Thursday, July 21, 2011

Jury Duty


I just got home from serving on a trial.

This was my fourth summons in ten years. The previous three, I was "lucky" that I never made it into a courtroom; the attorneys settled and my group was dismissed. This time, not only did I go into the courtroom, but I ended up being one of fourteen chosen out of a pool of 42. Two were alternates and not needed, leaving twelve of us.

This afternoon, I consider myself lucky that I was chosen, and I'm very glad to have not only fulfilled my civic duty, but that I got a chance to participate in our legal system. I also think... it works. Sure, nothing's perfect, but I feel very good about the outcome.

I can talk freely about it now, so here's the basics: It was an Assault with Intent to Murder trial, in which one man was accused of beating another with an aluminum baseball bat.

The first man was working out a gym/fight club. He went up to a local gas station to get Gatorade. While there, the owner of the gas station told him that three vehicles had pulled up, that those guys were looking for him and he'd better run. So that's what he did. He tried to run back to the gym, but the cars followed him. One, a gray minivan, hit him outside the gym, knocking him to the ground. Then the other cars pulled up, and a bunch of guys, all armed with baseball bats, got out. One said, "This is for my homey, motherfucker!" and brought the bat down. The victim put up an arm, and it was snapped in half. A second blow split the top of his head. While that was happening, another guy began kicking him in the ribs. At some point, onlookers yelled and the perpetrators scattered.

The victim was brought into a bar by the owner of the gym, where wet towels were put on his head until an ambulance arrived and he was taken to Detroit Receiving.

And now, things get fuzzy. There are various police reports, all naming one guy -- the driver of the gray minivan, who is a guy who had a beef with the victim -- as the kicker, but not naming the guy with the baseball bat. At some point later -- after a couple of police interviews and then testifying under oath in a preliminary exam -- the victim did name him. That man was arrested and put on trial.

But the victim had only met this man once before, and for an extremely brief exchange of words, and that exchange had not been angry or confrontational at all.

And...

This man has a twin brother.

There were no witnesses (or, should I say, no one who would testify at this trial), which left us with an inconsistent victim. Unfortunately, as I told my fellow jurors in deliberations, we really don't know which brother was there -- if either. Frankly, there was no evidence that either was there, other than the victim's words.

And all of these people are shady characters. This happened in an extremely bad part of Detroit, and the people involved were convicts, out on parole, and admitted drug users. We got the sense that there were rival gangs or it was about drug money, or very likely both. We were not given much information/evidence to go on, and we spent hours trying to connect the dots and figure out why and how this happened.

In the end, while we felt badly for the victim -- he clearly got the shit beat out of him -- we couldn't send a man to jail who may be innocent. In this country, if there is "reasonable doubt," you must acquit, and we had way more than just reasonable doubt.

In some ways, we felt like jurors must've felt on the Casey Anthony trial: we all had gut feelings that this guy, or more likely his brother, was somehow involved, even if they just knew what was going to happen. But there was no proof, and this kid -- for he was a young guy -- couldn't go to jail for that.

Did an innocent man go free, and justice was served? Or did a guilty man get away with something? I cannot say for sure, but I do know that we didn't convict a man on gut feelings, and that our system worked.

When we announced our verdict, we were instructed to go back into the jury deliberation room while the courtroom was cleared. As we walked by the defendant, who was sobbing the moment he heard the verdict, he looked each of us in the eye and thanked us. His wife, sitting near by, was also crying. Minutes later, the judge came in, thanked us again, and then she said, without knowing our reasoning, that there had been no way to tell which twin, if either, had been involved, and so we did the right thing. We really felt good then, because that had been the basis of our decision.

The other man involved in the beating is in jail, pleading insanity, and the judge said he probably won't get away with it. In his case, there's way too much evidence, plus I guess he's some kind of really bad guy who's going away for one thing or another. And we did say, as jurors, that all the evidence we heard and believed pointed clearly to this other man. So to jurors on that trial -- whew, your decision will be easier than ours.

To the man who walked out a free man today after spending the last few months in jail: I wish you well, and knowing your current circumstances, I hope you learned a lesson. Please don't run around with those people anymore. It seems like you're trying to get your life together, and you're really young, with a wife and small children. Everything can be different from here on out.

I think I sound like an old fart when I say that, but I sincerely hope that this person stays away from that part of Detroit and his old crowd. He's got a chance. Take it.

And one last thing: Only a few of us jurors admitted that when we first walked in the courtroom, we judged a book by its cover. We looked at the defendant and thought, "Oh yeah, he's guilty." I completely did. I thought, "Thug in a suit." Was I right? I don't think so, not anymore.

The entire process was tedious and boring at times. The graphic photos of injuries were a bit much for me (weak stomach, believe it or not). But watching people get up on the stand and try to lie or sway their words to mean a specific thing, and watching the attorneys do the same kind of maneuvering, was interesting. And deliberations, though ours lasted about six hours, was really interesting. And of course, there's the sense that you participated in our justice system and helped it work, and were valuable in doing so. I would totally do this again.

To think, a few days ago, I was sick and anxious because I had to go to jury duty.

*

Now, a brief note: The Walking Dead is totally going to shit. WTF.

That is all.

(seriously, I might cancel my subscription)






7 comments:

  1. I've always been curious what Jury Duty would be like, but I've never been called.

    And I didn't know you were a local, as it were! (I live just outside Windsor, a few miles and an international border away.)

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  2. If you're ever called and then serve on a jury, I bet you'd be great at it.

    Windsor is local! Before you needed a passport, we'd go over sometimes for dinner or to the casino. Gosh, Windsor is just twenty minutes away, so yes, you aren't far. Small world!

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  3. Sounds like you had an experience that will carry with you for some time. Glad to hear that justice, as it must be defined, was served.

    And The Walking Dead is back on??? Damn!

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  4. The series, not until this fall. But I've been an avid reader of the comic, and I can officially say it's breathing its last. What a waste of the most awesome potential.

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  5. Becky: That was fasinating. I was on a jury once. We had to confict him...but he did the deed. But afterwards I thought that it was almost scary to think we (juries) are allowed to play god (guilty or not guilty). Casey Anthony did not kill her child but she was guilty of not giving a shit that she was dead. Bitch!

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  6. I had that same feeling, that we are the ones playing god here. That's a lot of power, and I was very cautious when making my decision.

    Casey Anthony had something to do with it. She did it, she knew about it, she knew about it after it happened. Something. Maybe the kid did drown in the pool. But then she just gets rid of the body, and life goes on? WTF? Bitch is right.

    Girl, it's been so hot here. I shouldn't complain, considering your neck of the woods is probably ten times more humid and hot. But whew.

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  7. An intriguing account. As you mention regarding the other jurors, there are plenty of easy ones (clearly guilty/clearly innocent) but the complex ones where it isn't as clear must be stressful. Trying to evaluate what is set and understand how the words are being used to possibly mislead. The maneuvering seems like that would be particularly educational.

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