Friday, January 25, 2013

Jury Duty

I'll be honest, I didn't really like myself today.  I was impatient, self-pitying, and overly critical of myself and others- all of the things I'm sure men can't stand about the female species.  As I tried to put my finger on what had gotten my panties in such a knot, I realized it wasn't just one thing.  It has been several little things piling up, culminating with this suffocating inversion.  It feels like the pressure cookers I used to see my mom cook with when I was a kid-  boiling and building pressure until the steam has no other choice than to come out whistling wildly.  A few weeks ago when I needed a break, I explained to Dennis that at the end of the day, he gets to clock out and leave the office.  Mothers, on the other hand, never really get to "clock out."  Even when our spouses are home, we're always "at the office."  I guess I've just been at the office too long.  But really, there's no good excuse.

I realized I never wrote about my participation in jury duty so I thought that would be a good thing to help me unwind and let the steam escape a little.  Writing usually does that for me.

Our county has an interesting way of summoning jurors.  Once we are summoned, we must call in every evening for a full month to see if we are needed the following day.  I was summoned and then selected to sit in on a jury for a what was a somewhat high-profile case for this area.

It was fascinating, to say the least, and I was grateful to have been able to have participated in what lies at the heart of the American dream: the right to an impartial jury.

Listening to the prosecution and the defense banter back and forth, almost like two children arguing over a toy firetruck, was fascinating.  The most intriguing part was when the defendant, who was representing himself, testified on his own behalf.  He had to act as both the attorney and as the witness simultaneously, so he would pose a question in second person, and then answer his own questions in first person.

What was the most unsettling for me was feeling myself sway back and forth as each side presented their case.  I knew what they were doing- it was the art of persuasion and manipulation at it's finest- and yet I felt powerless against it.  Surely both attorneys had been schooled extensively on persuading a jury and yet there I was, feeling like mental putty in their hands as they spoke.  It was mind-spinning and completely exhausting.  The one thing each of the jurors said each morning was how utterly drained they felt when they went to bed at night.

It was interesting to see the bond that the jurors formed over the course of the trial.  We were given strict instructions that we were not to discuss the case with each other or with anyone else until after deliberation.  What was more interesting, was trying to come up with conversation with 11 other perfect strangers when we were forbidden to discuss the one thing that had brought us all together.  We spent several hours together, literally locked up in the jurors room as we waited out delays of every type, and they all turned out to be lovely people.  I was sad when it was all over, knowing I would likely never see any of my juror friends again.

It wasn't until we were given our instructions by the judge on our deliberation that I felt my stomach tie up in a knot.  This man's future was lying in our hands- 12 inexperienced people, practically plucked off the street- who had to take this information and render a verdict on this man's fate.

After three and a half hours of deliberation, we found the defendant "not guilty," almost entirely based on reasonable doubt.

We were forbidden as jurors to do any research on the defendant or the case until after the verdict was rendered.  We could only use the information given to us in the courtroom, in the form of testimonies and evidence, to reach our verdict.  As I've learned more about the case and the defendant, I've struggled as I've wondered if we did the right thing.  And yet I know that that one tiny phrase, "beyond reasonable doubt" is what makes our criminal justice system so great- so American.  Even though I have serious doubts about whether or not he was truly innocent of the crime, he was protected under the shield of reasonable doubt.  And I suppose that's the way it should be.

What an amazing criminal justice system we have here in the United States.   Such incredible trust they place on the lay citizens who comprise the jury.  This trust is what I think makes our country so unique.  In other countries I've lived in, you either knew or you didn't- you were either of importance or you were of little consequence.  And yet here were people from all different backgrounds, educations (or lack of), and socioeconomic statuses, coming together for a common purpose.  With each passing year, I find myself more and more proud to call myself an American.

1 comment:

Cher said...

that would be a really interesting experience! nice reflections on it