Now we’re at the really cool part, the part that makes us Americans, because we are a democratic society that values freedom and fair and just above all else. And before you go cynically thinking “fair and just above all else my ass”, sure maybe it is a rose-tinted view looking around at the vitriol being spewed and the violence being enacted domestically right now, but no system is perfect and I have to believe that the freedoms our practices provide is worth an imperfect system (because it’s still ultimately a better system).
So, we are at the part where twelve strangers are stuck in a room to unanimously conclude the fates of two individuals based upon the evidence and testimony provided during the trial. Twelve strangers from different economic backgrounds, different generations and different life experiences all gathered to examine, debate, and reach an understanding against most odds. Yes, we all got along in the small talk area of things. In fact, we were later told by both bailiffs, the judge, and the prosecution and defense attorneys that we bonded faster and more than any other jury they’d ever seen, but that’s beside the point. The point is that statistically twelve people who are so different that they shouldn’t be able to agree on what’s for dinner were going to agree on the right and wrong of a legal case.
We deliberated. People were civil and listened when another was speaking. We acknowledged each other’s points before offering our own. It was courteous and earnest and everything that I’d like to think the Founding Fathers hoped it would be. Too quickly the day’s end came, and we were close to making a decision but there was still some back and forth and some hesitations here or there. We agreed instead of rushing to a decision, we would all come back the next day. We wanted to give the plaintiff and defendant the time and consideration they deserved and what we would want the jury of our peers to do if we were in their shoes.
Leaving the jury room Tuesday evening, we were in favor of the plaintiff, roughly 60-40 because she was at fault, too, but we needed to think about the award that would come her way and there was still some hedging on the at-fault percentage. If we’d found her equally at fault or more so, remember, then no award could be given at all. We certainly didn’t believe she deserved everything she was asking for and it was quite obvious to us that she was at fault for the accident as well as the defendant, hence the 60-40. Wednesday morning that was all about to change.
We walked into the room and once given permission, deliberations began again. Everyone agreed they were glad we took the time to sleep on things so we could refocus with fresh eyes on the facts at hand. This time a few people who hadn’t spoken much the day before offered their thoughts on the case. One older man went so far as to walk us through the entire scene via matchbox cars he pulled out of his pocket so we could clearly visualize the series of events leading to the accident. I offered my knowledge about the intersection again and how the lanes worked. A nurse reexamined the plaintiff’s medical bills and history, explaining in layman’s terms what it all meant to those in the room. The foreperson kept a neat list of facts on our dry erase board and the next thing you know we found ourselves leaning in favor of the defendant.
And that’s where we stood. No award would be made to the plaintiff. This might seem like a 180 degree trunabout, and maybe technically it was since we moved from favoring the plaintiff to favoring the defendant, but the culpability was always quite close in our minds. However, after reviewing the evidence again, and having everyone speak their minds, it became quite clear to twelve strangers that the proof just didn’t support the plaintiff’s claims.
Throughout deliberations, of course jury members commented on things that were noticed in the courtroom or their perception of the plaintiff, defendant and their legal teams. The plaintiff seemed like a liar who was trying to get money. She seemed to put on a show regarding her pain when on the stand. The defendant seemed cold and uncaring. The prosecutor seemed like he was trying too hard to be liked. The defense attorney seemed like she could kick the prosecutor’s ass outside of school. Their mannerisms, their clothes, the way they answered were all observed and dissected by everyone on the jury at some point or other. This was human nature, to note these things and share them with each other. However, none of that mattered when it came to the verdict. Our verdict was rendered based solely on the evidence produced and the law, and for that I could not be more proud. The system worked. It was glorious.
These twelve strangers, who in many ways couldn’t be more different from one another, had one important thing in common – they were all Americans. I’m seeing so much divisiveness in the media, in social media, and even in casual conversations with family, friends and colleagues today. This election year is a big one and I can honestly say I didn’t vote for either candidate in the primary. My choice didn’t make the cut. Neither of these candidates are who I want for the next president of the United States, but it is what it is and we need to continue to move forward, united, not divided. We need to avoid stereotypes and generalizations, not just with the candidates, but with each other. Lately all I’ve been hearing is how ALL Republicans are racists, and ALL Democrats are traitors. This is simply not true, and this is coming from someone who has very pointed opinions when it comes to policy and how the government should be run. I may not voice it on this platform, but buy me a beer and I’m happy to share as long as you’re willing to listen and keep an open mind. I would offer you the same in return. Do you know why? Because that’s what adults do. Oh, and because I live in a country where you can drink beer and discuss politics without the fear of being beheaded, beaten or imprisoned for life. There’s that.
So the coolest thing about jury duty? Twelve people. Twelve people setting aside their differences to respectfully debate the facts set before them. Twelve people representative of who we are as a society but who also happen to be human. Humans who may stereotype and generalize and assume, who superficially observe the world around them because that’s what humans do, yet are capable of rising above the bullshit to come together to look at facts, be respectful and ultimately unified.
This doesn’t negate individualism and it certainly doesn’t forsake one’s passion for a particular subject matter. It’s just being willing to see the forest for the trees, folks. Don’t be taken in by the giant asshole oak stuck off to one side. See the entire woodland area next to it, ready to welcome you with open arms. With that mentality, we can do great things. Jury duty was the best reminder of this.