Civic Responsibility Creates a Heavy Burden

Dark Skies Episode 04 (20:51)

My case is now over so we have been released from “The Admonition.” This is the instruction that precludes you from talking to anyone about the case until after the verdict has been rendered. I found it somewhat interesting that it applied to even fellow jurors (until we began deliberations) in a criminal trial. Even after we began deliberations, the judge asked that we not discuss the trial with fellow jurors unless the entire jury was present. I can see the rationale for it, but I do think they are being a bit too black and white about the matter. As I’ve been forced to admit time and again, life is comprised of shades of gray.

We had to decide if the suspect was guilty of child molestation. I can’t really think of a more heinous crime. To me murder makes sense in certain situations. Not so with child abuse/molestation. But you can’t convict based upon an accusation. So we had our work (and our stress) cut out for us. Almost none of the jurors were sleeping well, including myself. Although I’m far from certain my restlessness had much to do with the trial. That’s simply the way of the Arioch. Le sigh.

So how would you like to have the fate of another man resting in your hands? Having to decide the future of someone? Whatever you decide, there’s a chance you’re wrong. If you vote Not Guilty and he is indeed a child molester, there’s no crime with a higher recidivism rate. If he’s innocent and you vote Guilty, you’ve just condemned an innocent man to one of the worst fates society has to offer: being locked up and branded a pedophile. If he survives prison, he will always be labeled with the stigma and have to register as a sex offender. For something he didn’t even do. Do you still want to be a juror?

I have to admit that it was an incredible learning experience. And regardless of how much the State dismissed courtroom dramas, they aren’t that far off. Yes, they skip over 95% of the proceedings. But what they do contain is more or less accurate. Well, maybe not the DNA stuff. They do stretch the science just a tad. Our case did have a DNA expert who came in to testify about why there wasn’t DNA evidence to use against the suspect. I found it rather absurd. So did the defense. And the witness. I guess the State attorney felt she had to counter the “Law & Order effect.”

That may have been her only strategic error. She was an exceptional lawyer. Much better than the counsel for the defense. The jury drove the State attorney nuts however. I have no idea if our behavior was typical, but we took full advantage of the “Does the jury have any questions for this witness?” option. Those who know me well will not be surprised that I asked a “few” questions. Yes, Kate, you named me well. I earned my moniker during this trial. I even wrote the judge several questions. The sheet I wrote him trying to unravel the inconsistencies in the hearsay rules got me called in without the rest of the jury to be interrogated by the attorneys. That was fun. Not.

The surprising thing was that there was actually one juror who asked more questions than I did! We hung out on smoke breaks and even went to lunch at NiMarcos together once. He used to be a firefighter in Kansas so we had quite a bit to talk about. Anyways, our questions were apparently pretty good. The defense attorney nodded his head at several questions in a “hmm, I should have asked that” manner. The attorney for the State fought like mad to keep many of them out, but all but one of mine made it in. One of them even produced a surprise piece of evidence for the State to deal with the next day. The protocol for jury questions is like so:

  • After the normal direct, cross examination, and re-direct, the judge asks if there are any questions from the jury
  • If there are, the bailiff comes and gets them. We write them, unsigned, on pieces of paper.
  • The attorneys approach the bench and review the questions the judge thinks are appropriate. They are allowed to make arguments if they wish to
  • The judge then asks those questions that survive his judgment and the attorneys arguments

I’m not going to go through and give you a play by play unless there are more than a few comments that ask me to do so. The State had a pretty weak case compounded by exceptionally shoddy police work. The defense council was not all that talented. The defendant’s story was exceptionally precise in detail. Maybe too much so. Our initial poll was nine Not Guiltys, two Guiltys and one undecided. It has to be unanimous. We spent almost two hours debating whether he was innocent or not. It took that long for me to prevail on these folks that whether he was innocent or not was irrelevant.

Determining innocence was not our job. Our job was to determine whether the State had met it’s burden of proving his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. For those of you who are wondering what that means, it means that they have provided enough evidence that it leaves you “firmly convinced” of the defendant’s guilt. I was impressed by the diversity of thought that came out in our deliberations. But it wasn’t that difficult when it came right down to it. I guess that we needed to spend that long for these folks to ease their consciences because of the risk that they may be setting a pedophile free. Some of them kept talking about it being the longest walk of their lives from the jury room to the courtroom. Referring to it as “The Green Mile.” I didn’t get that at all. Didn’t seem like marching down death row at all to me.

I did feel better when the little girl’s face lit up after the verdict was read. It was obvious to everyone on the jury that much more was going on than we’d been told, but the rules of law precluded us from hearing it. I have absolutely no clue what would possess a mother to use her daughter to accuse a man of child molestation but that does appear to be what happened. And we appear to have called it right. I know we made the correct decision with the information we were given.

I do not envy jurors any longer. It is a tough job. I think I understand now why the court officers kept expressing their appreciation for the service we were doing. At the time it seemed like hollow flattery. Maybe not.

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4 thoughts on “Civic Responsibility Creates a Heavy Burden

  1. Sam says:

    Hard as hell. Civics takes a lot of work. Keeping a republic running correctly is not easy. Neither is rule of law. I’m proud of you!

    Sam

    P.S.- Someone asked more questions! I’m shocked! Shocked I tell you!

    • Thanks.

      Given the quality of the jury I was on I couldn’t help but wonder why we don’t use a similar selection process (with voir dire) to select public officials. It’s not like we could do too much worse than we’ve got now 😛

  2. Pat Farmer says:

    Fantastic! I loved reading about your experience. You’re absolutely correct that carrying out justice is not an easy task, but our society is fortunate to have intelligent people such as youself on the juries today. You saw for yourself that there are soooo many others that do not think critically in our society and will not ask questions. Your questions have sometimes driven me to “madness” as a young mother, but I’m glad that you continued to ask them in order that you and others my learn from the answers to them.

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