Thursday, April 14, 2011

Jury duty day 9

We're done. And we got off easy - as did the defendant. Not to bore you with details, but on this our third day of deliberation we decided to acquit the defendant on all charges - even though many of us felt in our hearts that he was guilty. (When we were dismissed yesterday, we were divided 6/6 on two charges.) In the end there were just too many gaps in the DA's case - and way too many doubts floating around the room.
The idea that the accused might now be free to commit a(nother) crime weighed heavily on us, as I'm sure it must for many a jury. One jury member, an immigrant from a Muslim country, was particularly troubled. I think he feared standing before his God and being asked why he allowed someone he was "99.9% certain" was a criminal go free, an understandable concern. Vigorous discussion ensued of what the presumption of innocence means, and the separation of church and state (which we're assuming God recognizes!) - among many unexpected and extraordinary things which emerged in our deliberations.

But then we got off easy, getting a kind of closure juries usually don't get. The judge came to see us after the verdict, and told us that it had been not only a difficult but an unprecedented case. While remaining scrupulously agnostic on the case he explained: the main witness, the alleged victim, was a child, whose testimony had been problematic. In response to many questions, including most from the defense attorney during cross-examination, the child was unresponsive. Had it been an adult, the judge explained, the witness would have been declared in contempt of court and forced to answer or go to jail. In the case of a child this was impossible. The judge could have sent us home right there, he explained. But he decided to let it go forward to see what we would do. Since we had decided to acquit, all was well. But if our verdict had been guilty, we learned, he would have voided the trial. (The DA's might still have appealed, and an appellate court restored our verdict.) Seems an undeserved "whew" we all felt at that point.

This assuaged some of our anxiety but then, as we waited for the elevator going down, we got another "whew." One of the assistant DAs, the charts of DNA evidence under her arm, asked a little despondently if there was anything she and her colleague might have done differently (we were happy to oblige, having phantastized about all sorts of witnesses and evidence we wished had been presented). Then she reassured us that the child, "a brave little girl," was safe; there was already a Family Court order of protection against the defendant. Whew indeed. Though of course none of this suggests the man was innocent.

It's late, so other reflections on the absurdity, the impossibility, and the privilege of serving on a jury (and keys to the encrypted observations of the past week and a half's blogposts) will have to wait. If only for now: I feel irresistibly compelled to tell stories about it, in part, I know, because I have rarely been as aware of our need for stories, of our reckless virtuosity in fashioning them, and of the panic of considering that reality may not be story-shaped at all.

In any case:
these were nine days well spent. It was a privilege.

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