Last week I was chosen to serve on a jury for a criminal trial. Now that the trial is over and the verdict delivered, I believe I can now share my thoughts on this whole experience.
After two days of enduring an unexpectedly lengthy jury selection process, I was among the fourteen individuals selected for the jury. During this process, the judge said something that I will always remember. “Who’s winning right now?” he asked. “The defendant. There hasn’t been any evidence presented yet to prove his guilt, so he’s got the lead.” That drove home his point that the defendant was innocent until proven guilty.
After we were sworn in and seated, we received instructions from the judge about the trial. During this time I caught a quick glimpse of the defendant, and that’s when it dawned on me. For the first time in my life, I had to judge another human being and decide if he was in fact guilty or innocent of his crime. An awesome responsibility had just been placed in my hands. This was not going to be an easy task.
Once the trial got underway, I learned the details of the case. It seems the defendant wanted to go to a gentleman’s club with his best friend, but he had no way of getting there in style, so he stole his girlfriend’s mother’s car and used that to get to the club.
This is where things get interesting. When the two men left the club hours later, the police were waiting with an arrest warrant for the defendant’s friend on some felony charge and tried to block their car from leaving the parking lot. The defendant was still able to drive off before leading the police on a high speed chase that ended when his car crashed into a retention pond one mile away from the club.
A few minutes later, police arrived at the scene and the two men tried to swim away to avoid capture but they soon found themselves struggling to stay afloat when they reached the deep end of the pond. The police managed to rescue the defendant but his friend drowned. The defendant was charged with grand theft auto, fleeing and eluding, and first degree murder.
During the trial, we heard hours of testimony from officers involved in the chase. We also saw videos of the chase from dashboard cameras well as a surveillance video of the club’s parking lot that showed the beginning of the chase. We also saw photographs of the scene of the accident at the retention pond and the heavy damage sustained by the car during its escape.
The prosecution tried to argue that the defendant should be held responsible for the death of his friend, but from reviewing the dashcam video footage we could see the two men swimming vigorously away from the car in opposite directions while trying to avoid the police. At first the friend began swimming towards the shore but turned away when he saw the officers trying to rescue him. The murder charge didn’t fit in too well with us in the jury, so we found him not guilty of first degree murder and guilty of fleeing and eluding along with grand theft auto.
The American justice system may have its flaws, but I think it actually worked at this trial. The jurors were impartial and open-minded enough to give the defendant the fair trial he deserved. The deliberations were done with respect to the evidence, testimony and the context of the law without the interference of any personal beliefs that would have impacted the outcome of the trial. In the end, everyone felt good about the verdict they reached to bring the trial to its satisfying conclusion.
This was the first criminal trial I served on, and I found this whole experience educational and very rewarding. I’d do it all over again in a heartbeat.