Posted December 3, 2007
It's pretty hard to impress a journalist. Let's face it, we're born skeptics. It's not a stereotype, it's the truth. This week, however, it happened to me. Eleven strangers impressed me.
To explain how I met these people, I have to tell you that I was quite amazingly picked to be on a criminal jury in Wake County. Given that I'm a crime reporter covering Wake County for WRAL, I thought this was a relative impossibility. But somehow, the attorneys and the judge didn't see it that way.
So, there I sat with eleven of my peers on a felony drug case. I was actually singled out and grilled quite strenuously by the judge about my ability to be objective. I tried to answer his questions honestly. And in the end, they decided to keep me.
I have covered literally hundreds of court proceedings in my 18 years as a journalist. This includes many jury trials. I have always wanted to be a fly on the wall in the jury room to see what the dynamics of such a group would be. Did they fight? Call each other names? Make one another cry? I'm sure, in some extreme cases, this does happen. But not in my case. In my case, everyone treated each other with respect, listening to everyone's opinion, giving equal weight to what each person had to say.
The old saying "you can't judge a book by its cover," was definitely true in this setting. The people I assumed by their appearance and profession might lean one way often leaned the other way. But the most remarkable thing was how everyone honestly listened to everyone's opinion and steadfastly refused to force anyone to change his or her mind if their conscience had already committed to a decision. Individual jurors also refused to vote with the majority in order to simply finish and come back with a decision.
The end result – a mistrial. I'm sure the attorneys who worked so hard to prepare and try the case saw this as a failure, that's understandable. But in my opinion, the system worked exactly the way it's supposed to. Twelve people thoughtfully considered the case and failed to come to a unanimous decision, so they came back with the only answer the law would allow, a hung jury.
If I were a defendant, an attorney or a judge in a case, I would hope that jurors would be honest, fair and take their responsibility seriously, because that's justice...