Jury Duty

Most people try to avoid jury duty—within the scope of the law.

They postpone it. They plead unavoidable responsibilities, like work or childcare. Or they claim that they won’t be able to render a fair decision, thanks to preconceived opinions and other biases.

But I like serving on juries; it’s an opportunity to learn something, and it’s an opportunity to help.

Jury BoxMy first case, in Boston, more than ten years ago, involved the “theft” of business secrets (basically knowledge of customers) in the freight forwarding industry when an employee went to work for a rival firm. That case was settled on the third day.

My second case, in Peabody five years ago, involved a young man who had driven drunk in a cemetery one night and damaged headstones. That case too was settled, on the first day.

But my most recent case was a big one, and a difficult one. It involved the alleged rape of a minor female, over a period of time between six and eight years ago, by a man who was her mother’s live-in boyfriend.

This much we learned during jury selection, and as you might expect, these facts alone were reason enough for a lot of jurors to say, “I can’t do this.”

But after a day and a half, a jury of 14 citizens was selected.

And after three and a half days of testimony, the jury (minus two randomly selected alternates) began deliberations—which was a great relief, because since the day the trial started, we hadn’t been able to talk to anybody about the case, even each other!

So job number one was just getting our thoughts out there.

Job number two was coming to a unanimous decision, which we did, after roughly two and a half hours.

And job number three was transmitting that decision back to the judge and then to the court as a whole, in curiously archaic Massachusetts legalese.

For the record, we found the defendant guilty, but it was not easy. There was no actual physical evidence. And the judge told us later that this was actually a retrial; a previous jury had deliberated for two days and been unable to reach a unanimous conclusion!

My strongest thoughts after the experience are these:

I’m sobered by a newfound realization of the prevalence of domestic abuse of all sorts, and the emotional pain that people dealing with it—personally or professionally—go through every day.

I’m proud of my fellow jurors, who were a diverse group of good, regular citizens faced with making a difficult decision. Several of those jurors, interestingly, had had personal experiences with abuse, which they shared with our group, and those experiences helped inform our decision-making process.

I’m proud of the young woman in this case, who not only chose to go through this legal ordeal but also appears to be putting her life back together and getting on track to becoming a productive member of society.

Lastly, I’m proud of our legal system. It’s not perfect, but I believe it’s a heck of a lot better than any other. And I hope I get called again!

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