In my previous post, I told you about my first two experiences of sitting on a jury, and how, to varying degrees, neither of them had been a happy experience for me. Particularly my second trial, in which we had acquitted a guy of rape, when it was clear as day (to me, at any rate) that he had certainly done something for which he deserved to be punished. . .
It was a few years before I received my next summons, and this one was also a criminal case, with a charge of attempted murder.
The defendant was a dumpy-looking 19-year-old black kid. I found myself wondering how this kid had gotten himself charged with attempted murder; he looked like anything but a badass. And his father was in court every day of the trial, sitting behind the defense table.
The bare facts of the case were that the defendant and a buddy were walking down the sidewalk one day, when they encountered the would-be victim, sitting on a friend's porch, while the defendant and his buddy walked by. Words and insults were exchanged, and the defendant and his friend walked on. A few minutes later, the WBV drove his car around the corner, onto the street where they were now walking, and the defendant jumped out into the street, pulled a gun from his pocket, and started blazing away at the WBV's car. Those are the essential facts of the case. (As an aside, this all happened about six blocks from where I lived; the judge instructed us not to make any 'personal side trips' to the crime scene, and in my case it almost meant that I had to take an alternate route home at the end of the day.)
The defense claimed that the WBV threated the defendant with his car, driving up onto the sidewalk, and that the gunshots were defensive (which strained credulity a bit, but that was the claim). It was probably unfortunate for the defense that the defendant's buddy, when he took the stand to testify, was enchained, and dressed in a prison jumpsuit (since the incident in question, he'd been convicted in a separate case).
When the jury took up our deliberations, I was again chosen to be the foreman. After my previous experience, I was not about to volunteer for the job, but it had come out, in our earlier casual conversations, that I had sat on a previous criminal jury, and I suppose that my fellow-jurors thought of me as a kind of 'voice of experience'. But, as irresponsible as my previous jury had been, this jury was admirable in their determination to execute their duties with all due seriousness. There were people who had strongly-held opinions, including one woman who felt that 'the system' sent far too many young black men to prison, but they were all able to objectively consider the facts of the case, and render a decision based on those facts.
We deliberated for something like six hours, meticulously considering all of the testimony, and analyzing the photographic evidence of the bullet holes in the WBV's car, and what that meant for where the shots were fired from, and the possible angles of things, etc. Two of the bullets left marks on the windshield just above the edge of the hood, directly in front of the driver. If the gun had been more powerful than a .22, the windshield would have shattered, and the driver would have been killed. It was clear enough that the shooter's intent had been to kill the driver.
So, after many hours of deliberation, we finally voted to convict. And again, as the foreman, it was my duty to inform the judge, and the court, of our decision. And, even as I was utterly satisfied that we had done our duty as a jury, it broke my heart - as he had been every day of the trial, the defendant's father was sitting directly behind his son, and I was acutely aware that, in announcing our verdict, I was telling this father who, as far as I could tell, was admirably conscientious, that his son was going to prison for quite a while.
And it broke my heart, because that young man had no business being in that position. It came to seem that here was a young man who was perhaps insecure in his budding manhood, and had fallen in with some badass friends, in an effort to enhance his own sense of manliness. Perhaps I was mistaken, but that's what it looked like.
And again, the judge and the prosecutor came back to the jury room for a 'post-mortem'. They confirmed what many of the jurors had suspected - that this was an instance of 'gang-related violence'. The defendant (and most especially, his walking-buddy) and the WBV were members of rival gangs, and this was not an isolated incident 'from out of the blue'. But, for whatever 'legal' reasons, that fact couldn't be introduced into the trial.
So, I was completely satisfied that we had done our duty, but it gave me no joy whatsoever to have done it. . .
My fourth case was another civil case - a retired army sergeant and his wife had purchased an RV, but from the very beginning of their ownership of it, it had leaked, and suffered from a plethora of other defects. They sent it back to be repaired under warranty on multiple occasions, and finally lost patience and demanded their money back, under a new 'Lemon Law'.
Without spending undue (and boring) time on the evidence, I'll simply say that the jury interpreted the evidence as demonstrating that the RV manufacturer hadn't been good to their own word, and hadn't dealt in complete good faith with the plaintiff, and we decided the case for the plaintiff (minus the punitive damages the plaintiff sought).
And again, the 'post-mortem' with the attorneys was frustrating in the extreme. We were told of additional facts, which, for whatever reason, had never been introduced in court, which might have demonstrated that the plaintiff was engaging in a bit of bad-faith of his own, and which, had we known of them, would have cast the other evidence in a very different light.
By that point, I expected that the 'post-mortem' was going to muddy the waters of our decision, and I could just walk away, shaking my head. At least, in this case, nobody had to leave town, or go to prison. . .
And that is the sum-total of my experience as a member of various and sundry juries. Early on in my experience, someone told me that engineers are rarely left to sit on juries; that, for various reasons, one side or the other prefers jurors who don't think analytically, who can be easily swayed by emotional appeals. But just from my own experience, I wonder how that could possibly be the truth of the matter. Four times I have walked into a courtroom in a pool of prospective jurors that was at least triple the number of jurors that would ultimately be required. And I have never failed to end up on the jury; there is at least some finite probability that my name wouldn't be drawn, but even that has never happened. There have been ample opportunities for the attorneys to remove me from the jury, but they never have. I must have some kind of 'innate magnetism' that just draws me inexorably into jury boxes. . .
Yeah. . . 'magnetism'. . . that's it, for sure. . .