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Break Time

Having heard everything the prosecutor could give us to convince us that the defendant was guilty of vandalizing his ex-girlfriend's garage door and slashing her roommate's tires, we twelve jurors (and two alternates) thought we knew what to expect from the defense attorney. We thought we would be given the alibi he promised, at the very least. Maybe he had an explanation, or an alternative scenario, or something that would cast doubt on what we'd already heard.

"Reasonable" doubt, that is. We had to find that Spike committed these acts, and we had to find it beyond a reasonable doubt or we had to find him not guilty. Several times we were told that "beyond a reasonable doubt" didn't mean the same thing as "beyond a shadow of a doubt." If the evidence gave us an "abiding conviction" that he was guilty, that was enough. That meant that we would have to be sure now, and we would have to be sure that we would still be sure in the future.

Well, that makes sense. Nobody wanted to feel they'd made a mistake that cost someone else his freedom (although we were also not allowed to speculate on what his punishment might be if we did find him guilty). In fact, it came up in the jury room, that a juror has to have a conscience. We were an eclectic group, and the flow of ideas, once we were allowed to talk, was kind of exhilarating. We had been told to use our common sense in coming to a decision, and it was almost shocking how common common sense can be.

For now, though, we were still avoiding eye contact with each other, for the most part. Even during the breaks, we circled around each other without saying much. When we did talk, we put on the brakes whenever we came close to anything that might possibly lead us in the direction of something to do with the case, or the people involved. Most of us sat by ourselves and read, so that we wouldn't be tempted to talk about the one thing we weren't even supposed to think about.

Several jurors pulled out cell phones and chatted or texted with the outside world. It was our responsibility to turn our phones off before we reentered the courtroom. Some people couldn't quite remember to do that every time. When a ringer inevitably sounded off during proceedings, I was amazed that the judge and the lawyers didn't express any disdain or resentment. And I looked for it. I searched their faces for rolling eyes. Having no legal responsibility in that area, I didn't refrain from rolling my own eyes.

It was an odd experience, once we got the case, to connect with these people. I'd been sitting next to them for several days by that time, and I'd formed some opinions. If I couldn't judge the defendant, I could certainly draw conclusions about the other jurors. In most cases, I was completely wrong. In fact, as soon as we all started talking with each other, we became real people, and not the shadows and images we'd created in our heads. You really never know what's in the mind and the heart of your neighbor, but you might get a much better idea in the jury room than you would in the courtroom.


Every day, at just about the point where we were eager for the next big thing to happen, the judge would decide it was time for a break. You might think we watched the big clock on the wall (and there was a big clock on the wall), anxious to escape. But just as things were getting interesting, we would invariably be sent home and asked to return the next day. It was frustrating. Maybe you know what I mean. (Next entry: the defense presents its case. Probably.)

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