Tuesday, August 20, 2013

To Kill Or Not To Kill - A Reflection on Jury Duty

I served Jury Duty today.

Before I get into this, let me first offer this disclaimer.  I believe in service to one's community, and for most here in the U.S, Jury Duty is one of the biggies and, isn't voluntary unless you're influential enough to get out of it.  I'm not.  Most of us aren't.  Our criminal justice system depends on us ordinary folks serving in judgment over our fellow humans, judging the facts of a case, criminal or civil, and, hopefully getting it right.

Hopefully getting it right.

That being said, I believe in our jury system here in the U. S.  I've seen some as good.  Many aren't.

But Jury Duty can change your views on things.  Core values, even.

Two years ago it changed my core beliefs on the Death Penalty.

I came within two jurors of serving on a Capitol Murder case, one that could possibly involve me in determining whether a man lived or died.  The crime he was charged with was egregious, to be sure, one that I would have cheerfully argued over three glasses of wine deserved death, if he was guilty.

Sitting on the witness stand being questioned by the State and the Defense for forty-five minutes ... well, I did not have the benefit of three glasses of wine at a bar, or in a friend's living room.  Or my own.

This was real.  And I found myself wanting to please the State in saying that yes there were crimes I felt rose to the level of the Death Penalty.  Premeditated murder.  Child molestation.  Serial rapist.  On the other hand, I wanted to please the Defense in saying that I would be diligent and mindful in my deliberations and would take the responsibility of a case like this into my soul before rendering a verdict and, if necessary, a sentence.

Into my soul.

I had no idea what I was saying at the time.

I spoke words.

The feelings came later.

While I waited to see if I would be sentenced to an execution committee.

From about a week before the court secretary called me to tell me that I was two away from the jury and was released, I lived in a state of panic.  Thinking about it day and night, I no longer believed that I could condemn a fellow human to death regardless of how horrible of a crime he or she committed.  And I feared what the judge and attorneys would think of me if I confessed.

And, had I been chosen, I would have told them this.

I felt weak, even after being released.

I couldn't hold my head high as a human being for a long time because after all the blustering I did over the decades, I couldn't tell my friends I'd changed my mind.

You see, that's what happens when you are 53 years old (I turn 56 next month).  By that age, you're expected to be set in your ways: to be so consistent in your views that when you're invited to a party everyone knows what's coming.

You're supposed to know the world and everyone in it by that age.

You don't make waves.

You talk about serious issues with people who agree with you, and avoid those who disagree with you because you pissed those folks off long, long ago.

How do you walk up to them, who now think you are scum, because we can't seem to accept that good people can have differing views on large issues, and say, "Hey, I'm on your side now?"

How do you do that?

I don't know.

I'm starting by telling my newer friends about my newer views, and y'all are a big part of that.

Please comment.  I'd love to know how you'd handle telling long standing friends about a change in your core values ... when you're nearly 56 years old and should know better.  :-)

They released me today.  I fist-pumped.  I dislike even the thought of sitting in judgment over people, though at times we have to.   All of us.

Next post I'll tell a story of a jury I served on that is funny now, but wasn't funny at the time.

Be well, everyone!!!


  1. Our life experiences change our views and opinions on matters so that we should always be re-evaluating our opinions. There is no point in being so stubborn in our views that circumstances, life, experiences, can lead us to another opinion. In my opinion that would make you a better person. You should be proud that you are able to consider and reconsider your opinion as situations change and alter.

  2. What a fantastic topic to write about. This is a great example of "walk a mile in another man's (or woman's) shoes". Jury duty seems easy enough until you are the one sitting in judgment and making decisions that might permanently alter a persons life. As for your question on a change in core values and explaining to friends, if they are too narrow minded or intolerant to accept you've changed then they probably aren't friends worth keeping.

  3. If the folks of whom you speak regarding full disclosure really matter to you, back into the conversation the way you did in this post: describe the situation in which you found yourself and how it changed your thoughts on a matter. If these folks' thinking is contrary to your newer feelings, prime the pump with the booze of their preference. ;-)

    Anyway, I'm far more impressed by a thoughtful individual's change of heart than by a stubborn individual's bloody-minded refusal to acknowledge even the possible merit of another's point of view. Good on ya, Rocky. :-)
    Blog: Some Dark Romantic


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