Monday, August 23, 2004

Blind Justice

That it took only three days to decide a first degree murder case and only two hours to deliberate a verdict is no reason to criticize Oprah.  This was Chicago, not California, and the legal standards were the ones which apply to the poor, not the cases covered by Court-TV.  The reality of the situation is that justice is simply easier to dispense when the defendant isn't famous.

Have you ever served as a juror?  I have.  My case involved three counts of first degree rape of a child.  The trial took three days and we deliberated four hours.  That was two hours more than the jurors in the Oprah case, but, we were evenly split 6-6 when we took our first poll, which means it took a lot of deliberation to reach a unanimous decision.

Oprah said that it was a life-changing experience, and that was certainly true for me.  But for me it was the deliberation that was life-changing.  Human lives were at risk.  Although we weren't allowed to entertain the sentence or penalty when we deliberated, certainly the awareness that the crime was incredibly serious and the penalty would match did.  And that was appropriate.  As jurors we did our job.

For us it came down to a 'he-said/she-said' situation.  But because of the young age of the victim (7) we were able to hear from her social worker.  During that process I made up my mind that I would never, ever send someone to prison based on the opinion of an expert. Somehow, some day, you or I might be sitting in that defendant's chair.  And if so, I hope to God I have someone on the jury who believes the same.   However, the little girl also testified, and she testified extremely well.  In the end, we believed her.  Without her testimony we couldn't have convicted the defendant. 

In this culture saturated by CSI and Law & Order we expect tidy packages.  This trial wasn't neat, it had loose ends.  There were questions about some of the principals involved that wouldn't be answered until after the verdict was in.  There was no physical evidence, there was no DNA evidence, the victim hadn't even been examined by a doctor (a point brought up by the defense). 

Could you convict under those circumstances?  That was why it was difficult for the 6 who voted to acquit.  We ultimately did, but only on one of the three counts.  Each count was a different sexual act, rather than a different event or time, and only one of them had enough proof to be beyond a reasonable doubt.  The other two were vague, maybe they happened.  Maybe they didn't.  Not good enough. 

So our jury reached a compromise, convicting on one of the counts, and acquitting on two.  But in these days of zero tolerance for child molestation, that was enough to send him to prison for 160 months (ten years).

I'm proud of the service I rendered on that jury.  I'm proud of how we behaved toward each other and the decisions we reached.  Justice was served.

1 comment:

stwill61 said...

I had heard Oprah was on a jury.  Beyond that, I was oblivious to the situation.  I expect I will hear about it, though -- since my wife watches Ms. Winfrey's show.  So, thanks for keeping me up to date.

But really, the important factor about this entry is how you have tied it to your real life experience.  I have never done jury duty, but I imagine the reality is so different from the Hollywood shrink-wrapped view I get on TV and in movies that I would barely recognize it.  I am a rules-oriented person, so I think I would make a good juror from a "prove the guilt, or I'll acquit" perspective.  

But I would hate to have the memories you must have from your experience.

It's a testament to our society that people are willing to support a system requiring a jury of peers.