In high school I once skipped classes to go to a trial. I didn’t know anyone involved in the case. It wasn’t scandalous or even all that interesting. Fraud, if memory serves.
I went because I found out most trials are open to the public. I loved Perry Mason, thought it would be cool to see a real case being tried, and had a friend who as much of a geek as I was who was also willing to skip school that day.
Since then I’ve gone to three other trials just to observe. All were civil cases, and all did involve someone I knew peripherally at least. I sat in the back and took lots of notes in case I’d ever need them for a story. Twice lawyers approached me and asked why I was there.
Because I could be.
Then a couple months back I got my very first jury summons. I could have postponed, but this was as good a time as any to do it. Plus, they’d never actually select me, right? After all, I make up stories about crime. So I entered the courthouse with mixed feelings last week. I wanted to be selected, and at the same time I didn’t.
Arguments! Objections! Witnesses! Experts! What fun!
An actual crime, perhaps someone hurt or worse, and it’s partially up to me to decide what happens to the accused? Not so much fun.
There were thirty people in the jury room. We watched a film designed to deflect resentment about being there at all. I could tell it didn’t really work for most people. Twelve people were selected from that pool. I was one. Six were eliminated after a ton of questioning from the assistant district attorney and the defense attorney. I was one of the six who remained, mostly because I don’t have children, have never been through a nasty divorce, and was not abused as a child.
See, this was a case of negligent child abuse. It was hard to watch the two young girls who tearfully and unwillingly testified against their mother. Photo exhibits, maps, and reports from the police and social services were all introduced. What had looked like a one-day trial spilled into the next day.
I didn’t sleep very well that night.
After closing statements, we were given our instructions and sent off to deliberate. The six of us began earnestly going through the details of what we had to determine in order to find the defendant guilty. After some general discussion one brilliant soul pointed out we would save some time if we went at it from the other direction: Was there or was there not reasonable doubt?
We voted on slips of paper. Not guilty six times over. And not a single one of us liked it. Something had happened that day a year ago. It didn’t appear that an injury had occurred, but it was a volatile household going through a very ugly divorce, with each of the parents and the children playing off each other. Toxic. Unhealthy.
But details were murky at best and contradictory at worst. Reasonable doubt did exist, and just because we didn’t like it didn’t mean we could ignore that.
Have you ever served on a jury? What was the case about? Do you consider jury duty an honor in a free society, a duty, a pain in the patootie, or none of the above?