Carpe Diem Y’all by Michele Bernard

Writer, Texan, Semi-interested Sports Fan

Have you reached a Verdict?

jury_box.jpgYou kin never tell what a woman or a country jury is goin’ to do – Kin Hubbard

“Ladies and Gentleman, the only service demanded of you as a citizen, is your participation on a jury; a small price to pay next to the freedoms we enjoy in this country.  Thank you for your service.  This jury is dismissed.”

I ponder the judge’s words as I leave the courtroom after two long days on a six person jury.  I balance them with the uneasy, vaguely frustrated feelings I leave with.  

This is my first experience as a member of a jury.  I’ve never been one who has tried to dodge the experience, nor do I resent it, so I don’t understand why I feel as I do as I walk away. 

The case was fairly cut and dry.  We as a jury agreed.  There were no cross words, no heated discussions, but very much an air of heavy resignation that it was our duty to pass judgment on a barely adult young woman who one year ago displayed a major lapse in judgment, putting herself and others in clear and immediate danger. 

By grace alone, this young woman  lived to sit and watch and listen with the six of us, her attorney, the prosecutors, the judge, the court reporter, the bailiff, a smattering of spectators and her father, the video-taped and audio-recorded driving while intoxicated arrest she experienced one year ago.  Her mother sat outside the courtroom during this phase of the trial. 

As I watch the video tape of a young woman, still three years away from the legal drinking age, too drunk to stand, speak coherently, or even respond to basic questions,  I wonder if she realizes how lucky she is she didn’t die or kill someone else that night.  I wonder why there is a question regarding the charge and why she entered a plea of “not-guilty”. 

Nevertheless, I am impressed with how the jury system worked.  Even in light of overwhelming evidence, the responsibility falling to us wasn’t taken lightly.  Questions were addressed, considered, discussed and mutually agreed upon.  

After a verdict of guilty was rendered, the even heavier responsiblity of determining punishment was addressed, considered, and discussed till we reached a mutually agreed upon consensus. 

After the judge dismissed us, the bailiff escorted us back to the little room we’d called home for the past two days where we turned in our badges then went our seperate ways.  Some of us said a formal goodbye, while others chose to walk away without a look back.  This felt odd, and a little sad, after the two days of intimacy forced by circumstance.  While the case we were assigned to didn’t exactly merit traumatic bonding,  a “nice to meet you”, “thanks for driving us to lunch”, or even a “that last part really sucked”, would’ve been a more satisfying conclusion to the jury experience.  

The jury experience was as interesting as I believed it would be, and more heart-wrenching and heavy than I ever imagined.  I went to bed last night wondering and worrying about the young woman, hoping she receives the help she needs and that this experience will be her first and last time on the wrong side of the law.  I imagine that the other four women and the one man who with me decided her immediate fate are doing the same. 

And since it didn’t get said, I’ll say it now: 

It was very nice to meet you.

I enjoyed sharing lunch with you.

That last part really sucked.

And as far as how I feel about the experience, my jury is still out.

Carpe Diem Y’all, Michele 




August 25, 2007 - Posted by | Michele's Musings

1 Comment »

  1. I’m with you, and I hope as well that she learns from this. What was the punishment, btw?

    I watched a fascinating trial on Court TV years ago about a twenty-something woman who was on her 3rd or 4th DWI, drove with a suspended license and finally managed to kill someone. She STILL didn’t get it. During her tearful statement to the jury she kept saying, “It was an ACCIDENT!” No, sweetpea, it was a FELONY, and you knew it was as soon as you got into the car. She was given life in prison, and it was obvious that she really, truly did not understand why. I blame some of that on the current culture’s failure to take personal responsibility for anything. Some of it, not all.

    Anyway, I hope “your” gal does better. Good on ya for serving. The fact that you worried about her and still have ambivalent feelings about the whole process just shows you have a conscience and are a good person. 🙂 There’s probably an element of PTSD about jury service, no matter what the case is about – it’s not often that we’re called upon to literally pass judgment on another.

    Comment by Candace | August 26, 2007 | Reply

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