Jury Duty, Part Two

:: (For part one, click here) ::

It's a strange thing, jury duty

One minute, you're snug in your predictable suburban life, driving carpool and paying bills.  The next, you're tossed into a group of twelve strangers, sitting a few feet from a man whose entire future rests in your hands.  It's surreal (for us), terrifying (for him) and messy (for all of us).  It's a system just unnerving enough to make you want to throw out the judicial baby with the judicial bathwater, except that the alternative is no justice at all.

So we did what free and reasonable humans do, I suppose:  the best we can.  We listened carefully.  We held evidence in our hands.  We didn't speculate when there were objections or moves to strike or your-Honor-may-I-approach-the-bench?  We listened to the instructions, and then we read them, and then we read them again.  We handed over our cell phones, for Pete's sake.  We argued (a little) and compromised (a lot) until the wee hours.  And then, our reasonable doubt easily but sadly put to rest, we did justice.

Guilty, on four counts.  Four very serious counts.  Even though the judge gave us clearance to discuss the trial in detail, I don't feel quite comfortable with it, and I'm not sure why.  Maybe because it doesn't feel, entirely, like my story to tell?  

It's probably too easy, I think, to neatly tuck an accused criminal into a safe category of Those People, the ones who walked a path I would surely never walk, who have hurt so many for so long, who must be made to pay. Take a bite out of crime.  Only YOU can prevent forest fires.  But when you sit a in crowded deliberation room with twelve strangers, when you turn a man's life and future over in your hands like State Exhibit 7, when the defendant's mother makes eye contact with you during closing arguments, the lines feel blurry.  The humanity gets a lot more real.

We did the right thing; of that I'm sure.  All the facts in the trial were crystal clear; the facts the judge could share only after the trial were even clearer.  When compassion bumps up against the law, the law wins, because we shaky humans don't have a lot of wiggle room when it comes to establishing order.  When we delivered our verdict and received our instructions for determining the sentence (something Oklahoma criminal juries are uncomfortably required to do), we were given our first access to the defendant's long and overwhelming previous record of convictions.  It was long.  LONG.  As the list was read, I couldn't help but think of the One who listened to my outrageously long list of offenses, signaled the Judge, and said (not being bound, thankfully, by the Great State of Oklahoma), "I've got it covered."

The whole thing lasted until the wee hours of a chilly Friday morning.  The judge dismissed us with a twenty-dollar-a-day stipend and, for dramatic effect, an armed escort to our cars.  In an strange mix of exhaustion, relief, peace and sadness, I cried all the way home.

It's a strange thing, jury duty.

62 thoughts on “Jury Duty, Part Two

  1. Moriah @ Please Pass the Salt says:

    We’ve been talking about Christian ethics (or ‘kingdom’ or ‘virtue’) in our Sunday School class and the last two weeks we discussed capital punishment and the death sentence — so this jury story struck a tender spot. One of the things that struck me over and over during the discussions was how merciful Jesus is to those who call him Lord. (And yes, there might be earthly punishment; but truly we don’t ultimately get what we deserve.)

  2. Nicki says:

    My husband sat on the jury of a murder trial a few years ago. It affected him the same way that you described. I remember sitting up until almost sunrise as he discussed/processed the week that he had.
    Thank you for performing this duty in a serious and responsible way. It’s sad, but many don’t. And that’s only referring to the ones who actually show up.

  3. Judith says:

    This is a sign I saw at a church:
    Justice is when we get what we deserve.
    Mercy is when we DON’T get what we deserve.
    Grace is when we get what we don’t deserve.
    I’m always unbelievably grateful to people like you who serve on juries, who take our legal system seriously. Thank you!

  4. Jewel says:

    It is a huge responsibility. It is not always easy to do the right thing. I am glad for you that the Judge was able to share with you after the trial as I am sure that helped.
    BTW – I have the first season of Beauty and the Beast. I LOVE it. I have not purchased the second season yet. If you can find the 2nd season, I would be open to trade and return. Let me know. I bought the DVD’s on Amazon some time back. J

  5. Linda Sue says:

    Thank you for serving your community and your Lord – it IS hard to do the right thing and harder sometimes to recognize the right thing. Bless you and I agree with llama momma, be very good to yourself today.

  6. Lizzie says:

    Thank you for sharing this. It’s very moving.
    The legal system is not perfect but it’s what we have and you’re right that justice has to be done.
    It’s never easy no matter what side of the case you’re on.

  7. Gabreial says:

    I can’t even imagine doing what you did, without him. I wonder how many people do the same thing you did, but without him by their side. What an amazing awesome God we have, knowing that he is there with us no matter what we are going through.

  8. Amy says:

    I love your reference to the One who covered our outrageously long list of offenses. It puts a whole different perspective on being called to jury duty.
    Beautifully written.

  9. Brandi says:

    As a prosecuting attorney, I really thought your post was insightful. One of my biggest frustrations when trying a case is that it is rare that a jury gets to see ALL of the evidence or get the FULL story. Many facts/prior records, ect, are kept from a jury because it is too “prejudical” to the defendant. It is clear from your post that you took your oath as a juror seriously and did your duty. I really enjoy reading your blog, keep up the good work.

