Thursday, May 23, 2013

Be nice to the jury

I just finished watching the jury in the Jodi Arias trial deliver their "verdict" of no verdict for the penalty phase. I've mentioned before that I've been obsessed with this case since a month after it started, stalking every day for their live blog, evidence photos, theories, and overly dramatic commentary.

This jury has been on the case since the first week of January. They deliberated once to determine guilt, deliberated again to determine if she was unduly cruel, and then deliberated yet again to determine the penalty. They've been away from their jobs for nearly 6 months and have been unable to discuss what they've been living and breathing. Now, to many, their lack of resolution makes it all a waste.

Of course, I'm watching the HLN circus of histrionics so maybe that's not the case everywhere. But I feel compelled to write anyway.

I served on a jury that couldn't reach a verdict back in October. I never discussed it because it was truly one of the worst weeks of my life. It was a relatively minor case, no one died, no one was even injured, but it taught me so much about both our justice system and human nature. I am in no way comparing my little experience to the severity of Arias' case, the media coverage, or the repercussions. Just this: Be nice to the jury.

The defendant in my case was charged with possession of a gun that wasn't registered, that he wasn't supposed to have as a violation of parole, and one other charge I can't remember. He was seen running from the cops, trying to pull something out of his pocket, and a gun was found in his path. The trial lasted about 2.5 days and we deliberated for the same.

The last time I sat on a jury in D.C., I was the alternate and didn't have to deliberate. This time, I knew the chances of being alternate were slimmer, and I was terrified the entire trial about deliberating. I'm a reasonable person with great respect for our system of government, but I didn't know if I could convict someone. I also didn't want to let a guilty person go free.

I was leaning the entire trial toward not guilty. There wasn't enough evidence. There was some variation in testimony, though minor in my opinion. I did not like the defense attorney, but I couldn't let that influence my decision. When we took the first vote in the jury room, I knew he was guilty. I had doubts, but they weren't beyond reason. Reason didn't really get much play in our jury room, however.

We had jurors who didn't understand the basics of government and the legislative process. "The police shouldn't have charged him with this." (Police don't bring charges.)

One juror "had problems with D.C. cops going back to the '70s." (Good thing we weren't asked during voir dire if we had bias toward law enforcement and a good thing 4 of them didn't testify during the tiral. Oh wait, both of those things happened!)

We would all agree to ignore the testimony of an untrustworthy witness, only to have someone bring it up to support their vote.

Those who voted guilty argued for non-guilty so we could see it from the other side; the non-guilty voters refused to even pretend.

We had jurors blatantly ignore the juror instructions:
  • We were told to only consider evidence presented. Jurors drew elaborate diagrams and concocted alternate theories that even the defense didn't posit.
  • We had strict guidelines for the charges, aka the law. "Well, I don't think possession of a gun should be a crime." (Well, guess what, it is!)
  • We were told not to consider sentencing in our decision, that would be left to the judge. Jurors would constantly bring up the corrupt prison system in their refusal to convict. 
  • We had a clear definition of reasonable doubt. "I just refuse to convict without being 100% sure." (Then you shouldn't be here!)

One witness testified he was the distance from the bench to the courtroom door away from the defendant on the night in question. One juror challenged the measurement given in the courtroom, by the judge. I literally threw my hands up.  Once you start doubting rulers, there's really nothing that can be done.

In the end I believe we were 8 and 4. And worst of all, in my opinion, we were divided by race.

One of the days I sat on the steps outside a downtown hotel, called my mom, and sobbed. I was stressed from missing work, angry at the incompetency and intransigence of my "peers," and disappointed in the system I always believed in. I cried because I know the next time I'm called, I will have a lot to say during voir dire about my thoughts on the criminal justice system, on the jury system, on lawyers, on human beings.

Maybe you think I'm too dramatic, maybe you're rolling your eyes, but that's ok. As realistic-bordering-on-pessimistic as I often am, I still have a fair amount of idealism on certain topics, and it hurts a bit when it gets washed away.

After the trial ended, I looked the defendant up in the court system. He was currently in prison for another crime and has been in and out of prison on a variety of crimes for almost 10 years. He was charged with the exact same set of charges 2 years ago.

Be nice to the jury. It's not an easy job.

No comments:

Post a Comment


Related Posts with Thumbnails