The adventures of a fourth grade teacher in East Central Illinois.

We the Jury

Today was my second day of jury duty, and my first day on a jury during a trial. It was an interesting experience, and one which was quite gratifying. I learned a lot about the realities of the judicial system, and how juries actually work. As I said yesterday, I have no intention of discussing any of the details of the case, including what it was about, who was involved.

I will say, however, that my fellow jurors and I apparently reached our verdict quite quickly, so much so that the officer of the court was shocked to learn that we had reached a verdict when he came in to check on our progress. I believe we spent approximately half an hour deliberating, most of which was discussing questions we had about the case, and the burden of proof that had been placed upon the State. We also spent some time discussing the lack of meaningful questions that we would have liked to have had answered, and our disappointment with both the State and the Defense to provide a strong argument one way or the other.

What ultimately informed our decision, however, was the realisation that the presumption of innocence trumps all in our judicial system. The defendant may very well have committed the crimes for which he was being tried. The Defense did not convince me or the other eleven jurors otherwise. But the State failed to convince us that he was definitely guilty. We were told to convict only if we believed he was guilty without reasonable doubt. There were many doubts, and therefore none of us felt that we could, in clear conscience, convict the defendant of the alleged crimes. And so it was that we voted not guilty on all accounts.

The interesting thing was to watch his reaction at the end. I don’t think he heard it at first–in fact, I think he was expecting to hear a guilty verdict. All of a sudden it hit him, and he slumped forward and just rested his head on the defense table. I would not be surprised at all to know that he was crying with relief. My thought was that he was a young man being tried of a crime for which he was innocent, and yet everyone felt he was guilty.

Afterwards, we all congregated in the jury room, gathered our belongings, and were escorted out of the courthouse by the officer of the court. And thus the trial ended.

One thing that really struck me at the very end was how well that we all worked together as a jury. I was reminded of the stages of group development that I teach teens at the Illinois Teen Institute: first, a group forms, then they begin to storm. Eventually they create group norms and they are able to perform. At the end, they adjourn, and move on. Our small group of twelve (fourteen, actually, if I include the alternates who were with us throughout the trial), did just that. We formed, we stormed, we normed, and then we performed. We did what we were brought together to do, we were satisfied that we had done what was expected of us, and then we adjourned. I may see some of them again, I may not. I don’t know. But I do know this: I have enjoyed my experience serving on a jury, and I would be glad to do it again.

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