Tuesday, September 25, 2007
Sometime around 1971, I think it was about the beginning of May of that year, I had a phone conversation with my mother. I was at school in Parkville, Mo. She was living in New Jersey. She was living alone as my sister and I were in college in Colorado and Missouri, respectively. I asked her how she was doing and she replied that she was somewhat "at odds" lately. I asked her why that was and she replied that she had been summoned for the first time in her life to Jury Duty. I thought and said that I was glad that had happened since it would mean a chance for her to get out and get involved in something meaningful.
Well, she was adamant that she had no interest in anything of the kind and would not participate in such an activity. I told her that it was her civic duty to participate whereupon she informed me that she would refuse to sit in judgment of her fellow human being. I insisted that it was her duty and was providential, at the time, for her to get out of the house and participate in the American Experience of Jurisprudence. Being her son's mother, she declared: "Over my dead body will I sit on a jury" . . . .
She died, unexpectedly, on the day she was to report for jury duty.
So, it was with some trepidation that I reported yesterday to the 13th Circuit Court here in Tampa to be a juror. I have been summoned several times before in my life: in Kansas City, in Baltimore and, of course, here in Tampa. But, because I had been a police officer in my distant past, I had always been passed over for duty when the selection interviews had taken place. It was a constant source of aggravation on my part to be summoned for jury duty knowing that I would NEVER be chosen to sit on a jury because of a youthful interest in Police Science. My interest, BTW, was not in a patrolling role, but in a clerical role as a chaplan - I was a theology major at the time in college.
So, my expectation of being selected for this trial was Zilch. I'd been summoned many, many times over the past decades only to be passed over.
Do you need to know my shock to have been selected by the prosecution and defense in this case to sit on the jury panel???? I was stunned. What changed? A fellow jurist suggested that there *might* be an age factor here . . . "It happened so long ago that it just doesn't matter that you were a cop."
Well, how sobering is that???
We left yesterday at around 12:30pm in adjournment and reconvened today at around 8:45am.
I *have* to tell you, dear reader, that I have NEVER been so engaged in such an episode. It was purely operatic, captivating, mind-provoking and fascinating as an element of the Human Experience. There I found myself, empaneled in a jury of 7 people, charged with the duty of discovering whether or not the charges against the defendant were valid. I had no problem at all tuning out my mother's protestations occurring in the back of my head.
Without going into the specifics of the case, I will say that I felt I was in the middle of a movie.
After hearing both sides we were sent to the Jury Room for deliberation. While we felt that the defendant was, indeed, an offending party during the occasion, we had to look at the charge of the state against the defendant. We did that and, category by category, went through each each charge and found that defendant Not Guilty of both charges.
You should know that the defendant was a four-time convicted felon.
The court was a bit electric when the verdict was read. We were dismissed by the judge (who was so incredible I can't even tell you how wonderful he was) and were led out the back door of the court house so we wouldn't be confronted by anyone.
Anyway, I guess the reason that I'm documenting this is that there is a general feeling these days that we're a country that no longer has the rule of law: that American/Common Law Justice is a defunct issue. Well, I'm here to report that all is well in the courts, at least here in Tampa. I was sooooooo Impressed with the professionalism of the Judge, the defense team AND the prosecution team - even though they failed to prove their point.
Serving on a jury is perceived as being a HORRIBLE burden. I suppose it is. Ya gotta to take time off from work from which you may, or may not, get paid. It's a long process, filled with lots of legal mumbo-jumbo that you may/may not understand. You may feel that, as my mom, you are not or should not be in a position to judge your fellow human being. You may even question your ability to adequately be able to look at all the facts and render a fair and balanced judgment.
I have never felt so fulfilled, at least from a temporal experience, as I have from this. Here was a man accused by the state of Florida of crimes that were pretty nasty (pictures were provided) and, identified by the defense, a four-time felon, facing yet another conviction which would have sent him back to prison for the 5th time.
Again, without going into specifics, the state's case was lame, shoddy and fishy. I was so proud that we acquitted this man of the charges and that, I feel, Justice was served.
As a post-script:
I was the last one in line leaving the building and the judge was following me. I turned and asked him:
May I ask you a question:
He said: Sure.
I asked: Did you have a problem with this case? I'll understand if you you don't answer me.
He said: I had MANY problems with this case.
I said: I gotta tell ya, we went round and round in the jury room about how SLOPPY this was handled by the state. I indicated that there were so many holes in the prosecution that they were wide enough to sail the Queen Mary through them.
He said: They did a very bad job of prosecuting this case. There were so many other avenues that should have been taken. The case should never have made it to court. They did not do their work . . .
SO: WOO HOO for our Jury. We hated the evidence, the testimony by the prosecution's witnesses', and the Judge agreed.
And, *that's* how I spent my last two days: engaging in American/English Common Law Jurisprudence. I found it an amazing process and rewarding AND comforting in that, I think that I am safe in assuming that were I to be charged in a crime, someone out there, in the community, would feel compelled to rise to the occasion and sit on such a jury and engage an operation of his/her civic duty. It's the basis of our Laws. If we lose that, we have lost everything.
Semper Fi . . .