Anyone who knows me IRL at any level knows that I am deep into the Adnan Syed case via the Serial podcast. Yes, I’m way late to the party (recorded in 2014) but with recent developments, I find it riveting and to call myself obsessed is probably an understatement. I cannot get enough of it – I’ve been getting on the treadmill sometimes twice a day just so I can play the next episode of “Serial” or “Undisclosed” (I am now done with “Serial” but have plenty of “Undisclosed” to go). I have always been skeptical of our judicial system, and truly believe that many, many, MANY people are in prison because of false convictions, but to have a real case to follow, dig into, think through, and discuss with others has really reinforced my concerns.
We need to be doing better.
About a month ago, I got that dreaded letter in the mail – a jury summons. Back when I had no kids to take to and from school and to care for before and after school, I would have celebrated that letter. But now with the responsibilities of a stay-at-home mom, that letter stressed me out. I filled out the potential juror questionnaire and was honest, but did list my family member in law enforcement and mentioned that we speak very regularly and get on well. I was hoping that my relationship with him would get me out of jury duty.
It didn’t. Ha!
As I got more and more into Syed’s case, I started changing my attitude about jury duty. I was getting a bit excited, just hoping that it wouldn’t last longer than the designated week. Hottie planned to change his schedule to cover much of our childcare and my in-laws were on deck to fill in when needed. The stress of taking care of the kids was gone, and I got pumped about playing a role in the judicial system for someone’s case – someone’s case that may mean EVERYTHING to them (and little to others).
I went to jury duty this morning and enthusiastically sat through the video and judge-in-person orientations. I found it fascinating. I hoped to be selected for an important case. I thought that I was the type of juror that a defendant would want on his or her jury because I truly believe that one is innocent until proven guilty, and I know that charges and arrests do NOT equal guilt.
After orientation, I sat out in the hall waiting to be called (there were 250 of us there – there were 11 jury trials just on Monday). It took forever for the court clerks to come out and call their jury pools, but I was finally called for the 6th case. I was so excited and hopeful that I’d be selected, but chances were slim considering the pool of potential jurors for the case was 24-deep.
The attorneys asked us questions, some to the group, some to individuals. I had to answer one individual question about the responsibility of “burden of proof.” After one person said it was the attorneys’ responsibility, when I was asked, I said, “it is not the defending attorney’s job, it’s only the prosecuting attorney’s responsibility.” We were asked if we had any personal or familial experience with child abuse and the hair on the back of my neck stood up. We were told we’d be shown evidentiary photographs. My stomach hurt. But, I reminded myself that the man in front of us was simply charged with crimes – and that I needed to be shown that he was guilty.
I was selected. I was so pleased!
Before lunch, they had opening statements and the prosecuting attorney presented basically everything. I kept waiting for the big bomb, but there wasn’t one. There was an argument in the home between the defendant and his wife, the defendant was holding his 1-year old child, the 15-year old attacked him by sucker punching him in the face, and he dropped the baby. We were told the baby’s mouth bled and that he had a bump on his head, but that he was never taken to the hospital. I waited for him to tell us that the defendant then went off on the teen. But he stopped with the injuries to the infant and the teenager was unharmed. The police arrived, and the defendant was later charged with child endangerment and bodily harm done to a child.
The defending attorney was truly awful and seemed very unprepared, but he put it in simpler terms than the prosecuting attorney. There are no eye witnesses because the teen and mother won’t testify, the 911 call is hearsay per the presiding judge, the police officers who will testify are not eye witnesses to the alleged crime, the baby did not have any injuries requiring medical attention, and the defendant contained his anger against the teen when this all happened.
It sounded so simple to me. And I was anxious to see if my opinion would change as the trial went on (my opinion wavers a lot!). I did not discuss the details of the case with Hottie over lunch, but I did say, “these aren’t the most awful charges, and if he was guilty, I’d think he would have pled out by now.”
We were all brought back into the court room to the judge, who was not wearing his robe, and to the clerk and recorder. The lawyers were not present, nor was the defendant. The judge was very kind and explained to us that the teen showed up over lunch when the witnesses were being prepped and stated exactly what the defendant had said, that he attacked his step-dad with no warning causing him to drop the baby. He went so far as to say that the defendant never struck him back (the prosecutor said the same thing in his opening statement).
The state dropped their charges immediately.
I was so hoping to serve a full trial, but I’m much happier to see this man not have to go through it. He took a gamble opting for a jury trial. We were told that he was offered a plea deal of a simple misdemeanor charge (I think it was disorderly conduct) and passed because he knew he’d done nothing wrong. He took a gamble, and he won.
We did see the family outside the courtroom before we were told that the charges were dropped, and the defendant was holding his baby and hugging the baby’s mom and a teenager. I assumed that they had come just to be in the courtroom for him, but it turns out they were celebrating the conclusion of the trial. Looking back on it, it was great to see even if I didn’t know at the time what I was seeing. The charges, even from the prosecutor’s mouth, just sounded ridiculous.
Justice was done, even if it wasn’t done in the way that most trials play out.
It was a great experience for me and the timing was perfect given my latest interests. 😉
I did speak with several jurors on the way out and we all felt the same way after opening statements – the charges sounded loose, at best, and like the prosecuting office just wanted to charge without giving a damn about the situation. It is infuriating, and even more infuriating that the defendant appeared to have a horrible court-appointed attorney, but in the end, it worked out. And I think it worked out the way it was supposed to.