Many of us have received a jury summons. With that initial realization, don’t we all cringe? We’re way too busy, right? Don’t we hope it can somehow pass us by?
Me, too. But on the day, I found myself in the jury box, chosen. For a trial for murder and armed robbery.
Little did I realize I was beginning a journey which would offer me a wider base and a deeper dimension in my understanding of democracy, the legal system of our country, human nature, and myself.
We have all heard the words, ‘innocent until proven guilty’, but what does it truly mean? When I heard the indictments in the formality of the courtroom, I had to remind myself that the defendant must have had a good reason to plead not guilty. I turned to the state. It was their job to convince me the defendant needed to be put away.
The first time the jury gathered we introduced ourselves. One of the jurors said something about this being the highest form of democracy. Another nodded and said we had a deep responsibility. We all agreed that justice needed to be served not only for the victim, but also the defendant. We needed to hear the evidence to decide, leaving emotion aside.
I was struck with the sincerity and the sense of calling each one of us had--a the silent respect we held for one another.
It doesn’t get more authentic than this, folks.
Eleven days we spent together as a unit. We laughed, we teared up, sang happy birthday and shared cake. We became frustrated we couldn’t share thoughts to anyone about the trial, not even our fellow jurors. This was to prevent us from being influenced or influencing another. This enabled us to think for ourselves, independently, until deliberations. The system made sense.
All of us took notes and wrote down questions because we couldn’t ask anyone…yet. There were several days of testimony, cross examinations, and closing arguments. I watched how the attorney’s queried the witness, how they objected, then observed how the judge would either overrule or sustain.
In my mind I pieced together a story of what happened on that tragic day. How close was that with the other jurors? People I had developed a fondness for these past few days.
When we finally got our charges, we were to decide the verdict on each count. It wasn’t completely clear. What did the legal jargon mean? How did that apply to our given situation and our direct and circumstantial evidence? I had a notion but needed clarification
And this is where our teamwork came in.
Collectively, we pieced together the crime. Together we agreed upon what happened. Phrase by phrase we broke apart the law. We sent back questions to the judge, whom we all regarded as intelligent, fair, and practical.
When the preliminary vote came, although all of us agreed upon what happened, not all of us agreed on all the verdicts.
Our foreperson had experience and directed we share our individual thoughts, which we did one by one around the large table. No one was condescending, criticized, or frowned upon. We acknowledged we all had a right to our opinion. With respect, we gave each other time to explain when opinions differed. We agreed we needed justice; and not just any justice, but the best justice given our information.
Through collective contemplation and compromise, we came up with unanimous votes, and verdicts for each charge. We had done it.
At the end we hugged, exchanged phone numbers, told the judge how much we appreciated the legal system, and her work.
Going home I cried. I cried for the victim, and the ills in our society that in some twisted way made the defendant a victim as well. I cried for my lost innocence, the decisions I had to make, and the relief that I was not God, who would make the final verdict.
There were also tears in the relief that so many good people exist. From the bailiff, to the attorneys, the judge, and in a special way, to my fellow jurors who gave their complete heart, as they set aside personal feelings. We shared a deep desire to do the right thing.
Any why do we flinch when we see that jury summons? Is it the time? Or is it the demand on our soul? In this trial I was pushed to my most raw self, with others who were doing the same. All socio-economic barriers fall aside. We are all human. We all make mistakes, but somehow with my fellow jurors, I saw an authentic goodness of humankind.
So, if you get a jury summons, acknowledge your knee jerk reaction would be to avoid it, but dig deeper. It may be a process that serves you, not the other way around.