Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Jury’s Out

A few years ago I was called to jury duty. It was not a fun experience. I had to make arrangements for my kids early in the morning because to get all the way downtown in rush hour traffic meant leaving before school started. I had to find a parking garage and walk to the courthouse. I had to fill out forms and sit for hours. I had to stand up in a courtroom and divulge personal information. I was not home when my kids got out of school. I could not drive to activities. Dinner was late. Very late. I had to be available to do these things, including in a snowstorm, for a two week period. My life was turned upside down and I got off easy, I didn’t end up on a jury.

 I can’t even imagine the disruption to someone’s life if they do get chosen to serve. Especially in a high profile case.

Following an emotionally charged, well publicized case there will be public discourse. I think that’s inevitable, healthy even. We do and should be discussing law, rules of evidence, courtroom strategies, conviction options. But there will also be public anger and criticism and disagreement with the verdict.

What I’m asking you to consider is this: when we disagree with a verdict, who is it that we’re criticizing?

What we’re saying is this: you, juror, who have given up your time, who have made other arrangements for your life and your obligations, you who have been present through the arguments and evidence and contradictions, you who have given your thought and consideration and your energy, your head and your heart, you who have sat for hours and days through every minute of the evidence allowed to be presented to you by our legal system, you who have been given explicit instructions as to what you may and may not consider in your deliberations, you who have discussed and debated in a closed room negotiating and collaborating with strangers, you who have put your personal feelings aside in deference to the rules. You are wrong.

When we disagree with a verdict, what we're doing is second guessing and disrespecting, not the outcome of the case, but the people who reconciled it. We’re saying that their time and their commitment and their sacrifices have no value.

I’ve deliberately avoided a discussion of what I think happened to Nicole Brown, Caylee Anthony or Trayvon Martin here. It isn’t salient to this particular discussion. My point is that we have a system, including other avenues for both sides; appeals, civil cases, federal cases, new attorneys. If we feel that the system isn’t working, let’s discuss those components.

But as far as the initial court cases go, all I want to say is this: I believe those jurors acted with integrity, both individually and as a unit, given the constraints of the situation. 

Over the years, many jurors in high profile cases have talked openly about the dilemma they faced due to those constraints. Many have been emotionally scarred by the experience both of having served and by the fallout that ensued.

So no matter what my opinion of the tragic circumstances that result in any given trial, what I do want to say in reference to the human beings who made up the fabric of those juries is that I will not stand in judgment of their work and their service. I offer only my respect.

Bakinginatornado.com

35 comments:

  1. Refreshing to read something so different right now. I appreciate you writing about a different slant.

    -The Insomniacs Dream

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    1. Thanks, Starr. So much about the case itself is already being said.

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  2. I absolutely do not blame the jurors. I blame the State, because they didn't present a solid enough case for even a verdict of manslaughter. The jurors did the best they could and they did the job they were suppose to do with the evidence that was presented to them.

    The jurors didn't fail.....the State did.

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    1. It's nice to see someone who disagrees with the outcome not blame the jury.

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    2. It's easy to blame the jury, unfortunately, because they are the ones that make the decision. I understand where people CAN blame them. But you have to look beyond that. Did they think he guilty in their hearts? Maybe. But they couldn't convict strictly on their feelings. They had to follow the rules and laws. People need to take more time to understand that.

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  3. Can you hear my applause, Karen? Seriously, girlyfriend, I've really enjoyed your blog posts here, but for me, that was the best written piece of work that I've seen on your blog yet! I'm SO tired of people playing the martyr, the victim, the race card... blah blah blah. Those women and men called to be separated from their families and their lives deserve EVERY ounce of respect and thanks that we have to offer!

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    1. I hear you. I think we can agree or disagree with any of the components that lead up to a verdict, but I have a problem with public disrespect aimed at the jurors.

