As I mentioned in a previous post, I have spent the past five days on a criminal-trial jury in D.C. superior court. In some cities, lawyers, journalists, and people involved in politics might be weeded out in the jury-selection process. The demographics of D.C. are such that most make their way through. It's actually quite hard to be excused from jury service here.
Deciding someone's fate in a criminal trial is horrible, and enlightening—or so I say based on my three such experiences over the years, all in D.C. At some point I may discuss the civic aspects of the experience. For the moment, with this case behind me, I mention just one linguistic point: that of the ass baton.
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Through the examination and cross-exams in this case, attorneys for both sides were careful to make sure that even very familiar terms were spelled out to remove the last bit of ambiguity. "When you say the car was going at a 'high rate of speed,' what do you mean?" "Your report says you 'swabbed for DNA.' What are the steps in that process?" "You testified that only one of the car doors was open after the crash. How do you know that for sure?"
There was one exception, the term I kept hearing as "ass baton." At one crucial point in this case, a white (as it happened, and young and ostentatiously fit) police officer was chasing a black (as it happened, and older and heavier) suspect down a dark alley, on foot. The policeman soon tackled the defendant from behind. What happened next?