  10. Denise says:

    I don’t have much of an “edit” button but I think I’d feel the way you do – like this wasn’t my story to tell and I’d blog about the jury duty portion and not the defendant.

  11. Julia says:

    I am married to a man who was first a prosecutor — and now is a defense attny. In both jobs, we have discussion the picture it gives us of different sides of God’s character. Justice vs Mercy. It is such a fine line. It is such a wonderful thing to know we are now on the mercy side!
    Good job –

  12. Mary Kay says:

    Wow, how your words stir my heart this morning. I can feel along with you, your conflicting emotions. Beautifully written. Thank you for sharing this experience.

  13. Michelle says:

    wow….powerful post.
    Love the “I’ve got it covered” reference. choked me up.
    got lots to think about this morning after what you have shared. Thank you.

  14. Pam says:

    I’ve served jury duty three times. Each was a very unique experience. One civil two criminal. I think everyone should serve at tleast once to better understand how the system works.God Bless, Pam, South Bend

  15. Loni says:

    “I’ve got it covered.” Isn’t it so amazing? So beyond anything words could possibly describe?
    You served justice. You served our country. And although it’s a pain, and certainly out of the way and even sometimes far more emotional than we anticipate, you did it. Thank you.

  16. Wendy says:

    From a career state and now federal prosecutor – Thank you Shannon for your service.
    We need qualified, caring, astute jurors such as yourself.
    It is a difficult task, but a necessary one none the less.
    Our state and country become better and stronger when we ALL rise to the challenge and insist that justice prevails.
    Thank you for sharing your experience.

  17. Jocelyn says:

    My son was abused by a “friend” and the case eventually went to trial this last October.
    It’s so hard to look into the eyes of the jury and hope and pray that they taking this as seriouly as it is. My parents told me some of them were falling asleep during some of it.
    The defendant was found not guilty by reasonable doubt and it was hard to see the tears on the faces of some of the jurors…makes ya wonder what went on in there. It is also hard to take in that the defendant had 2 previous assault charges that were not admissable as someone earlier said.
    BUT, we have faith in a BIG God who is just and we know that we need not take it into our owns hands, but leave it in His. That’s the only way we have gotten thru it.
    God Bless You for taking your civic duty so seriously.

  18. lomagirl says:

    bless you for having to listen to and hold all that pain and horror during the trial. I don’t know that I could do that. And I pray that it will not stay with you now.

  19. lomagirl says:

    And Jocelyn- blessings on you and your son. My friend is now dealing with what happened to him 30+ years ago, when justice wasn’t done. Now, finally, a minimal bit is happening. I’m sorry that you did not get justice, but I think that even the attempt can be healing for your son. He is getting help now and he is not holding a dangerous secret to himself. May God lift him up.

  20. Mary @ Giving Up on Perfect says:

    Thanks for sharing your experience, Shannon. I love reading and watching legal thrillers and spy stories, and it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that fiction is not reality. I appreciate the way you gave your telling of this experience the appropriate gravity – while reminding us that when it comes to The Judge and our list of wrongs, we’re not so different from Those People after all.

  21. Carey says:

    Just this morning, after reading this post, I considered commenting to tell you that A) I am one of those “lucky” people who seemed to get summoned EVERY year, and B) The last time I served was an emotionally scarring experience. I did not comment, though. I think the Great Judge up there thought it would be funny to punish me for lurking when I found a JURY SUMMONS in my mailbox this afternoon. I kid you not. I swear on my child’s life. I just got called AGAIN. Wish me luck!

  22. Alyson says:

    Thank you for a very thought-provoking post. My husband has a jury summons for tomorrow. I will share your two posts with him, in hope that he will take it as seriously as you did.

  23. Wendy says:

    Thank you for sharing you heart in this difficult (on both sides of the jury box) process. I remember some of the cases I worked on or observed (was not an attorney just worked for some) and I wondered how people in that box felt. I have never been called — I guess they just know! 🙂 However, stories like yours make me thankful we do have someone who covered our debts that our records are erased!! Praise the One who washed us clean!

  24. kisatrtle says:

    I served on a civil case many moons ago. It was about Emu birds. Trust me people…I can’t make this stuff up. It’s funny how you think everyone is obviously thinking exactly what you are thinking, but then you come to find out they are not. It is difficult for 12 people to agree on what topping to put on their pizza. Even more difficult to vent sex a bird…perhaps I should write a post about this experience.
    Your post made me happy I was just deciding the fate of money and birds and not human freedom.
    I hope you feel better.

  25. Sandra says:

    Several years ago I too served on a jury. Unfortunately we did not understand all the legal jardon and did not come up with the decision that the judge had hoped we would (meaning that this person would have the opportunity to appeal yet again). It was a humbling experience.
    I remember walking away from this experience, telling others (and myself) that I am so glad that I am not judged by man (or woman) but by God who ulitmately knows the heart of everyone.

