Tuesday, September 16, 2008

My Civic Duty

Twenty years old & I got called up for jury duty. My parents both have only been called once & both once they were over thirty. I entered the courthouse, not sure what to expect (besides a lot of sitting), yet excited at the same time. I even secretly hoped to get on an actual jury for the experience of it. It may be once in a lifetime.
Well, I got my wish. I sat on a jury for a man charged with sex crimes against a minor. Not exactly the kind of case I was hoping for.
I came home the first day after hearing the two primary witness for the prosecution side. There was a sinking feeling, a knot beginning to form inside, almost sure that we would have to find the defendent guilty.
I had realized half way through the testimonies what an awesome responsibility I had. It actually mattered whether or not I thought this man to be guilty. I had to decide for myself based on the evidence. And my decision could let him walk free or could incarcerate him for many years to come, not to mention ruin his chances of a normal life when he finally got out. I was struck with the weight of the responsibility on my shoulders. And wondered how crazy is the government to allow, or ask a twenty year old to make such a decision?
I expected at least an almost black & white trial; but that was not the case. It could hardly have been grayer. It essentially came down to what the boy said versus what the defendent said. There were no witnesses to collaborate either story. All witnesses collaborating with the victim, were collaborating based on what he had told them. There were contradictions on both sides; stories that didn't line up; dates that changed. At the end of it, we the jury had to decide if the prosecution had proved their case beyond reasonable doubt. We had to judge who was more credible, the boy or the defendent. The defendent was more credible & there were just too many questions in each of our minds that we had reasonable doubt.
We acquitted him, found him not quilty!
Did we make the right decision? I don't know. But we had to make the decision we could live with. I was not convinced enough to send a man to jail. I can live with the fact that we let him go free; I could not live with incarcerating an innocent man.
It was a learning experience to be sure. And I actually hope that I will again have the privilege, honor, & responsibility to serve on a jury. It's not just a duty.