confer. The deliberations are highly sensitive and we were instructed not to discuss them with anyone… so I won’t, partly because I respect our legal system but mostly because I do not want to experience our legal system again, especially from the defendant’s seat.
In the end after much deliberation, we reached the verdict and recommended the death penalty for whoever was in charge of installing the coffee machine. We also reached a verdict in the case and delivered it to the court where there were some sighs, tears and cheering as well, mostly from us, because we could now go home.