The Jury Talks Back

12/2/2010

Jury Duty

Filed under: Uncategorized — aphrael @ 7:41 am

I was talking in the hallway of the county courthouse, a few weeks ago when I began this diary, with a fellow potential juror. He was a talkative and excitable wiry older man in a baseball cap — a man who had moved here from Thailand and who extolled at length the flaws in the Thai legal system, where a single man’s decision can mean the difference between life and death. He told me how much better our system is, because many people have to look at a case together, and bring their own experiences and lives together, to think about the man and his fate. (He kept trying to talk about the case, and I kept trying to lead him back to safe topics).

I believe in the jury system, especially when compared to the alternatives. The state should not have the power to punish a man on its own whim, on the judgment of someone who draws his paycheck from the state. It’s not perfect; juries are flawed, because they consist of humans, and humans are flawed; but better the flaws of a dozen sitting in judgment than the flaws of one.

Jury duty is, in my mind, something of a sacred duty: an obligation we have to one another, to accept the call when issued, and to listen with open mind, and hear the evidence from both sides, and hold the prosecution to its duty. I have never tried, and never would try, to get out of jury duty; I get irritated at those who do. Sure, it’s an interruption, a diversion from your normal life; a pull away from what you want to do into what you have to do, paid poorly if at all. I understand that missing work can be a financial hardship, but absent a real hardship, I think trying to get out of jury duty is a betrayal of a fundamental duty of citizenship.

What I haven’t understood, at least not emotionally, is that service on some juries carries with it a cost beyond the cost of time and money involved; some cases inflict a psychic, emotional cost on the jurors hearing the case: that even listening to the evidence and trying to judge it honestly and dispassionately hurts, and strikes the jurors deep in their souls.

I was sworn in as an alternate juror on November 18 in the case of a man who was charged with fourteen counts of conducting molesting three minors under the age of 14 over a period of sixteen years.

Warning: explicit content. This post is not safe for work.
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