I clicked on the website and scanned the text for the seventh time in the last two weeks. Eagerness filled me when I saw my group number and realized that I was being called in the next day for potential jury duty! I researched tips for getting picked for a jury (because if I was going to cancel all my music students for the day, I certainly did not want to be sent home without having served!). I laughingly picked out my outfit the next morning ("low-key with a hint of liberalism") and joined 30 others waiting in a warm room. I was grateful for Joel's suggestion to bring a book, but the hour-and-a-half of waiting dimmed my enthusiasm for the day.
It soon brightened again, however, as we were called into the courtroom, met the judge and attorneys, and began answering dozens of questions. The judge graciously explained the process to us, and he informed us that Alexander Hamilton wrote in the Federalist Paper 83: "The friends and adversaries of the plan of the [constitutional] convention, if they agree in nothing else, concur at least in the value they set upon the trial by jury; or if there is any difference between them it consists in this: the former regard it as a valuable safeguard to liberty; the latter represent it as the very palladium of free government." I needed no further convincing. As misaligned and grumbled about as jury duty is, it is still a powerful means of fulfilling the Constitution and the "radical" views of liberty and self-government upon which our country was founded.
For reasons unbeknownst to me, I was one of the chosen twelve (I'm sure it was my attire!)--the youngest on the jury of six men and six women. The trial lasted through the next morning, and shortly before noon, we convened to deliberate over a working lunch. This was the first time we'd been allowed to discuss the case together (or with anyone), so we pulled together our notes and the exhibits admitted as evidence and began to talk through what had happened.
We had a man named Patterson (the defendant) who had a shady past. Now, 30 years old and four years from his last conviction, he seems to be doing well. He has moved to our county, gotten engaged, and works odd jobs doing construction and roofing. But four months ago, he was caught on the roof of a vacant for-sale house with his hands on a window (albeit a window too small to fit in). And as he nervously gets off the roof and tells the home owner's friend that he is a roofer, a woman slinks around the house and jumps into Patterson's truck.The two quickly drive off, leaving a back door ajar, a pile of wood in disarray, and the hose unwound.
Was Patterson an idiot or a burglar? Did his friend truly just drag him there for the view and did he truly just get on the roof to inspect it and try to land a job, as he claimed? Or was he caught in the nick of time after being pulled into his friend's scheme to burglarize a home that had sat empty for an entire year? Could we, beyond reasonable doubt, know that he was guilty of attempted burglary--of intending to burglarize the home?
These are the questions my fellow juror and I wrestled with. Along the way we confronted our ideas about responsibility, trespassing, "youth these days," and any number of preconceived notions. For the lawyers picked 12 people with opinions, minds, and pasts--and like it or not, we each brought bias to the table. We did our best, however to be impartial in deciding, and we talked for close to two hours before everyone was convinced of his guilt...except me.
They kindly listened to my concerns, shared their thoughts. We talked about the trial, we got off on tangents about animals surviving being run over. We talked some more; we thought some more. All the while, my mind raced. Could I know, beyond reasonable doubt, that this man was guilty--that he intended to burglarize the home? It soon became evident to me that I could know--and I did know. And finally satisfied that I had done my duty, I agreed to declare Patterson "guilty."
Back in the court room, as the verdict was read and Patterson's fiance rushed from the room, and his family members sat in stunned shock, and Patterson's eyes filled with tears, I too felt sorrow. The old excitement drained away and the annoyance at waiting seemed petty. Hearing from the judge later on that Patterson would likely be sentenced for four to seven years for his wrong choice was heavy, and when I got into my car that afternoon, I began to cry. I cried for Patterson and his family and prayed for their salvation. I cried because of the responsibility I felt in declaring a man "guilty."
The home owners were vindicated that day; Patterson was called to accountability that day. And I learned a lesson that day. Jury duty is inconvenient, difficult, annoying, or emotional at times. It is also important. For as Thomas Jefferson said, "I consider trial by jury as the only anchor yet devised by man, by which a government can be held to the principles of its constitution." Someone get me an "I Served Jury Duty" sticker, because I'm proud to have been a part of the Constitutional process!