No kidding around or whingeing today. Today is the day it gets serious.
Not that I wasn't taking jury duty seriously before, but when you get down to the end, when it's time for deliberation, there isn't much levity to be had. Though I say "today," I actually type this the night before day 3, and I am post-dating it to pop-up while I am gone or maybe even done, and comments are disabled because I don't actually want to hear it. I don't want debate, I don't want kudos. I won't be Tweeting or Facebooking this link. By the time I get home, I'll want silence.
I've had a lot of people remind me that jury duty was my civic duty, as if I didn't know. I also had many do so in a way that suggested I should be happy about being summoned to serve because apparently a duty is something that should bring you joy, you are part of the process, hooray! Well, there's a reason they don't call it a "civic prize." It's a duty because it's a job, a requirement. It's not fun and it's not happy but you need to do it anyway, and if you've never done it and you respond that you really want to like it's going to be summer camp or you won a free bunk on a cruise, then I really hope you'll let me know if you ever get summonsed because I'll sit outside the courthouse like the romantic hero of a teen movie, leaning on my car and waiting. Not to whisk you away on a hot air balloon, but to see the balloon pop.
And if you took jury duty before and you still think it's fun...well, I don't know exactly what to call you. Are you also into nipple clamps, candle wax, and the Marquis de Sade?
Yes, there is something fascinating about real-life cases, there is an interesting human drama. Everyone in just about any trial has had their life reduced to soap opera, and there is a Rashomon situation happening where it's hard to tell what or whom to believe. Hell, maybe they are all right, there are some things we can never know. If I wasn't under a gag order I could tell you the story I've heard, complete with all the angles, and you'd be impressed by how complicated a tale it is. You would have no idea, though, what it was really like to hear. You'd get the edited and polished version that takes maybe fifteen minutes, not the rambling version that took two days to tell, full of repetition and mistakes and a general lack of eloquence. And you'd miss the dry examination of evidence and the overwhelming reading of the law.
You'd also miss the weight of having to decide another man's fate. This is what keeps me from relaxing tonight. The thought that tomorrow I will be having to consider another man's freedom. I will have to do so beyond a reasonable doubt and with a moral certainty. Think about that. What doubts aren't generally reasonable and how often are you certain about anything, much less morality? But these are terms you must consider, these are the areas where you cannot get it wrong and yet might. Even in extreme cases where the acts are so heinous that there can be no question of their vileness, you still have the burden of meting out a proper dose of justice, one that will make the wronged parties and their family and friends satisfied. And you also have to wonder how a guilty verdict will affect the families of the accused, too. You can't let it influence you, but you will wonder. Trust me, even the biggest dirtbags can have someone show up that cares about them.
Sure, anyone sitting in the defendant's chair made choices that got him or her there, and they are facing the consequences of those choices. As a juror, you will be enforcing responsibility where it needs to go and possibly even setting community standards for what will and will not be permitted. You will even have guidelines for how to go about deciding if consequences are warranted. That doesn't mean, however, that the evidence is going to easily plug into those guidelines so as to make your decision absolutely clear. The facts don't fit a neat teleplay structure with an intro and four segments with their own commercial breaks. Have you ever watched Law & Order and been shocked by how the lawyers on there can turn a certain act into a crime, and you can't believe they'd actually prosecute it? Now imagine that you are on the jury for that.
Which isn't to say that any of these "what if?" scenarios apply to the case I am on. I am being very careful not to be specific. The questions are there, though. Are we interpreting this right? Are we remembering that right? Are we believing the right people? What if no one is credible? What if you think the accused is clearly guilty or not guilty, but the law says you must go against that, it doesn't support your own moral certainty on the matter? Whenever there is a trial, like the Rodney King or O.J. Simpson cases, where the case seemed so clear cut from the vantage point of our living rooms, and the public is shocked that the jury voted the way they did, if you find yourself really having no idea how they came to that decision, then you've probably never actually been on a jury. Every time, the jurors who talk to the media say that the evidence did not meet the burden of proof and that the case made by the losing side could not support the guidelines for conviction. It's never as simple as did he or didn't he, it's did he or didn't he within the confines of the law under which he is charged.
I only saw 12 Angry Men for the first time this year. Surprising, I know, but it's true. It's a pretty incredible piece of cinema, and shockingly accurate. Yes, there is the tidiness of fiction, things move along in a logical manner and not as messily as they normally do, but the experience is right. Twelve different people having to sort through a pile of details, and only one (Henry Fonda) not only willing to go against the grain, but to do so not because he believes the others are getting it wrong, but because he feels not enough time is being taken to consider whether a boy goes to jail or whether he goes home. On my jury, only ten have to agree; on his, all twelve. So, were I to be a Henry Fonda, I wouldn't even have to go to the mat.
But I'd like to think I'd try.
Current Soundtrack: The Housemartins...
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All text (c) 2009 Jamie S. Rich