Monday, July 20, 2009

Jury Duty, Part II

It was surreal, sitting there in the jury box with twelve other people, none of whom I'd ever met before. Listening to presentations on evidence, watching surveillance videos, trying to understand how the law applies.

I won't give the details. Enough can be found here to suffice. What will be interesting is to watch how the comments come in on that newspaper article, to see how others in the community judge our judging.

I'm certain only one of the twelve others (twelve jurors and one alternate, total) was anxious to be where he was (he told us so). Despite that, all of us had "better" things to do. Some had classes to attend. Some had classes to teach. All had jobs and families to attend to. But we stayed there, eight hours the first day, 12 1/2 hours the next, because of reasons varying from civic duty to the threat of punishment to, yes, curiosity to see how the system works.

I entered the process convinced every man is innocent until proven guilty. Though that resolve wavered throughout the two-day trial, I have to say that I wanted to err on the side of innocence. I have seen loved ones go to prison on what I thought was flimsy evidence of intent -- the rule of law that applied here as we were asked to judge the intent of a man accused of burglary and grand theft -- so I did not want to treat intent lightly. I can bear witness that, at least in this case, the system bent over backwards to ensure that innocence was presumed, not guilt. The system may be slow, sometimes farcical, often confusing and rarely painted in terms of black and white, but I can say at least to my estimation, the system works.

No black and white, certainly in this case. As the statute says, the crime of burglary includes intent. We worried long and hard to discern intent. How can one determine the intent of another individual, when intent lies in the heart and in the mind. We had to decide, however, that intent is shwon in actions committed. In some ways, this case is very similar to this one (sorry, free subscription required) which went to the appeals court which reaffirmed the lower court's (the jury's) decision. Ample evidence in action led me to believe intent was there. I strained hard to examine intent, to figure out how I might react in similar situations, to account for my own intentions. I had to consider all the evidence, my sympathies, my belief that everyone at heart is a good person, and then consider what to do to be right. I believe I reached the correct decison, as did the jury as a whole.

This doesn't stop me from feeling badly for the defendant. Sympathy helped me maintain an open mind. But in the end, there was no reasonable doubt.

Jury duty is not a lark. It's not fun. For me, it was serious work I would much rather have avoided. While I was glad the trial did not last into a third day, I do not begrudge the time we spent talking about the evidence and thinking about what we might consider. If there were snap judgments on my part, they were always on the side of innocence. I do not envy those who have to do this often.

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