About a month ago, my wife got one of those cards in the mail that informed her that it was her turn to be part of a group of people called a ‘jury pool.’ She hadn’t been picked as a juror, mind you. She was just expected to serve if she was needed. Every evening this week, she’s called the number given on the card to see if she was one of the lucky few chosen to report for jury duty. Last night, the message on the phone told her that her group had been excused from service for at least another year. She was relieved.
As part of our rights and responsibilities as citizens of this country, it seems, once every few years, most of us get a notice by mail that it’s our turn to potentially serve on a jury.
It’s been a couple of years ago, now, I guess that I got one of those cards in the mail, too. The difference between my card and my wife’s card is that while she was excused from serving … I was not only requested to report to the jury selection room, I got selected. I got picked. First time in my life, I was chosen to serve on a jury. Quite an experience, really.
I sat every morning and afternoon for almost a week, alongside eleven other citizens. We listened to a prosecutor — who, represented ‘the people,’ — present witnesses and evidence against a woman who sat in a defendant’s chair next to her attorney, as a judge looked on. She had been accused of drug-dealing, receiving large amounts of controlled substances at her address, in well-sealed packages. There was evidence presented about shipping receipts, UPS deliveries, packing materials with drug residue found in her garbage can. Even a K-9 unit report, about how dogs sniffed out and discovered drug shipments addressed to her that were waiting for her to pick up at FedEx. Finally, after three long days of presenting evidence, the prosecutor gave his ‘final argument.’
He told the twelve of us that this was a ‘circumstantial’ case. The woman had never been discovered touching, handling, opening, or disbursing drugs. But everything he had presented pointed in that direction. The woman was guilty of possession and distribution of drugs, he said. He talked for nearly an hour, describing every piece of evidence again, before he finally said, “The people rest, your honor.”
I can sum up the defense lawyer’s remarks in five words: “They didn’t prove a thing.” He insisted. Circumstantial, he implored. He called into doubt everything the prosecutor had said. “Innocent,” said the defense attorney. This woman is innocent.
And then it was our turn to decide. Twelve mere humans, asked to make a judgement about another mere human as to her guilt or innocence. I found the ‘deliberation’ process to be fascinating. The reasoning of some jurors seemed quite biased against law enforcement. Others were resistant to and almost resentful of the restraints and restrictions of the law itself. Twelve pieces of paper. Twelve declarations, scribbled by mere mortals. Guilty or innocent, we recorded our votes.
I won’t tell you how the verdict came out, because it’s not important to this story. What is important, I think is that the process of deciding guilt or innocence by a jury always involves guilty people deciding about the guilt or innocence of other guilty people.
Guilty people are the only kind of people there are. “All have sinned,” says The Book. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” It is true that part of my responsibility as a citizen of my country is to serve on a jury. That ought to be a very humbling experience, and I would do well to note that expressing my opinion about the guilt or innocence of an individual while serving on a jury is not the same as feeling free to judge the motives and responses of the people in my world every day.
Have you noticed? Life is ‘circumstantial.’ Things happen in my life that you may have no idea about. And, for a certainty, circumstantial evidence in your life makes it impossible for me to know why you act as you do. I strive to rid myself of the mentality of a juror, judging those around me on a daily basis. May I embrace the words of Prov. 15:3 — “The Lord is watching everywhere, keeping an eye on both evil and the good.”
I will leave the final verdicts and judgments to our good and gracious God.