An hour after we had come to our decision we were ushered back into the courtroom. I had expected all the participants to be present: the victim, the witnesses, the family, etc. Instead, it was just the judge, bailiff and clerk, the defendant and his wife, the two lawyers, and us.
The foreman had expressed concern that he would have announce our decisions, as they do on tv. As it turned out, that’s not how it’s done in the Seattle Superior Court. Our verdict was first handed to the bailiff, who gave it to the judge to review. The judge then gave it to the Court Clerk, who first entered it into the records and read it aloud. In a way, I was kind of glad the Clerk read the verdict, as she, of all the people in the courtroom, looked the most distraught during the trial. During the victim’s testimony I thought she might break into tears.
The defense attorney asked the judge to “poll the jury”. Accordingly, the judge asked each of us, in turn, if the announced verdict was our own. We all answered in the affirmative. Apparently, if any juror suddenly says “What tha -?! That’s not the verdict I rendered!” during a poll, we all get sent back sort things out. Polling the jury is truly the last ditch effort on the part of a defense.
Having been found guilty on three of the five counts, the defendant was remanded into custody as we filed back to the deliberation room. After a few moments, the bailiff came back and told us we were free to go. She also mentioned that both the Prosecution and defense attorneys would be available to speak to anyone who wanted to explain the verdict. Attorneys often like to talk to jurors to find out what swayed their decision, the bailiff said, but she emphasized that we were under no obligation to discuss the case with anyone. Given the heinousness of the crime and my dissatisfaction with both the Defense and the Prosecution, I opted to hightail it out of there. So as soon as we were allowed to leave, I hurried to the stairwell, removed my “JUROR” badge, and left the Courthouse as quickly as I could.
It’s been two weeks since the verdict, and the whole thing still amazes me. When I describe the case to other people, they seem dumbfounded by the paucity of evidence we used to convict the guy. “That’s all you had to go on?” my friends ask, and I want to say “Oh no, there was lots of other stuff we factored in.” But the truth is that one person’s testimony was pretty much all we based our verdict on. When I think about this aspect objectively, I find it rather unnerving. But subjectively, I know we came to the correct conclusion. I’m having a hard time reconciling my certainty that we came to the right verdict with my unease that we were allowed to render a verdict at all.
The foreman of our jury sent me an email the other day. He had spoken with the attorneys after the trail, and they told him a lot of interesting stuff. Throughout the trial there were elements of the case that were never mentioned directly. Whenever one side would allude to these verboten topics (such as a long-standing family feud), the other side would object, and the objection would invariably be sustained. Occasionally an attorney managed to sneak in a reference to the disallowed material, but such statements were usually stricken from the record. That meant that we couldn’t use them in our deliberations, even though we wished we had been given the whole story. At any rate, the facts which had been withheld from us during the trial were revealed by the attorneys afterwards, and they only served to strengthen our belief that we returned the correct verdict. The whole process of deciding what evidence can and cannot be known to the jury during a trial is something I know nothing about, but is undoubtedly another fascinating aspect of the process.
My experience with Jury Duty was a lot like my experience with the Peace Corps: I went in with overly optimistic and romantic ideas of what my service would entail, and came out a little jaded and a little wiser. I’m glad I did it, but I don’t relish the idea of ever having to do it a second time. The experienced hammered home the fact that the judicial branch of government is as human and messy as the other two branches. I had previously envisioned a trial as akin to two grandmasters sitting at a chess board, but now I realize that the process is more sport than game, full of fumbles and interception, played on a muddy field. It’s not a bunch of dispassionate rationalists applying the law with scientific exactitude, but just a bunch of people doing the best they can with imperfect information. And I can’t decide if I find this realization reassuring or terrifying.
The whole Jury Duty saga is on one, printable page over here.