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Jury Duty IV: Deliberations

Previously: The Trial

This is the part of the story where I become a hero.

You already know how it goes. We retire to the jury room and take a preliminary vote. It is 11-1 guilty, and I have cast the lone "Not Guilty" vote. Everyone else is shocked, but I explain my reasons. I point out subtle logical inconsistencies in the State's case. I make a series of astonishing deductions that demonstrate flaws in the State's argument. And in an exciting finale, I show that all the evidence conclusively supports my alternate hypothesis, something obvious yet overlooked, an angle even the Defense attorney failed to explore. One by one my fellow jurors realize that I am right, that they not only abandon their "guilty" vote, but that they actually believe the defendant to be innocent. After a final tally is taken it is 0-12, "Not Guilty," and I have single-handed adverted a travesty of justice.

Anyhow, that's how it works in Twelve Angry Men (and That One Happy Days Episode). It's a shame real life doesn't work like that.

We began be choosing a foreman. Back in the olden days of yore, a million years ago when I was all jazzed to be on jury duty, I was totally jonesing to be the foreman. It would be just like being elected student body president! Now I was enthusiastically seconding the nomination for someone else.

We did not start with a preliminary vote. Instead, we plowed right into the case, trying to reconstruct the chronology and details of the five allegations. In a perfect world the Prosecution and Defense would have made coherent cases, obviating our need to reconstruct. But, as mentioned yesterday, both attorneys put forth such meandering and scattershot arguments that it was up to us to take the various pieces that had been flung at us and try to fit them together.

Furthermore, we were not given a transcript of the courtroom proceedings to aid in our memory. We had been allowed to write down details during the case, and these notes, along with some thoroughly useless "evidence" (e.g., the photo of the door), was all we could use to reach a verdict. Even the mysterious "transcript" that the Defense had repeatedly referred to when asking the victim about the additional abuses was nowhere to be found. Our general discussion of the case took three days.

On the fourth day we got down to business. The consensus was "something had happened": everyone agreed that the defendant had abused the victim to some degree. The question was whether or not we could find him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt on any of the specified counts.

We decided to start with the first, most serious charge, which was also the one with the most details. We took a straw poll, and the vote came out 10-2 Guilty. I had cast one of the two "Not Guilty" votes. The other "Not Guilty" came from the foreman, who said that he wanted to vote "Guilty," but he was worried that we would vote 12-0 Guilty and not discuss the charge any further. That left me to defend the defendant. So, see?: it was just like the movie! Except that, rather than being the hero, I strongly suspected that I was the person sticking up for the serial child abuser.

Still, I did my damnedest to plead my case -- or, rather, the defendant's case, since my heart wasn't really in it. Look (said I), we have no circumstantial evidence whatsoever. How would we possibly convict on that? And wasn't it at least conceivable that the victim was making the story up? Perhaps she had told a little fib and it had snowballed into a colossal lie. Perhaps these were false memories, planted by the police or her therapist or, or ... I dunno, someone. Surely there was, as the Defense kept insisting, reasonable doubt all over the place.

My fellow jurors would have none of it. Yes, they conceded, it was conceivable that she had made the story up. But if we had to find guilt beyond a conceivable doubt, no one would ever go to jail. The question, they reminded me, was reasonability. Is your doubt reasonable, they asked -- that's what matters.

Deadlocked 11-1 on this count, we moved on to others.

Two of the counts we were, as a group, inclined to dismiss. In both cases, the description given to us by the victim (and the Prosecutor) did not meet the technical requirements for the charge. For example, in one it was impossible to say whether any molestation had actually taken place even if you assumed that the events happened exactly as the victim described. We finally came to a consensus that we would not be able to convict on these two.

At this point we broke for lunch. I used my 90 minutes to go to the gym and run on the treadmill, as I tend to do my best thinking while exercising.

I mulled the case over while running, and came to a few conclusions. First, I realized was that reading an entire book on the scientific method just prior to this trial was not one of my better decisions. I am a pretty hardcore skeptic by nature (almost to the point of atheism, although I refer to myself as agnostic), and this particular text had put me in full-on Mr. Spock mode. Second, although I thought I had disabused myself of all my romantic ideas about the law, the truth was that I had not. I still wanted one side or the other to prove their case beyond a shadow of a doubt. I wanted Perry Mason to demonstrate that it was physically impossible for his client to commit the crime; or I wanted the State to overwhelm me with evidence.

But my biggest realization, in regards to the first count, was that my fellow jurors had convinced me that my doubts were unreasonable. Part of me had been resisting this idea, because it seemed like I was "caving in," that I was willing to vote to convict someone just because everyone else did. I wanted to be the hero who talked everyone over to his side, but it finally occurred to me that this only works when the hero is correct. The defendant was guilty, and I knew it, and I had had known it for quite some time, and refusing to vote that way was a sign of stubbornness rather than integrity.

So when we reunited after lunch, I announced that I had reconsidered, and we were now 12-0 Guilty on the first count. From here it was just a matter of mopping up. We ultimately found the defendant Guilty on three counts, Not Guilty on the remaining two. The foreman signed the necessary papers, rang for the bailiff, and we awaited the return of the judge to we could announce our decision.

Next: Verdict and Aftermath.

Posted on October 25, 2002 to Jury Duty