Friday, June 5, 2009

Civic Part Deux(ty)

First of all, an apology for my previous post about jury duty. I may or may not have been extra-effusive because I had just recently indulged in a little post-kickball celebrating. This is not to say that I retract anything I said. I meant it all - I probably just wouldn't normally have been so geeky about it. Or, as Brian pointed out in the comments, I. Am. A. Nerd.

That notwithstanding, my jury service is over and I feel as honored as ever to have been part of the justice system. We found the guy not guilty on all counts, in a relatively quick 45-minute-or-so deliberating session that went surprisingly smoothly and was perhaps the most interesting part of the trial.

One comment I made in that previous post was that "I know I will make the right decision," and that caught some of you off guard. Let me clarify: I didn't say, "I know I will make the true and accurate decision." I said the right decision. By this, I meant that I trusted myself to follow my conscience and make the decision that seemed the most right. This confidence isn't from cockiness or delusions of Solomonic wisdom. It's because, as messy and complicated as questions of guilt and crime and bad human behavior are, and as complex as legal theory and legalese can be, the fundamental structure of the law as a whole is so simple. The bottom line is that every law is made up of a series of elements, basically "yes or no" questions, and each element is very specifically and meticulously defined. For juries, the law doesn't ask us to sit and ponder all the big-picture questions. It just says to go through each of those elements, one by one, and ask yourself, "Did the government prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that this thing happened?"

And we decided that, in this case, the prosecutor did not prove that. Which is pretty remarkable because the defense attorney didn't do a particularly stellar job defending his client.

Turns out, we were all hung up on the same point, the same question, the same hole in the prosecutor's case. Basically, the case was about a guy who was pulled over for excessive tint in his windows but was found, upon search, to have a gun in his trunk. I am legally allowed to talk about the case now, but for the privacy of the defendant and my fellow jurors, I don't really feel comfortable broadcasting the details via my blog. Let me just say this: We just weren't convinced.

Am I certain that this guy is innocent? No. But we didn't find him innocent. We just found him not guilty - that is, not proven to have been guilty. We simply didn't receive the proof, and that's the burden of the prosecutor. Simple as that.

I think the prosecutor was surprised. It could have been the poor performance of the defense attorney or the fact that, on its surface, this kind of looked like a fairly straight-forward case. After the verdict, the prosecutor approached me as the jury foreman (oh yeah - I was elected foreman :)) and asked me if I could tell him what it was we were unsure about, as a learning experience.

And I think that's what this whole experience was for all of us jurors: a learning experience.


Marie said...

Very true. Very true. After all, "the law is reason free from passion," right?

Chris said...

It's amazing to be living in a time where we have such a well established and fairly run system of law. Getting your perspective on this really helps put me in a position that I am never in. Most people have no exposure to these kinds of things unless we are being sued or have jury duty. Being able to participate in something like this would really make you understand how all citizens are involved in our self-governing system. It very liberating.