Furthest Right

Jury Duty

Serving on a jury provided one of the most enlightening experiences of my life. I wish it for everyone. You will not only see the trial process in a different light, but you will view all of life in a new way.

Being in the jury box differs from a television trial. In the court, you see how meticulous and logical the process is. On television, you see the drama occur in huge leaps that diverge from the logical questions of each case, forcing you to take sides immediately and push truth to the back burner.

A person following a trial through the media receives at best about 25% of the actual trial. Would you like to be judged by a jury that only paid attention 25% of the time? TV courtroom drama conditions the public (who are potential future jurors) to decide cases by sound bites and emotion. 

This “trial pornography” degrades the solemn duty that is serving on a jury because this is precisely what a jury is ordered not to do. Lawyers filter out jurors that have prior knowledge of the case, but cannot filter out a juror’s prior knowledge of the criminal trial process.

The media likes to dwell on the one-in-a-million cases where maybe, just maybe, the defendant has been wrongly accused or the verdict was botched. After years of being hypnotized this way, it’s tempting to have no belief in criminal investigations or the trial process whatsoever. We begin to distrust any and all authority: the police, detectives, judges, lawyers and the jurors, themselves. 

This is a vicious and dangerous road to go down, but it’s all in your head. Humans suffer doubt about everything because most of us are oriented toward ways of avoiding failure, instead of paths to success.  We torture ourselves that maybe just maybe we’ll get it wrong.

Taken to an absurd extreme, this hyper-skepticism could make us say, “well, unless there is an actual video of the defendant committing the crime, I’m just not 100% certain that he or she did it.”  But if we start thinking like that, the next objection will be, “well, what if the video is a fake.”

When you actually serve on a jury, you will start to lose this hyper-skepticism. You will see that if it quacks like a duck, it’s a duck. Complete and total knowledge of all detail is unnecessary to know what the truth is. When I served on a jury, I had to entirely re-evaluate how I see truth.

The first few minutes of jury deliberation are uncomfortable because everyone just witnessed the same trial but no one knows what anyone else is thinking. To break the ice, my jury anonymously wrote our verdicts on a chalkboard. We immediately felt the fear of being judged by our peers for maybe having the “wrong” opinion. Peer pressure is not just for kids.

In the case we analyzed, deliberation revolved around intent and consequences. Stray bullets endangered someone that was not an intended target. Thankfully, no one was hurt, but if an innocent bystander had been wounded, the intent would have been irrelevant. Bullets don’t go where they are intended; they go wherever they are shot. As far as the jury was concerned, all that mattered was consequences.

We deliberated for two days. Not everyone was convinced. When two different people witness the exact same trial, and one is utterly convinced and the other is still not sure, you see the terrifying power that is doubt.

The unconvinced simply wanted to avoid getting it wrong. Some also said they felt bad for sending someone to jail. These are natural human reactions.  Those of us that were convinced were happy to take the time to discuss it. We took our duty seriously. 

A jury can not let feelings or perpetual doubt get in the way. It would be a travesty to let criminals off the hook because we “felt bad” or because we could not reach a conclusion. Even more, if you were in front of a jury, would you want them judging you with logic, or with emotion? It probably depends on how guilty you would (hypothetically) be. The guiltier you are, the more juror emotions might help!

Today there is a lot of talk of a crisis of faith or belief. It is usually tied to religion, but it is seeping into the secular realm, as well, in the form of hyper-skepticism. “Unless I see it, plain as day, I’m just not sure,” a person might say.

People pride themselves on knowledge because knowledge is verifiable in a way that belief is not. We take pride in distrusting authority and “thinking for ourselves.” This will all change if you serve on a jury.  You will start to be skeptical of skepticism. 

On the jury I served on we lacked the quintessential “smoking gun.” But as you process two weeks of testimony and evidence, the answer becomes evident. We must not allow that silly, one-in-a-million chance to haunt us. Serving on a jury forces you to believe in reality and push doubt aside.

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