Monday, October 25, 2010

Beyond a Reasonable Doubt

I seem to get called up to report for jury duty every few years or so, but have never had to actually serve on a jury. Until this year. Now I am not at all opposed to performing a civic duty, but I suppose, like a lot of people, I'd rather not do it just because of the hassle and the time spent. Then again, I sort of wanted to serve on a jury just so I could say I had done it. On a Monday morning I reported to the jury assembly area along with about 200 other good citizens. Must be a busy week at the Sedgwick County courthouse. In past years I would report and maybe go through the process of jury selection, but not be selected. One time, I was excused because I was personally acquainted with the defendant. And no, he wasn't the kind of person I normally hang out with.
The first group of jurors was called and I was in a group of 45 people or so. We went to one of the courtrooms and began the process of jury selection. At this point I was feeling good about it because the numbers game of picking 12 jurors out of 45 people made the odds of yours truly not getting selected look pretty good. I wondered why this was such a large group, though. I remembered that the group of potential jurors was only about 25 the last time I did this. I would soon find out why.
We were quickly informed that the case involved the sexual assault of a 12 year old girl. The alleged incident was not a rape, but also not a pleasant subject. The attorneys asked many questions of the potential jurors such as "have you personally, or do you know anybody that has ever been involved in any kind of sexual assault?" I was a bit surprised that a significant number of people answered yes.
After spending almost all day on Monday enduring the jury selection process, I found out just before 5:00 pm that I was to be juror #4. Wow! Lucky Me!
The trial started the next morning. I'll not describe all of the circumstances but there was some very unusual details and confusing testimony for us jurors to consider. For one thing, the purported offense had occurred 4 years ago. Huh? Why that length of time? Secondly, the testimony of the various witnesses for the prosecution was somewhat inconsistent. Both the prosecution and the defense had DNA experts testifying on their behalf. We had to listen as each expert witness tried to substantiate their own separate test results. Of course, the purpose of the defendant's expert DNA witness was to raise some doubt as to the guilt of the defendant.
We, as jurors, had been cautioned numerous times that we were to assume the innocence of the defendant until the attorneys had rested their cases. We were not to speak about the case with each other, nor with anyone else for that matter. If we were to convict the defendant, we had to be sure that there was "no reasonable doubt" as to the guilt of the defendant.
The prosecutors called a number of witnesses. The defendant did not take the stand in his own defense and the defendant's only witness was their DNA expert. Again, we all were wondering why. ???
The jury finally went for deliberation at mid Thursday morning. We talked for a bit with each other, but quickly decided to take a quick vote, just to see where we stood. The initial vote was 11 to 1 in favor of conviction. After that, I suppose that a lot of us, like me, had thoughts about the old movie starring Henry Fonda, "12 Angry Men". I wondered if the deliberation would take a long time. I actually was a bit surprised at the results of the initial vote given the inconsistencies in the testimony and somewhat confusing nature of the DNA evidence. I thought the initial vote would be different.
The initial vote was by ballot and we didn't initially know which one if us had voted for acquittal, but that person (not me), quickly identified himself to the rest of us. And many of his concerns were valid in my opinion. I think we all had questions. None of us were absolutely sure what had exactly happened that night.
But in the minds of most of us, one fact was irrefutable. A fluid substance belonging to the defendant was found in a place where it shouldn't have been. The DNA evidence provided by the prosecution indicated that. In addition, the defendants own DNA expert confirmed the same result, but offered up some additional test result possibilities and a somewhat critical review of the prosecution's DNA testing procedures. That was the primary source of the defendant's argument for potential reasonable doubt.
We went around the table, each of us with an opportunity to express our thoughts and opinions. We discussed our many questions and misgivings about the case, but eventually we started to focus on the evidence that we felt was particularly important. In about an hour, the person that had originally voted for acquittal changed his mind and we became unanimous in our decision. It was just before noon. The bailiff said they were going to order in pizza for us for lunch. We decided not to tell the bailiff that we had reached a decision until after we had a chance for pizza. We were all sort of anxious to "get out of there" but we also knew that the court would not resume until after lunch anyway. Judges and attorneys always seem to be very conscious about proper lunch and break times.
The court reconvened not long after we told the bailiff that we had reached a decision. The final process went quickly and we were released from duty shortly thereafter.
After we had retired back to the jury room, the judge and both attorneys joined us and we had an opportunity to exchange questions back and forth with them. This was extremely valuable for us because we had a chance to get some of our little questions answered. For instance, we found out that the case was actually a re-trial. The defendant had already been convicted once and was granted a new trial based upon the newer DNA evidence. He had other possible counts against him, but this case was the one where the prosecution thought they had the best chance for conviction. A lot of this information was withheld from us for the reason that it might be prejudicial.
He was a bad dude! We went away very sure we had done the right thing. Because of a relatively recent new sentencing law, he will be in prison for a very long time, a minimum of 25 years. I guess I feel a bit sorry about that, but just a bit.
I learned a lot about the legal processes involved. Would I want to do it again? Well, probably not. Mainly just because it interrupted my life for 4 days and was a somewhat mentally draining and emotional process.
Ten men and two women came together to weigh the evidence. We went away knowing we had fulfilled our civic duty in a responsible manner. You could argue that the procedures are not very efficient, but we all should feel lucky that we live in a country where this kind of process is followed. In other countries, the process might not be as careful.


  1. Good post and congratulations on fulfilling your public duty and for coming to what seems like the right decision. It must have been satisfying to have discovered the information about the re-trial and other pending convictions. I have only served on a jury once which was a complex 2 week fraud trial. It was where I met my first wife, who was a another juror.

  2. cpa3485: I have no desire to be a juror but I have attended a couple of trials where I was swayed first by the prosecutor, then the other way by the defence on points of law, not on the facts where some points are allowed and some not. things are not aways as they seem.

    did you not find out what was for dinner first ? otherwise your verdict could have been rendered much later . . .

    Wet Coast Scootin

  3. Michael,
    Thanks for the compliment. It wasn't about scooters today, but appreciate the comment. Sometimes there just isn't that much to say about commuting on a frequent basis so I fill in with other "stuff" from my life.

    Take care and thanks for the visit.


  4. Gary,
    You seem to meet your significant others in the strangest of places. I still remember where you met your current spouse, cuz you told me when I was visiting you in Nebraska.
    18,000 miles is very serious, Dude!


  5. Bobskoot,
    We were not about to wait for dinner. We were an interesting group of people thrown together for the purpose, but we were ready to continue on with our lives. I wanted to ride again. It wasn't convenient to wear the gear to the courtroom.


  6. good report sir!

    I too have been part of a jury, but at the end of the week long deliberations, the judge picked two names out of the hat and I was one of the two excused. There'd been fourteen of us you see, apparently we were kept on as "spares".

    The guy was guilty....there was no doubt, but I missed out on the chance to cast my vote on the verdict.


    Redleg's Rides

    Colorado Motorcycle Travel Examiner

  7. Dom,
    I think it would not have been fun to be an alternate and not have to end up deliberating. I don't know why, but we had no alternates. Thought they usually did that, but maybe not anymore. I'm just glad it's over and didn't happen during "tax season".

  8. Jim,

    Very interesting post. I served on a civil trial jury many years ago, and I'm glad I did as you say it is a learning experience, although a slightly different experience than a criminal trial.