October 02, 2013 - Now that it's over and I have time to reflect, I can say am glad I was lucky enough to sit in judgment of a fellow American.
It was a very lengthy process, one that spanned a three-week period. This was a criminal case, one that involved people and not property. It was a hard case with lots of testimony. It was an emotional case that knocked me for a mental loop during those three weeks.
This was serious business. The lives of individuals and families rested in my (and the other jurors') hands and on our (hopefully) better judgement.
We listened to the judge. We listened to both the prosecution and the defense. We listened to witness testimony. And, even though the judge instructed us to start with the presumption of defendant's innocence, we all said (afterwards) the defendant looked guilty. Heck, we wanted the defendant to be guilty.
It would have made things real easy just to say, "guilty" and be done with it.
However, in the end, we individually and then as a group came to only one conclusion: Not Guilty.
That conclusion was made in the first three minutes of deliberation. We spent an hour or more trying to find a flaw in our reasoning; trying to figure out how we could've missed a guilty verdict. Didn't happen. Based on the evidence and witness testimony the defendant was Not Guilty.
Throughout the process, usually on my drive home from court, a thought usually separated itself from the quagmire that is my mind: why would any able-bodied and able-minded American not want to take part in the jury system?
Average Americans serving as jurors help ensure we all have a shot at a fair trial. I came away from the case feeling better about the justice system. Were I ever wrongfully accused of something and went through the court process, I would hope that jury would take their responsibilities as seriously as the jury I was on did.
I hear folks (somewhat) jokingly tell of all the ways they know how to weasel out of jury duty. Sad to say, they're usually middle-class, middle-aged crackers like me. (What's a cracker? It's a honky, pale-face, soulless, non-jumping white dude or dudette.)
These folks want the benefits of working and living in a civilized society, but aside from doing what they have to (pay taxes) they want none of the responsibilities. The men and women of the military protect our nation; who is responsible for protecting us individually? Short answer: Us -- we the people.
What happens when nobody steps up to the plate and serves on a jury because, well because they're just too darned busy? What if only those looking for a paycheck or those led by emotion and not common sense become jurors? Again, the short answer: Our system falls apart from within. Our jury system, while not perfect (innocent men have been found guilty and the guilty have been set free) is really one of the corner stones of our American brand of democracy.
It is not a single judge (a single government representative) who stands in judgement. Rather, it is a jury of 12 citizens (like you and me) who delivers a verdict of guilt or innocence only after listening and weighing the evidence presented. And, I am not here to preach that everybody is treated fairly or equally. We all know some are more equal than others when it comes to financing a legal team.
I always had this thought in my head about a "jury of my peers" and "innocent until proven guilty" and that somehow the U.S. Constitution protected those things . . . guess what, I was wrong!
I went through the Constitution and while Amendments 4 through 8 cover unreasonable search and seizures, grand juries, speedy public trials, excessive bail and cruel and unusual punishments, I found nothing on my "peers" being my jury, nor my presumed innocence. Zoinks!
I hopped on-line and did a little research.
According to a Gary Martin, "The phrase 'innocent until proven guilty' isn't found in print until the 19th century. It appears to be American in origin, as all the early printed citations of it come from there; for example, a plea to a Gettysburg court by a Samuel Chase, reported in the newspaper The Sprig Of Liberty, February 1805: "He wishes the court to consider him innocent until he is proven to be guilty."
The first citation he found as a legal principle comes from the Law Reports of the Supreme Court of Ohio, 1835: "The law presumes all innocent of crime until proven guilty."
The first person, Martin said, who worked on this presumption of innocence was an 18th century barrister, Sir William Garrow; and that was in May 1784. Interesting, I know, I digress . . . Still, I have found serving was a privilege. If you are chosen, do not run, lie or hide from jury duty.
Face it. Do your duty.
Comments: e-mail Rush, Don@ShermanPublications.org.
Don is Assistant Publisher for Sherman Publications, Inc. He has worked for the company since 1985. He has won numerous awards for column, editorial and feature writing as well as for photography. He has two, sons Shamus and Sean and resides in the area. To read archived copies of his columns, click on his name, just under his picture up top . . . He can be e-mailed at: firstname.lastname@example.org