Robert J. Sawyer

Hugo and Nebula Award-Winning Science Fiction Writer

Page proofs and Jurors

by Rob - September 16th, 2009.
Filed under: Illegal Alien.

Spent part of the afternoon going through the page proofs for Penguin Canada’s new editions of The Terminal Experiment and Illegal Alien.

Illegal Alien is a courtroom drama with an extraterrestrial defendant. While looking at the proofs, I was pleasantly reminded of a bit of business from the book (first published in 1997) that I’d completely forgotten writing:

At nine a.m. the next morning, Dale and Frank entered Judge Pringle’s chambers. Linda Ziegler was already there, as were juror number 209 — a pudgy white woman of forty-one — and a man Dale had seen around the courthouse over the years but didn’t know. A moment later, Judge Pringle entered, accompanied by a stenographer. Pringle waited for the stenographer to get set up, then said, “Mr. Wong, will you please introduce yourself to the others?”

“Ernest Wong, representing Juror 209.”

“Thank you,” said the judge. “Let the record show that also present are Ms. Ziegler for the People, and Mr. Rice for Mr. Hask, who is not here. Also present with my permission is Dr. Frank Nobilio, American delegate to the Tosok entourage. Now, Juror 209, good morning to you.”

“Good morning, Judge,” said Juror 209, her voice nervous.

“Okay,” said Judge Pringle, “Juror 209, your attorney is here. Feel free to stop me anytime you want to consult with Mr. Wong, and Mr. Wong, of course anytime you wish to interpose an objection or make an inquiry, you are entitled to do so.”

“Thank you,” said Wong.

“Now, Juror 209, some questions have been raised.” Pringle held up a hand, palm out. “I’m not saying you’ve done anything wrong, but when questions are raised relating to juror conduct or juror impaneling, the appellate law here in California requires me to make an investigation, so that’s what we’re doing. Okay? Okay. You were asked to fill out a questionnaire prior to serving on this jury, correct?”

“That’s right.”

“Did you fill out the questionnaire truthfully?”

“Objection!” said Wong. “Calls for self-incrimination.”

Judge Pringle frowned. “Very well. Juror 209, we have a problem here. Question 192 on the jury questionnaire asked if you had ever seen a flying saucer. Do you recall that question?”

“I don’t recall a question using that term, no, Your Honor.”

Judge Pringle looked even more irritated. “Well, let me read the question to you.” She rummaged on her desk, looking for the questionnaire. Linda Ziegler rose to her feet, her copy in hand. Pringle motioned for her to bring it forward. The judge took the sheaf of papers, flipped through it until she found the appropriate page, and read, “`Have you ever seen a UFO?’ Do you recall that question.”


“You recall it now,” said Pringle.

“I’ve always recalled it — but you asked me about flying saucers, not UFOs.”

Pringle was getting more annoyed by the minute. “What’s the difference?”

“A UFO is an unidentified flying object. By definition, it’s something the nature of which you don’t know.”

“And you put on your survey that you’d never seen a UFO.”

“That’s right.”

“The Court has received a letter from a member of the Bay Area chapter of MUFON. That’s the … the –“

“The Mutual UFO Network,” said Juror 209.

“Yes,” said Pringle. “A member of the Bay Area chapter of the Mutual UFO Network, saying that you were a speaker at one of their meetings about eight years ago. Is that true?”

“Yes. I lived in San Rafael back then.”

“What was the subject of your talk?”

“My abduction experience.”

“You were kidnapped?” said Pringle.

“Not that kind of abduction. I was taken aboard an alien spacecraft.”

Judge Pringle visibly moved away from the woman, shifting her weight on her chair. “Taken aboard an alien spacecraft,” she repeated, as if the words had been unclear the first time.

“That’s correct, Your Honor.”

“But you specified on your questionnaire that you had never seen a UFO.”

“And I never have. What I saw was wholly identified. It was an alien spaceship.”

“Alien — as in from another world?”

“Well, actually, I believe the aliens come from another dimension — a parallel time track, if you will. There’s a lot of good evidence for that interpretation.”

“So you’re making a distinction between a UFO — something unknown — and an alien spaceship?”


“Surely you’re splitting hairs, Juror 209.”

“I do not believe so, ma’am.”

“You felt completely comfortable denying having ever seen a UFO on your jury questionnaire?”


“But surely the spirit of the question –“

“I can’t comment on the spirit of the question. I simply answered the question that was asked of me.”

“But you knew what information we were looking for.”

“With all due respect, Your Honor, it says right on the questionnaire, it says — may I see that? May I see the questionnaire?” Pringle handed it to her. “It says right here, right at the top, it says, `There are no right or wrong answers. Do not try to anticipate the answers likely to get you placed on or removed from the jury panel. Simply answer the questions as asked truthfully and to the best of you knowledge.'”

Pringle sighed. “And you felt what you gave was a truthful answer?”

“Objection!” said Wong. “Self-incrimination.”

“All right,” said Pringle. “Did you –“

“No, I don’t mind answering,” said Juror 209. “Yes, I felt my answer was truthful.”

“But you know in court we want the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.”

“Forgive me, Your Honor, but it’s been quite clear throughout this case that you want nothing of the kind. I’ve seen Mr. Rice, there, and Mrs. Ziegler, cut off all sorts of answers because they were more than either of them wanted the jury to hear. By every example I’ve ever seen, the Court wants specific answers to the narrow, specific questions posed — and I provided just that.”

“Did you have a special reason to want to be on this jury?”

“Objection!” said Wong. “Self-incrimination again.”

“All right, all right,” said Pringle. “Juror 209, I don’t mind telling you I’m extremely disappointed in you. As of this moment, you’re dismissed from the jury panel.”

“Please don’t do that,” said Juror 209.

“You’ve given me no choice,” said Pringle. “Just be happy that I’m not finding you in contempt. Deputy Harrison will take you home. We’ll try to get you there before the press gets wind of this, but I suspect they’ll be all over you by this evening. I cannot order you to be silent, but I do ask you to please consider the impact any statements you might make to the media will have. All right? You’re dismissed.” Pringle sighed, then turned to the lawyers. “We’ll move up the appropriate alternate juror. I’ll see you in the courtroom in” — she looked at her watch — “twenty minutes.”

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