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  4. I certainly do hope the jurors acted with integrity. It's hard to know, since it's a closed, protected process. That's what they are called upon to do, but I suppose it's possible they could've taken things too lightly, misunderstood things, looked at things from a jaded point of view. I am NOT saying that is what happened. I am just saying it's a hard thing to do, sit back and just trust that people are doing the right thing. We trusted the state to make a case good enough to bring about a conviction... And I do have to add that signing a book deal less than 48 hours after giving a verdict makes me question that particular juror's integrity.
    Just my 2 cents :)

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    1. I respect you and your thoughtfulness and I understand some of your situation (the amount that you've shared)and where you're coming from. Your 2 cents are always welcome here.

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  5. Y'know, I have never really thought it about it in that way. Thank you for opening my eyes.
    I may still get aggravated or upset but now I will think about it in a different way, regardless of how I think it should go. ;)
    Thank you.

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    1. I think we do sometimes forget that these juries are made up of people who have made sacrifices and been constricted by laws and rules.

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  6. Very good points. But you had to do jury duty for 2 weeks and didn't even get selected?! Wow! In my county (not sure if it's even this way in the entire state) if you get called to jury duty, it's just for one day (unless of course you're selected for a trial), then you've served your civil duty and are out of the jury duty selection pool for 1 year. But in the 22 years since I've been old enough to serve jury duty, I've only ever been called once so when I do get called again I won't mind so much, since it seems to be so rare. I can certainly understand how having to do all those extra arrangements with your life for 2 weeks, and in a snowstorm no less!- could be a huge pain.

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    1. When I went in they had a pool of potential jurors and drew from that pool over a 2 week span. I didn't have to go in every day but never knew until I called a phone number at 9:00 pm whether or not I'd have to drive in the next morning. They have since changed the system here to one similar to yours. Now you go in for one day and if not chosen you're done.

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  7. So nice to see this from a different view. I feel for those who are chosen as jurors and would never want to be placed in that position myself

    Kimbra @ Mommys Rambles


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    1. I agree. I'd imagine it would be a very difficult situation to be in.

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  8. Thank you for your insight, Karen. A great opinion piece and one I'm honored to share with my almost 8000 friends, subscribers, fans and followers. God's blessings for taking you duty so seriously!

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    1. Thank you, Brian, I'm glad you liked it.

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  9. I am so happy to see another outlook on this than the ones we have been hearing about! Thank you for sharing!

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    1. I wasn't sure whether to post it or not, but I did like being able to say something a little different than what everyone else might have considered.

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  10. It is nice to read something a little different in reference to everything that's been going on. I for one have nothing but respect for jurors in most cases (although it never sits well with me though when someone has a book deal right out of the gate) That being said I don't think the blame lies with the jurors. They can only do right by the law and with what they are presented. In most cases when the person is found not guilty and the general public is up in arms about it, it is because we have been allowed to judge based on more evidence than the jurors. With all the things not admissible in court it's amazing anyone is found guilty. I will say when I was a child my father served on the jury of a very high profile case in our state and even though everyone was happy with the outcome he carried a lot of that around with him for quite some time. Jurors have a ton of pressure on them. They have someone's life in their hands, they have families grief in their hands. I for one agree 100% they deserve some respect. It may be the justice system as a whole that needs to be looked into.

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    1. I can empathize with what your Dad must have gone through.

      And although it the book deal doesn't sit well with many of us, I can imagine having just gone through that situation as a juror and feeling as though I had some things to say. If someone were to offer me money and a platform, I have to admit that I might jump at it too.

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  11. EXCELLENT post! I get called to jury duty about every 2 years, it seems. I have never been asked to serve on a trial, though---probably because I'm too opinionated. I agree with what you said--we need to RESPECT the verdict that the jurors came to because they probably went through hell coming to a mutual decision on the case. My husband served on a murder trial many years ago. It was a very brutal case involving a love triangle, and the jury had to be sequestered because they couldn't reach a decision. All 12 knew in their gut that the defendant was guilty, but there just wasn't enough evidence to prove it 100%, so they had to find him not guilty. My husband was sick at heart and very disturbed by this case for MONTHS afterwards. My heart goes out to the jurors in these high profile cases. I hope I never have to serve on one.

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    1. Thanks, Meno Mama, I'm so glad this post had meaning to so many people. I can't imagine what your husband went through. And I just don't believe that publicly questioning what he felt he had to do is something that we, who weren't there, should be doing.

