Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Jury Duty Weighs Heavily

On Tuesdays and Thursdays in May, I report at 8:30 AM to Broad and Tulane where I check in to the jury pool at the Orleans Parish criminal court. I have never been asked to do jury service prior to this. Twice I have gone through the Voir Dire process, and last week I was chosen to sit on a jury during a criminal trial for a young man charged with possession of heroin and possession of a firearm by an ex-con. The trial lasted two days, and when we deliberated, I spent several hours convincing the other jurors that the accused was in fact guilty, and that the police were not setting him up. In the end we handed down a guilty verdict for the heroin charge, and the jury was one vote shy of a guilty verdict on the firearm, so in essence we were "hung."

I feel bad for the young man who will no doubt return to prison, a place where he has spent several years already. I am upset with him for putting me in the position to have to decide his fate. He has clearly made some poor choices. On the other hand, he has grown up in a world that is very foreign to me, a world where guns and drugs and violence are commonplace. I am also upset with the system. Juries are asked to make decisions without being privy to important factors in the case. I would have liked to have asked several questions to both the defense and prosecution. In the end it was like we were given a few glimpses into the events that transpired but we couldn't have access to everything. So I played a key role in sending another young African American man to prison in New Orleans, where we have more people locked up per capita than anywhere else in the world. I feel bad about that. I would feel worse perhaps if worked to free the defendant and then one day read about him hurting someone at a future date. That's a lot of speculation, I realize, and probably shouldn't be relevant. People can change.

I was happy to be excused from the jury yesterday. I believe I was excused as I stated I had previously served on a jury that did not reach a guilty verdict. Fine by me. I report again for the fourth time tomorrow, and then I'll be half-way finished.

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