I repeat what I stated in my last post – citizenship requires action.
Having never been through this process before, this was a fascinating, educational, difficult, and deeply disturbing experience.
I will not delve into the details of the case, other than to say that it involved abuse of a minor in a very dysfunctional family environment.
On Monday I reported to the county courthouse as instructed. We had a brief orientation which included both verbal instruction as well as a video presentation.
We were then led into the courtroom where the judge entered and welcomed us. We received a brief overview of what we were there for as well as what would be expected in the next couple of days, but were not informed of the case. We were told, however, that the case was of a “sensitive nature” and that we needed to fill out a short survey asking about any personal experiences that might be similar or at least tangentially related to the topic matter.
We were sworn-in, and then led back to the jury meeting room to complete our surveys.
This was my first clue about the case and criminal charges for which we might be jurors.
Since I do know of someone who has been a victim of such a crime, as well as someone accused of such a crime, I got the extra special treatment.
I got called into the courtroom for an individual interview with the judge, the defense attorney, and the prosecuting attorney. What I didn’t know at the time is that one of the individuals wearing a nice suit was not a part of the legal team, but the defendant himself.
I was sworn in and put on the witness stand to answer multiple questions; first from the judge, then the defense attorney, then the prosecutor.
Once completed, I was returned back to the jury waiting room where by the end of the day, 26 people had been reduced to about 22.
The next day, we were brought back into the courtroom where the judge and counsel then took turns asking us both group and individual questions. At one point I was asked about what my 18 year old son was doing right now. Being somewhat nervous, I interpreted that to literally mean “right now” and replied that he was probably still in bed instead of in class.
I’m glad the judge had a sense of humor. At some future point I may share how he referenced both The Princess Bride and Homer Simpson at points during the trial.
We finalized jury selection just before lunch (if I recall correctly) with 14 of us and the trial started right after.
The prosecution then called witnesses and he and the defense took turns asking questions. By the end of the day the prosecution rested their case and we adjourned for the afternoon.
Yesterday was day 3 of jury duty. We started off the day with the defense’s witnesses. That took the entire morning after which time he rested. We had closing arguments and then received our instructions from the judge on how to proceed. Two jurors were then dismissed as we only need 12 for the verdict, and 2 are extras just in case someone gets sick. I still debate if it was better for me to have been in that group, or to be a part of the deliberation. Can’t change history.
We went upstairs into a large room that allowed for social distancing (COVID-19 is still a thing) and were turned loose to start deliberations. We are 12 very different people spanning very different backgrounds. Male and female, black and white, older and younger….you get the picture.
What was of most interest to me was how the dynamic of the votes evolved from the start (roughly evenly split on guilt), to the end of yesterday being 8v4 in favor of a guilty verdict, to our finally deciding on a verdict of not guilty today. Despite the fact that nearly every one of us believe the victim’s testimony, not one of us felt that the prosecution had met the threshold of evidence that was “beyond a reasonable doubt”.
Given the limited evidence presented, the lack of other corroborating evidence, the inconsistencies in some of the other witness statements (on all sides), and the high bar that we want to hold the State to in order to convict anyone with a crime, we just could not convict him. This was in spite of the fact that most of us felt we should.
A conviction would have felt great, but it would have been on shaky ground in my opinion. The verdict that we arrived at leaves me with some regret, but that regret is that we didn’t have more to go off of in order to convict. We are “innocent until proven guilty”. The accused do not have to prove their innocence, rather the accuser (in this case the State on behalf of the victim) has the onus to prove the offense occurred.
It just wasn’t there despite how we felt about the case.
In the end, this was a case with no winners. If the offense did happen, then the victim did not receive justice. The accused, though found not guilty, will carry the stigma of that accusation throughout their life.
If we had gone the other way, then the accused would still be ruined, and the victim would still carry the emotional scars of the incident for their whole life.
This was an experience that will affect me for years to come. It was an interesting experience to see how 12 different people could discuss their different views shaped by their life experiences and come to an agreement on a very emotional and difficult subject. We did it pleasantly, with no conflict or yelling, and with substantial respect for one another.
If only we could do that more in other areas of life.