In the eyes of the jury…

posted in: Legal Practice | 0

Thanks to Edward Schwartz for pointing out this blog post on a discussion thread on LinkedIn.  He points out that much can be learned from listening to the jurors.

Here is the first hand accounting of one jury member:

Sexual assault against a child. It sounds rather cut and dry. A 14-year-old child, inexperienced, incapable of making entirely rational decisions should never be taken advantage of by a 21-year-old adult, right? Yet, we jurors sat in that back room–twelve strangers who, over a two-day period, became strangely like friends–deliberating for four hours. We had to consider all the facts presented in the case. Yet, there was so much not presented in the case. The 14-year-old had been so decietful. How much of her testimony could we believe, count as true evidence. And, there was something about the 21-year-old. His demeanor in court wasn’t quite right. Child-like, even baby-like at times. Hadn’t some of us seen him sucking his thumb? And yet, nothing in the presented case offered us information about his mental state. The 14-year-old was a good student. Quiet and unconfident.
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In the end, we found him guilty. Guilty on three separate charges.
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The judge joined us in the jury room after. Told us what we couldn’t know before deliberations. The 21-year-old did, indeed struggle with mental health. Though, he hadn’t met all the requirements to plead legally incompetent for the trial, so into trial as a person presumed healthy he went. He’d loved that 14-year-old girl, and she him. He showered her with gifts. She’d told him she was 17 (and did, indeed, look old enough to pass for it.) Of course, the law doesn’t allow a child lying to be taken into account on such a matter, leaving us no choice but to throw out what she ‘said’ and having to rely heavily on what he–as an adult– knew to be correct or incorrect behavior. How can you judge what a man who sucks his thumb in court knows or doesn’t know?
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The judge told us the other thing we couldn’t take into consideration for our deliberations. The charges, for which he was now guilty, held a mandatory 20 year prison sentence. He would now be branded with the same title as a 50-year-old who touched a 4-year-old.
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I keep going back to it and back to it in my mind. Did we do the right thing? Yes. We twelve jurors deliberated endlessly over the tiniest words and phrases of the law and worked diligently to apply them to this case.
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Did the right thing happen? I don’t know. I don’t think it did. It’s left me feeling the significant sorrow of justice when applied by the unmerciful, unseeing hand of a cold law. Made me feel grateful all week for twelve strangers who left their daily routines and answered the call for jury duty. Twelve people who gathered warm bodies, experience, compassion, knowledge, and humanity around a laminate table to debate, debate, deliberate on the fate of one man. It’s absolutely the most incredible thing to ponder upon.
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Of course, it’s not perfect. No, I can attest to that. Everytime my gut tightens when I think of our foreman’s words, “Guilty. Guilty. Guilty” I feel how imperfect the system, the law is. But, even my sickening sadness from the seeming unfairness of this specific case is hushed when I think upon the magnificence of the entire process. The gathering of facts, the gathering of witnesses, the gathering of jury.
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And, I feel honored to have been a part of it.
How much is missed when case information does not include a contextual basis?  What is the price that must be paid?  Individually for those charged with criminal behavior and collectively as a society?
A special thank-you to Cheeky Notebooks for sharing her experience with the rest of us.