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.