Friday, January 18, 2008

Doing My Duty

This past Tuesday, I experienced my first-ever round as a member of a jury. And I must confess: I actually enjoyed it! It truly gave me quite an appreciation for the justice system, and just a little more faith in my fellow man, and it reaffirmed my belief that just about anyone can receive a fair trial in this country. The jury consisted of people from just about all walks of life, from blue-collar types who talked at length about bass-fishin', to young professionals, to established business-types, to, well, me.

I made the mistake of being the first person to say anything after about a minute of silence and blank stares when deliberation began, and was thus elected unanimously as the foreman. That's what I get for wearing "work clothes" instead of jeans and a sweat-shirt, I guess. Truth be told, however, I sorta, kinda, maybe-just-a-little-bit wanted to be foreman, so I shouldn't complain. Although beyond the official duties of a foreman (which consist entirely of signing my name to and announcing the verdict, and composing all written communication with the judge during deliberation), the rest of the jurors seemed to implicitly imbue me with some sort of managerial responsibility as well. I like to think that I performed those duties well, giving proper weight to each juror's own beliefs, clearly discussing all the facts that had been presented during the trial, and gradually brining everyone around to a unanimous verdict (there were dissenters for a while).

And to make this post more than a dear-diary story, which I generally try to avoid on this blog, I did have an interesting insight during the deliberations. We live in a paradoxically non-judgmental society. We constantly make judgments about people and their characters when it matters the least (e.g., a white person getting nervous when a minority walks by), whereas we are reluctant to do so when it actually matters. Case in point, it is interesting to me that the judge must very explicitly instruct the jury that, yes, we are supposed to make character judgments about witnesses, the defendant, the plaintiff, etc. More than that, we must do so if we are to render a fair trial to the defendant. Even with this very clear instruction, certain members of the jury were clearly averse to doing so, when the defendant's character (or more to the point, the lack thereof) was clearly pivotal in our ultimate decision. Toward the end of deliberations, when we were essentially deadlocked 11-1, I had to carefully (and as un-offensively as I could manage) spell out this very principle, and the evidence that illustrated the defendant's character, before we were able to sway the holdout.

As a final note, I now understand why juries, after selection, are instructed to avoid any and all information about the case prior to the trial (in my case, there was a delay of about 1 month between jury selection and trial): after the trial, I googled the defendant and found this article . Turns out that the defendant, Mr. Williams in the article, was actually arrested for a separate crime, of a similar nature, after he committed the crimes for which we were trying him. Now I understand why the detective was being so coy on the witness stand. And had we known this (obviously, this would have been inadmissible in court since he had not gone to trial for that offense yet), we probably would have rendered a stiffer verdict than we did.



Anonymous Marty said...

Hang 'em high!

11:38 AM  

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