I had to serve in a jury yesterday and was deeply moved by the experience. The process lasted one day but taught me much about our system of government, about the people who run the court system, about the process, and about myself and others. I want to share some of these thoughts in case you find them interesting.
Fulfillment of my civic responsibility made me appreciate the system far more than I expected. The dignity and respect with which the defendant, the attorneys, the judge and the jury were treated was simply remarkable. All participants in the court recognized their responsibilities and every effort was made by the court officer to ease the burden. This made me appreciate the representative system of government even more because of the reminder that the participants are very capable, responsible people, trying to do their best to serve. Deliberations were carried out respectfully even though we had never met before. Basically, random fellow human beings trusted with the duty of deciding the fate of another performed so responsibly as to underscore the universality of the Golden Rule. In the communist system I came from, I never saw the Golden Rule work the way I saw it work during the trial. Now I am convinced that the jury system is one of the cornerstones of this great form of government.
I also appreciated the people who run the court system, the court officer, the clerk, the judge, the attorneys and everyone else. They all had a specific duty to perform and each performed their duty perfectly. Sure they do this every day, but I have seen people in other jobs not perform their work well. Why was it different here? I believe they recognize that people’s lives are hugely affected by their performance. Also, I believe they must make sure the process of the trial is carried out perfectly to not undermine its outcome. I appreciated these folks and also thought of other government workers who are typically not as well paid yet they perform their job so we can proceed with our dreams and goals.
The process was so well designed I was amazed. In our state in a criminal trial the jury must be unanimous and must agree beyond reasonable doubt on the verdict. Forcing the unanimous restriction has an incredible effect of getting people to convince each other with facts until everyone agrees. Being only one out of six jurors who was not convinced, I was able to force the other five to consider every aspect of every fact for over two hours after which they felt much better that we had considered all these issues. The process of hearing the facts, deliberation, and the judge’s impartiality had all been perfected so as to guarantee the defendant a fair trial. Even the unanimous and beyond reasonable doubt restrictions are in place for that purpose.
Finally, I learned more about myself. I realized that holding the fate of another human is an incredible responsibility. I learned that I did not take this lightly and had the courage to hold others responsible as well even though they were all older than me. I also learned that it does not take significant effort (at least in this case) to do the right thing. I recognized my biases as I was hearing the facts and dealt with them during deliberations and was able to put them aside or consciously defer them from the consideration of each fact. I also gained further appreciation for my fellow citizens through this process. In the end, I felt better about myself.
Serving on a jury is not a light responsibility but it is one that can teach us much. I hope next time you have to serve, you will look forward to helping someone get a fair trial.