Monday, December 17, 2007

Civil Duty

When I received my jury summons in early September I quickly called to excuse myself because I would be in school at my scheduled date. The woman on the phone politely asked when I would be done with school for the holidays so that she could reschedule me. Being all too nice and a terrible liar I gave last week's Monday, the 10th of December, as my date with boredom and doom.
Not only did I not want to drive downtown at 7 am, find parking and sit uncomfortably surrounded by strangers for a few hours, I was not in the least interested in deciding the fate of another human being. I felt completely unqualified for such an important position. How could I choose what was right and wrong in a situation I didn't witness? How could I possibly understand everything said in the court room and, with an unbiased mind, give my opinion?
I think that is what I was most worried about. In most situations I am able to ask others what they think before making a decision. I value the opinions of my friends and my family, and many times I concur with their feelings. However I feel that I am sometimes swayed in my personal opinion in order to make everyone happy. I might go along with the crowd even if I don't fully agree. I was worried that I wouldn't know how to defend myself in the deliberation room. My stomach was twisting imagining what I would have to say or do for people to listen to me, especially because of my age (I was certainly the youngest juror, followed by a man in his mid to late twenties).
When my group was finally called, we lined up at the door in two single file lines, grade school style, and went up the elevators to the court room. My name was called in the first group to sit in the jury box, and when I saw the defendant and heard the accusations against him, I knew I would remain juror number 9 for the entire trial. My heart sank into my stomach. He was charged with first degree felony murder, larceny, and a few other smaller charges.
A young, thin black man was sitting opposite the defense attorney. He was dressed in jeans, a royal blue shirt and tie with his head lowered and his hands clasped in front of him. Occasionally he looked up at us in what could have been hope. I don't know much about the defendant because he never spoke, nor did any of his relatives or friends. He was a blank slate that we had to judge. We had no idea who he was, where he was from, where he went to school. The only information we were given was that in July, at the age of 14, he stole a car, drove it for nearly a minute, then crashed and spun out of control, hitting a pedestrian and killing her.
Without going into the incredibly boring details of 5 police witnesses and the angsty testimony of a Wayne State University student witness, it was obvious that first degree murder was not applicable. This was an accident, and although he stole the car and didn't know how to drive, he was not expecting to kill anyone that day.
The time had come for decision making. But once in the jury room I wasn't scared at all about voicing my opinion. I felt empowered to explain my feelings and reasons to 11 other people, who by this time were a little less than strangers. I helped lead discussion and votes, and in the end I believe that our decision of involuntary manslaughter was right.
I had rarely heard about people's experiences on a jury; I only knew that I didn't want to be on one. But I think that if more people were willing to take a day or two out of their lives they would find an incredible experience there. It's not a glamorous opportunity by any means, but the impact on your life is tremendous. It could even be life changing. I don't think I will ever forget the trial, or the deliberation. For me the independence of mind that I had to uphold was a reminder of things I learned on study abroad and throughout my life; responsibility to others, freedom and trust.


Blogger MaryWilcox said...

Give the people what they want: more money , more words

11:06 PM  

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