You know that moment you wake up in the middle of the night and you feel like there’s something you’re supposed to do but you can’t remember what it is? For me, “it” was jury duty.
Fast forward four criminal counts, three weeks, two sides of the story, and one trial later, I got my inside look into the court system. I was curious about how (read: if) our justice system really works. Time to put my years of binging Law and Order to the test. Here are 4 things I learned as a member of the jury:
It is very possible for a diverse group of people to get along. While we waited to be invited into the courtroom each day, our group of 12 random strangers sat in the hallway laughing, joking, and mostly complaining about how much no one wanted to be there.
- Some were from LA.
- Some could barely speak English.
- Some were cops.
- Some had been arrested before.
- Some were grandparents.
- Some were just out of high school.
- Some had Jesus tattoos.
- Some wore turbans.
Maybe it’s because I live in such a diverse city or maybe it’s because I happened to be in a good mood those days, but seeing a bunch of strangers sit and smile with each other, even for a moment, completely contrasts the doom and gloom I feel watching the news. The news today is convincing us that our differences mean we’ll never get along. We’re being taught that our citizenship, religion, skin color, uniforms, etc. automatically pit us against each other. But I learned that a common enemy or goal can bring people together. In this case, JURY DUTY is the enemy that allows people to put aside all differences and come together to complain. I mean, what’s more beautiful than this?
Proving your case in trial is not about proving what actually happened. There’s no way of knowing EXACTLY what happened without having been there. The jury wouldn’t be necessary if there weren’t opposing stories. Instead, the trial is all about proving that your testimony today matches your previous testimony each time you spoke to ANYONE regarding the case. I should mention that this investigation spanned over 2 years with different people asking different questions in different ways at different times, with many months of no contact in between.
We sat through hours of questions like this:
“You just said that he grabbed you with his left hand but back in 2015 when you spoke the second detective, you said you weren’t sure which hand it was. So now you magically remember which hand it was all of a sudden?”
“You said she came to your house at 6:45 but the parking ticket shows you didn’t get home until 6:55pm. So which is it then?! Did 10 minutes just disappear?!”
You could argue that it would be impossible to remember details from something that happened a long time ago. You could also argue that traumatic events should be easy to remember. Either way it’s your opinion and it's completely subjective.
Social media’s influence is unfortunately undeniable. The verdict is not based on what we [the jury] think happened, but whether it is AT ALL reasonable to doubt that the defendant committed a crime. This is why the lawyers focus so much on whether or not people’s stories add up. And what is a great way to narrate your story without having to actually be honest? You guessed it! Instagram.
In our case, the victim [with tears streaming down her face] told us that ever since the defendant [allegedly] strangled her, she can no longer wear any type of clothing around her neck because it causes powerful, paralyzing flashbacks. Then his lawyer showed a photo from her Instagram account [posted after the alleged crime] where she was wearing a halloween costume with a whip around her neck.
“You said you’re so traumatized that you won’t let anything or anyone touch your neck for any reason. Not even a necklace. Correct?.. Ok. So then how do you explain this outfit posted on your own Instagram account? Are you not smiling with a whip around your neck? Why don’t you look sad or traumatized here?! Is it because your whole story is a lie?!”
So, does the fact that she wore this costume mean that her whole story is a lie? Maybe. Maybe not. We weren’t there so we’ll never know for sure. But it does make her story inconsistent.
Meanwhile, if you look at the defendant’s Instagram account, all you see if photos of his happy family, his wife and his thriving business. Looking at his IG would make any entrepreneur or anyone who’s not currently in a happy relationship extremely jealous. You would have NO IDEA that this man cheated on his wife--he admitted that part--and has been going through a two year rape trial with one of his former clients. Does the fact that his social media life looks perfect mean that he's innocent? No. But does it make him look innocent? Maybe. Maybe not. It’s still subjective.
Speaking of things that are subjective, the way police handle victims of sexual assault is completely up to their discretion. Two years ago, when the victim first reported that she’d been raped, the officer didn’t believe her. He admitted that she “didn't act like a victim of rape” because she “didn’t seem shaken up enough” and that she told him she didn’t fight back. He also testified to the fact that police have NO TRAINING WHATSOEVER--in the academy or elsewhere--in rape cases. According to an expert on the stand, rape victims who have a personal relationship with their attackers usually don't run or fight because they're acting out of betrayal rather than fear. Regardless of whether the victim reacted “properly”--again, very subjective--how can an officer who’s never dealt with or been trained in rape cases know what a victim should act like?
And when one of the main pieces of “evidence” in our case is a two-year old report filed by a biased, untrained officer, how can there be a fair investigation? As if we don’t have already enough reasons to reform the police system.
In summary: different people getting along is attainable, Instagram is the new smoke and mirror, police training is lacking, and the best way to prove guilt in court is to prove that some--potentially irrelevant--part of someone's story doesn’t match up. So did all of these points confirm stuff you already knew? Yep, me too.