Thursday, November 10, 2005

The Jury Is Out

This is a post from two months ago that, for some reason, I never actually posted. I still think about this trial, even today. Wondering how it went, how the victim is doing, hoping the guy is actually in jail. Still feeling a bit guilty that I didn't want to be on the jury:

Most of us, in the US at least, have at one time or another received that little perforated envelope in the mail bearing the words, "SUMMONS: JURY DUTY." The envelope engenders a multiplicity of feelings: excitement at having a day off (slackers), excitement at having something to do (bored seniors), trepidation (first timers), and any number of other emotions across the spectrum from disgust to delight.

Me, I got mine about a month ago, groaned, and put it on my calendar. I know people who get deferments but I figured it was my first time, it is my civic duty, and it is the foundation of our entire system of jurisprudence. (Have I used the wrong word, LawyerDorks? Should I have said "criminal justice system" or "legal system" or what?)

Anyway, today was my day. I arrived at 8am, stood in line, waited for two hours in what must have been the most statistically valid cross-section of DC residents ever assembled, then got called to a potential trial where I sat for three further hours during the voire dire process of jury selection. I was kind of interested to see what the trial would be, whether I'd be selected, how long the trial would last...

Well, any curiosity or interest I had was obliterated with the judges words: "Carjacking. Kidnapping. Rape. Attempted murder with a tire iron..." Oh dear god. No, I cannot do this case. Too dark. Too awful. Too scary, since the defendant is sitting right there and will know who I am if I serve. It was heavy. I also felt tremendous guilt that a woman had lived through this horror and yet I was thinking that I would not be able to even HEAR about it. I immediately found myself simultaneously praying I would not have to do this case and hoping I would get picked so I could help nail the defendant.

It was at this point that I realized I was not right for the jury regardless of my "close relationship with law enforcement," which is one of the disclosures they ask you to make during selection. It may be the most jaded opinion in the world, but I figured this: if that guy was sitting there, I had little doubt he did it. The prosecution had, like, 21 witnesses, the defense had 4, one of whom was his mother. No doubt to give the character witness testimony that "he has always been a good boy; maybe got in a little trouble, but he ain't no rapist carjacker..." Riiiight. And honestly, if some guy carjacked, kidnapped, raped and beat me near death with a tire iron, I'm pretty sure I'd remember his face and voice. I already felt like he was guilty, and so just told the judge that I'd be more likely to believe a police officer than a defendant, due to my close relationship with someone in law enforcement, a person whom I can never imagine lying on the stand for any reason. I so wanted to be the person that poor woman (the victim) could count on to get justice, but I knew that pretending to be impartial was not the way to go about it.

So that's what I told the judge. That I had a close relationship with law enforcement that would impact my ability to be impartial. But I wasn't being entirely honest. The truth was that I just could not bring myself to hear the details of this horrific crime and not feel permanently affected by it. How would I go there during the day and hear about how a woman was raped and beaten near death--and then go home to my daughter without bringing that contamination into her life in some way? I was terror-stricken that I would somehow transmit my fear, loathing and contempt for the perpetrator--as well as my pain, empathy and sorrow for the woman--to my daughter. I know this sounds so selfish, but it's the only way I can find to express what I was feeling. I just could not bring the darkness of that crime into my life at that point. I couldn't find a way to compartmentalize the emotions I was already feeling at the jury selection, much less those I was sure to feel during the trial, in a way that would let me go home at night to my child without clutching her a little closer and hugging her a little bit longer.

Maybe that's the point of jury duty, though. To make every citizen, at some point or another, party to the pain, conflict or controversy of another citizen. So maybe I missed the point. But all I know is that I didn't have it in me to do it the way the system intended, and so I chose to bow out.

Not to worry. I'm sure, for my sins, next time I'll be put on a crushingly boring 16-month grand jury investigating malfeasance in the cattle prod manufacturing industry. It'll be karmic retribution.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I served on a jury this year for the first time; my case was a murder trial. It was one of the most stressful events that I have been a part of. It was very hard to go home to my spouse & kids and not be affected by what I saw/heard at the trial. However, I feel that I did do something of value by being on that jury. Your comment about not being able to doubt law enforcement based on your relationships seems to be a pretty lame excuse. You might trust them, but that doesn't mean they are always right. On the case that I was on, we found the defendant guilty on the evidence provided, although the investigating officers made it much more difficult to do so. They clearly made mistakes - like letting the defendent leave the police station after an interview wearing pants that had blood spots on them the night of the murder - when they realized what they did and went back for them, they had been washed.