We, The Jury

Today I played a role in convicting a man. Tonight, he’s sleeping (or not sleeping) in federal prison. Even though I believe he is guilty, that’s still a strange reality.
I got called for jury duty, and had to report to the federal courthouse yesterday. I don’t know why it surprised me, but every juror who was supposed to report was there, on time, and appropriately dressed. I thought it was a nice testament to the respect many of us have for the court. If selected to serve on a jury, 12 of us would have the fate of another person in our collective hands. That’s worth putting on a suit and showing up on time. That’s serious business.
Not far into the jury selection process, the judge informed us that the trial would likely only last a day. With the anticipated short timeline, I have to admit there was a part of me that wanted to be picked. I’d never served on a jury. I wondered what that would be like. But, I’m also one of the most indecisive people on Earth, and can really get myself worked up about important decisions. I was afraid jury duty might make me go crazy. It almost did.
The jury selection process was pretty boring, so I had time to let my mind wander. I kept looking at the back of the defendant’s head, wondering what he was thinking. Guilty or not, I couldn’t imagine. His shirt was pressed. His tie was straight. When he put it on that morning, did his hands shake? I couldn’t help but feel a bit of sympathy. It must be frightening to know your future is no longer in your control.
I was selected. The trial was a short one, but the deliberations were difficult. I’d hoped for a slam dunk case. I’d hoped for one of those “Law and Order” moments. The lawyer might produce some bit of juicy evidence. The crowd might gasp. The guilt or innocence of the defendent would be undeniable.
There was hardly a crowd, and no gasping. There were no fireworks. No tears. We struggled as a jury because I think we all knew how serious our job was. We didn’t want to put an innocent man in prison. We also didn’t want to let a guilty man go free – free to harm more people, directly or indirectly. The weight of that decision was palpable.
I think we came to the right verdict, although only a few people in this world will ever know for sure what happened on that day. I’m glad I was able to serve my country, but I didn’t enjoy it. It was gut-wrenching, and I don’t relish sending someone to prison. I couldn’t watch when the verdict was read. Didn’t want to second guess myself. There are so few things in life that seem black and white to me – much more gray. But gray wasn’t a choice we had.