Thursday, June 17, 2010

innocent until proven guilty

I had never served on a jury before until last week. I got lucky and got assigned to a decent courthouse, a short trial with no gruesome details to sort through, and a pleasant group of fellow jurors. The whole experience was great, and left me with a new respect for our judicial system, and more than willing to serve again the next time I'm called. Sure it's an inconvenience, but it's also a unique opportunity to meet and work with a random slice of your fellow citizens and observe some of the truly unique aspects of our legal system.

I mean, how amazing is it that we can gather a group of total strangers together, and they listen to other strangers' testimonies, attempt to consider all the evidence fairly and impartially, and then make a decision that may seriously impact people's lives, one way or another. I was very impressed that even though all of us jurors came from very different backgrounds, everyone seemed to fully understand the fact that the defendant was innocent until proven guilty, that even if some of us personally thought he probably was guilty, we had to feel that was proven beyond a reasonable doubt, and that everyone took this responsibility quite seriously. It was a DUI case from over 3 years ago, and it basically came down to the defendant's word against the word of 3 police officers of varying credibility. He may have been drinking, but could they prove he was DUI, especially as he'd refused to take the blood or breathalizer tests? No. We found him not guilty, unanimously. It made a huge difference for us that the defendant decided to take the stand and explain his side of the story. Whether you believed every detail or not, it certainly brought many of the other testimonies into doubt, and his humble/nervous demeanor only helped his credibility. He cried when the verdict was read, and then bowed to each of us in gratitude as we filed out of the courtroom. I should mention that he was also a very handsome, intelligent looking young man, and I know at least two of us had pleasant dreams about him during the course of the trial, but of course that had no bearing on our decision :-).

We all felt good about it, and I think the roads are probably safer as a result because not only did our defendant learn a lesson, but all of us jurors learned a lot more about the law and how easy it is to find yourself in serious trouble for something that may seem like a very minor judgment call at the time. I know I learned a lot personally, about the legal system, DUI's, and being a jury foreman, which was fun. I think I did a pretty good job moderating our discussion, letting everyone speak their piece, and guiding us toward a pretty quick decision. Plus, I got to drive by this big famous donut every day!

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