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  12. Jury service can be an extremely difficult thing to do if you are not use to working in a certain way. No-one can prepare you for the amount of evidence that might be presented before you and all the weighing up you must do. No one can prepare you quickly on how to take succinct notes sometimes for hours when the witnesses, defendant and professionals etc are giving live evidence especially when you have expert witnesses involved. No one can quickly train you not to be biased based on your own personal feelings - it's hard to just kick out a thought which can colour a decision especially when you have a choice of options that could ruin someone's life or give them a chance. Jurors have to think about so many things in a matter of days or weeks that people who work in those areas do on a daily basis. There are just so many elements to it. It's really looks easier than it is.

    I always say that if you don't like something then try going to the root of it and do your best to make a change. It might be a long road to travel but what if you get your own way?

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    1. I agree. You can complain and do nothing to see that the situation would have a different outcome if it happens again, or you can try to get to the root of it. Rational discussion of the issues, not finger pointing, is a good start.

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  13. very interesting take Karen...I know I would not want to be on that jury...I would find it difficult to put aside my feelings as a mom and just look at the facts.

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    1. I agree that it's difficult to put aside your feelings and that's another reason I really have respect for the people who take this service seriously and do what they're allowed to do.

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  14. My feeling on the jury,,,,,,,,, since I was not sittings in that courtroom everyday,,,,,, since I did not hear all the evidence, ,,, since I was not instructed by the judge,,,,, since I was not sequestered from the rest of the world,,,,since I was not in that room with those 6 women and did not hear the hell they went through to come to the decision that they did,,,,, I will not judge them! It was a tough case and I have no idea what i would have done in their shoes, ,,

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    1. It has to be so hard to put your own feelings and information you've heard aside. I can't imagine. It's good to hear that you agree with the point I was trying to make.

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  15. I have never had the opportunity to serve jury duty and I have never received the questionnaire to become a potential juror (just lucky I guess). However, I would love to serve. The problem I have believing that jurors always come to a verdict based on the evidence presented is that history has proven otherwise - Rodney King, Medgar Evers, Emmett Till just to name a few. Jurors were either deadlocked or returned with Not Guilty verdicts. We should appreciate and respect jurors and their efforts, but unfortunately everyone who serves brings with them a certain set of bias and stereotypes no matter how fair and impartial we would like to think they are. It doesn't make them bad people, it makes them human. The laws need to be changed - the judicial system is broken.
    Jae Mac @ I'm Just Sayin'...(Damn!)

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    1. I do believe that although verdicts can later be overturned or proven to be wrong, the vast majority of jurors do deliberately try to put their biases and stereotypes aside.

      Not Guilty does not mean Innocent, it means the burden of proof had not been met or that there was room for a reasonable doubt.

      And if the laws do need to be changed and the judicial system is broken, that is my point, those are the issues we should be discussing.

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  16. Our legal system is the best in the world, and why do we have to have sore losers. The DA never had enough info to file charges, the sheriff refused to arrest Zimmerman and lost his job.
    Our jury system works and the selected jurors need to be respected; I do believe they take their responsibility seriously and with dignity and integrity. They did not have enough to convict and the DA kept trying to add charges to make sure of a conviction, no matter what cost. I applaud your decision to post your thoughts. We should all do that. Having worked in the legal system as a secretary on both sides of the court, the hardest job there is, is being a juror. When a jury makes their decision, it is the responsibility of both sides, to honor that decision and go on with their lives. Thank you for your insight. :)

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    1. Although our system works, I'm always open to listening to people who have ideas on how to improve on what we have. But showing disrespect for the jurors is not healthy discussion.

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  17. This was a really thoughtful post, K.
    I've been called every two years for jury duty. (Still haven't served.) Though it is difficult to arrange our lives around the process, I understand its importance. I can't imagine having to be sequestered for ANY amount of time; especially as a mom.
    I was surprised not only at the composition of this latest jury, but also of the fact that there were only six members. I can't imagine how much pressure was put on their shoulders.

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    1. I can't imagine the pressure either, but I can respect it and the job they do.

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