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A Courtroom Drama I Hadn't Anticipated

Tuesday, 17 Jun 2008 07:40 AM

By Dr. Laura

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When I was notified to report for jury duty, I was enthusiastic about serving. I thought it would be terrific to participate in something incredible: a trial by one’s peers.

When the day came, I arrived mentally ready to serve as a juror for the first time. The defendant was a female and this was to be a criminal case. The judge informed the room that this was a case about “alleged” drunk driving, an illegal left-hand turn, and a dead motorcyclist.

My blood pressure went way up and I felt instantly furious with the woman. I had to remind myself about “innocent until proven guilty,” but honestly, I assumed that she wouldn’t be on trial if there weren’t concrete evidence of an illegal left-hand turn while under the influence. That a man was dead was a fact.

This is when my inner struggle began over the rights of the accused to a jury filled with people who had no bias, preconceived notions, negative emotions, and so forth. As a psychotherapist, I wondered how that could be possible. But certainly, there had to be 12 folks who, in spite of any emotions to the contrary, would struggle against them to do what was right.

I wondered if I could be one of them.

Considering the hundred or so people in the room, I doubted I’d have the opportunity to test myself. I was wrong. After almost a dozen people were excused by the judge because either they, their family, or friends had alcohol issues. My name was called. I came up to the jury box thinking to myself, “I’m a smart and disciplined woman - no problem - I can do this.” I was wrong again.

We had to announce our full names, occupation, identify immediate family with their ages and occupation, and relate any prior jury duty experiences. I was doing just fine until I got to the “children” part. My eyes welled up as a well-submerged memory popped to the surface, surprising me.

“My son has just come back from a year and a half in combat in Afghanistan. But just before he left - at this point my voice keeps getting louder although I don’t mean it to - right here in this town, a drunk and drugged woman made a left turn and T-boned my son. If he weren’t in such a sturdy car, he might be dead.

“As it was, I remember vividly the notification phone call with my asking about whether he was alive or dead. His two-week-old car was totaled but he walked away with minor injuries. The woman must have plea bargained, because there was no trial.

“I want to think I have what it takes to put that aside and decide this case on its merits, but I’m embarrassed to say, I am a mother … and I’m still mad,” I said.

I apologized to the court and said that if this trial were about anything else, I definitely would serve (unless the defense attorney thought otherwise, as I am known for a radio program dealing with morals, values, ethics, and principles) but that, to be quite honest, I’m still an angry mommy.

The judge acknowledged that my feelings were totally reasonable and excused me. Wiping tears from my eyes with my head down, I left the courtroom.

A gentleman in a black suit exited with me and said, “I want to tell you that I admire what you just did.”

I said, “Why? I’m not serving.”

He said, “Because it is unusual for people to be candid and honest about their feelings.” He then informed me that although she did make an illegal left turn, the motorcyclist ran into her, and not the other way around.

Surprised, I said, “Well, that doesn’t ultimately make any difference … she became a deadly obstacle.” Uncomfortable about having this conversation “out of court” even though I was not on the jury, I excused myself to leave.

Turning around, I said, “Who are you?”

“I’m a colleague of the defense attorney,” he replied.

On the way home I agonized over what had happened, because I’m an honorable sort and wanted to “do my duty. I even thought perhaps I should have kept silent, to ensure no “bleeding heart” showed compassion for a person “sorry” about what happened.

I feel like I did the right thing by taking my powerful personal emotions out of the legal mix. But still …

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