Miss Woodhouse's Musings

…about life, the universe, and everything. Don't panic!

When the Jury’s Actually Out – Episode Two

Welcome back to When the Jury’s Actually Out. Last time, our unlikely heroine discovered that she’d been selected to serve on a criminal court case. Let’s get back to the story.

Lunch over, we returned to the courtroom via our highly stylish method of escalator travel. I tried to find some measure of comfort in the slight familiarity of the journey, and in the ever-present figure in the white polo. We walked into the courtroom, now crowded with spectators, and let me tell you that is no walk in the park for someone with social anxiety issues. Every head turned, every conversation stopped. Countless pairs of  eyes raked us up and down, silently assessing what they thought our ability to judge the case was. I kept reminding myself to breathe as the lovely bailiffs pushed themselves between us and the audience and ensconced us in the relative safety of the deliberation room. There, we seated ourselves around a large table and made awkward small talk. We got to know each other a bit – retirees, teachers, business people, and a few young hourly workers. Most of us were readers, and I found myself breaking the ice with others by asking them about the books they held. Married, single, divorced, all represented. Parents and not. Overly educated, and just barely educated. It truly was a great cross-section of humanity. We all developed an easy, joke-cracking camaraderie that would draw criticism in the days to come, but was our only saving grace during the case. One lovely older woman took an interest in me (along with the knitting she carried with her) and made sure that I didn’t fade into the background. At some point the bailiff came in to ask if any of us wanted to take notes, and I was one of four to accept. Whether I needed the help was yet to be seen, but better safe than sorry and it gave me something to do with my hands.

The beginning of the case was fairly dull, even given the subject matter. The judge even had to wake one of the older gentlemen up, which would have been funnier if I hadn’t been on the verge of dozing off myself. Once we were in the jury box, the courtroom didn’t explode with questionings and accusations like you see on TV. Also, I began to notice the extreme deference with which we were being treated. In many courtroom dramas, the jury is window-dressing to the more sensational world of cross-examination and witness breakdowns. In this court, the jury was treated reverentially. It wasn’t until I saw how deferentially the judge treated us that the full enormity of the situation hit me. We were the axis. We would decide the fate of this man on trial, forever. The lawyers, witnesses, and judge could only present so much and go so far. We had the final say. Let me tell you, that is an intensely sobering realization. Here I was, 24, barely able to keep my own life running somewhat smoothly, and I was to help decide the course of another human being’s life? Wow. Just…wow.

We didn’t do too much that day – opening statements and a witness or two. The judge adjourned us for the day, with another reminder to not talk about the case, etc, read the news, look online, try to visit the site of the alleged incident, so on and so forth. We then made the trip back down to the waiting room, signed out, got our passes for the next day, and left the courthouse. I met up with my parents for a coffee and told them what I could: I’d been selected, it would be a few days, and I can’t say anymore. Already, the few details I knew were weighing heavily on my mind, and I just sat quietly most of the evening while everyone else talked about their day, finally checking out in front of the television to watch a movie. Normally I’m a huge internet junkie, but I didn’t want to run the risk of seeing something I shouldn’t regarding the case. I turned in, and tried to sleep, facts and adrenaline flooding my system and fighting off oblivion.

I arrived at the jury room the next morning, and was soon joined by my thirteen new best friends. Again we took our journey through the building, again we braved the stares and whispers. I can’t even begin to explain how horrible this day was. We heard things, heartbreaking things that you don’t even want to see on the most brutal of crime dramas. We were showed pictures, given explanations, facts as best the could be described, sent out of the room any time either side overstepped their bounds of presenting and wandered into interpretation. That was our job, to interpret. Not theirs. We heard from police, detectives, eyewitnesses, expert witnesses…and a child. Let me tell you, that was the most difficult thing of all. Sometimes they show children testifying on TV shows, but I can assure you that there’s nothing in life more devastating than listening to a child testify about things they shouldn’t know about for many more years to come, and seeing the blank emptiness behind their eyes. All I wanted to do was run and throw my arms around the child, tell them everything was going to be okay – not because I was yet set to make a ruling, but because I really, truly wanted to believe that they could be okay again. Whether I voted guilty or innocent for the defendant made no difference. The damage was done either way, and all I wanted was to see it repaired. But, through it all, I couldn’t react. I couldn’t let a flicker of emotion show.

That’s another thing you don’t fully realize about jury duty from the TV. You are under constant scrutiny the entire time you’re in the courtroom. Both sides want to get a bead on how the jury is leaning, and they are trained to catch shifts in body language and flickers of expression. The last thing I wanted to do was allow either side to think that I was swaying towards a favourable verdict to them, because when I walked into that jury room the next day to start making deliberations, I truly did not know what I was going to say. I really, really hated the prosecution. I can’t tell you how much I didn’t like the lawyers, their “facts”, their witnesses, their whole case. It was flimsy at best; not their fault given the circumstances but they still came across as untrustworthy. More unfortunately, the defense’s legal counsel seemed inept. There were so many questions they left unasked, so many things I yearned to know to help me make an informed recommendation. Perhaps there was a good reason to leave those questions unasked, I truly hope that is the case. Otherwise…I just don’t know.

Due to the nature of the case, we were being presented with two separate (yet related) charges, and also due to the nature of the case, some of the evidence was not allowed to be publicly shown in the courtroom. Later, during deliberations, we would have the chance to view that evidence, but more on that later. The main thing that day was the fact that above all else, we somehow had to compartmentalize our brains and divorce our feelings and emotions from the greater picture, for now. During our times in the deliberation room, we’d talk about banalities and crack jokes. As humans, we process information by thinking, talking, sharing. We weren’t supposed to be thinking about the case yet, we weren’t allowed to talk about it, and of course that meant no sharing. At one point the bailiff came in to chide us for them being able to hear laughter on the other side of the imitation poster-board wall. One of the jurors, an older man with weight behind his words, turned to stare blankly at the bailiff and replied “Well, they can’t accuse us of being in here talking about the case. There’s nothing funny about all this.” The bailiff shrugged and left. Secretly, I think that he understood better than his position would allow him to let on. I felt badly for him – we had each other to distract us from the grim case at hand while he was left standing there alone with his own thoughts. It must be so, so lonely.

That’s all I have the emotional energy for in this second installment of When the Jury’s Actually Out. In the next sections I’ll go over deliberations, verdicts, and security. Until then…be well.

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