  26. Jamie says:

    I’ve been summoned twice for jury duty in OKC and it was very eye-opening. I remember the first time I was somewhat new to the area, so downtown OKC was scary due to so many buildings, one-way streets, and parking garage nightmares. I luckily found a great lot on the street and a small group of people from my church to congregate with. The second time I was called I wasn’t so nervous about the drive, but got there early enough to park on the road again. I enjoy serving my county as it is my duty as a law-abiding citizen. Additionally I enjoy people watching and you can sure see some doozies in the jury pool. WHERE do THEY come from?????

  27. KayKay says:

    Thank you for serving. Yes, it’s hard. I was on a two week murder and drug trial. We convicted. It was the right thing. I sleep well at night. But it was hard. I loved getting an inside peek at the real workings of the judicial system. Not much like the movies. It’s imperfect, but it does work.

  28. MM says:

    I’ve never served on a jury. My husband did last year on a manslaughter case and his experience was similar to yours. They convicted and after hearing his long list of previous convictions, they were relieved to know they made the right decision. And at the same time my husband was in tears because of the burden he had quietly carried all week long. (No coming home to unload on wifey about the day.) But like you, it reminded him (and me!) of how often we are given mercy and grace and we don’t think twice about it.
    Come judgement day, even though I know I am saved, I’m scared. The idea of knowing what is actually being “covered” saddens me. The price was so high and I don’t have to pay it…
    Humbling indeed.

  29. Jackie Sue says:

    I experienced a lot of the same feelings that you did…the awesome responsibility of determining one’s guilt or innocense(that doesn’t look like it is spelled right, but no spell check on comments…sorry if it is wrong). It gave me nightmares. I would serve again if asked, but I would dread it. It felt so huge to me, putting something permanent on some one’s record and feeling like even though the proof was right before me I could still somehow be wrong. Though it occurs to me that I determine my children’s guilt daily 🙂 that doesn’t give me nightmares at all…actually sometimes it does.

  30. Lisa @ Stop and Smell the Chocolates says:

    Oh what a beautiful blessing that our offenses have been covered when we deserve the same as that person found guilty and sentenced.
    Thank you for sharing your experience. Once you have gone through it, you realize just how important that duty is and what a huge responsibility it is.
    But I am glad for you that you can go back to “regular” life now. 🙂

  31. KelliGirl says:

    Great post. It’s hard to see the value of someone who has made such horrible and hurtful choices. However, I see the story from the other side of the sentencing…from the inside the prison. We do prison ministry in a maximum security men’s prison and the men who come to worship with us did bad things. Some of them did very bad things. Usually we don’t know their crime or even their names for that matter. All we know is that the grace Jesus offers to ALL believers applies to them as well. Seeing with vivid clarity that my “goodness” gets me no closer to God and their “badness” pushes them no further away astounds and humbles me.
    So, even though the criminal you sentenced has a rap sheet a mile long (and he deserves the consequences), he is still not outside the saving grace of Jesus. It’s a hard concept for most of us to comprehend.

  32. Ellen says:

    My husband is a prosecutor for the federal government. He’s had several trials at this point, and he’s learned a lot about juries. And so have I. =) He and I both have more faith in the jury system than we used to. Most juries sincerely want to hear the evidence and do the right thing, without prejudice. There’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes that isn’t allowed in as evidence that I’ve wished could be told to juries, usually about the other conduct of the defendant. And, at least at my husband’s office, they have a lot of discretion about whether or not to bring a case. If there’s much doubt about guilt, they simply don’t bring it. So I would estimate that most of the defendants that go to trial are guilty, but stubborn, and don’t want to plead guilty. That’s the way its looked in my experience so far. But the penalties are stiff, and lives are seriously changed by American justice, and its given me a new appreciation for God’s justice from this angle. Just like judges and juries aren’t happy to hand down guilty sentences, I’m sure that God isn’t either. I have a better idea of how hard it must be for him to judge the unrepentant…

  33. Michelle Smiles says:

    I’ve never sat on a jury but my dad was a lawyer (defense) and then a judge. I saw both sides of some pretty ugly cases and had dinner with a murderer once or twice. It is a messy thing. I wish there was a better way but I guess this is as good as it gets. Thank you for participating.

  34. Katie says:

    You said it so well! I served on a jury just a few months ago. We found the defendant guilty on 17 counts of child molestation and statutory rape, and I can honestly say it’s one of the most difficult and terrifying things I have ever done. Like you, I knew it was the right thing to do, and like you I cried. It was, and still is, disturbing and emotional. I don’t regret it, though. I’m so glad that God has it covered!

  35. Amber @ Classic Housewife says:

    I’d been waiting for the second half of the story, but this is far from what I expected – and so much more than what I expected. I’ve never served on a jury, only being summoned twice – once in college during test time (got out of it) and once just after having a baby (got out of it again). Now that I’m a smidge freer in my time, I’ve not been summoned again. If the opportunity arises, I hope I can embrace it with the same sense of duty, compassion and wisdom that you’ve expressed here.

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