For 40 years, I have skated under the radar of jury duty. But recently I was summoned to a serve at a criminal trial—two defendants were charged with a conspiracy to possess narcotics for distribution. I was one of 40 in the jury pool. Last time I was summoned, I was excused as soon as an attorney discovered I had a master’s degree in psychology. I thought the same thing would happen here. Not so. I survived to be named juror #6 of 14 (there were two alternates). Here’s what happened and why I’d happily do jury duty again.
For a day and a half we listened to audio recordings of legal wiretaps on a total of seven cell phones. Well, they’re not actually wire taps, but they are recordings. This was fascinating. I learned a whole new language. Nobody talks about heroin (or cocaine or meth) in phone conversations. The language is coded, with references to all kinds of merchandise… rims… CDs… suits. As if anybody listening couldn’t decipher what was being ordered, delivered, and consumed.
We then heard testimony from a parade of law enforcement folks—DEA, city police, county police, chemists, recording clerks, evidence room clerks. At one point about $800,000 worth of heroin was introduced into evidence.
An interesting sidebar to this story is that Defendant A refused an attorney and was acting as his own attorney, and Defendant B was not speaking to his attorney—he felt the whole thing was a sham. (I discovered this after the trial, but it explained the unusual relationship between Defendant B and his court-appointed attorney.) I have to say, Defendant A, despite lacking legal training and techniques, did an admirable job. The judge was lenient and tolerant, and pretty much allowed him latitude.
So Kim, you ask, where’s this month’s lesson?
Into the Laboratory
After four days of testimony and closing arguments from the U.S. attorney, Defendant B’s attorney (gallantly attempting to help) and Defendant A’s attorney (Defendant A), the jury left for the jury room.
Think about it. Twelve Knower/Judgers, all required to rule unanimously on two charges against Defendant A and one against Defendant B.
Seven women, five men. Housewives, a teacher, a caterer, one lady who got lost getting to the courthouse… twice…, an industrial salesman, a doctor of some discipline, and a redneck. Oh, and an executive work/life coach.
Let the fun really begin!
We zipped through Defendant A, although one K/J on the team needed to be stroked to get him to concede to the agreed verdict. I sensed his need for attention and actually voted along with him on the first pass. That gave him an ally and no reason to feel isolated so he had no need to defend himself against the world (something he liked to do). It worked, until we were set upon by a highly principled housewife who represented the majority position.
The dissenting K/J watched me work with her as she expressed her logic (according to her, the only logic that made sense), and slowly came around to the majority position. Since I was his partner in this and he no longer felt threatened, his Learner/Researcher saw the logic and quickly agreed to the unanimous vote. And we were still buddies.
Then the proverbial shit hit the fan. It seems the rules we were charged with following were written by at least two lawyers who didn’t like each other much! Deciding Defendant B’s guilt was not the problem; that went smoothly. Everybody pretty much saw things the same way, which says something about how the government put its presentation together. Think about how difficult it could be to make a situation look the same to 12 different K/Js.
The challenge came when we had to decide how much heroin was involved in this defendant’s guilt. One line of support held that he was not only responsible for amounts proven by the government, but for the total amount through his relationship with Defendant A. And we’d already thrown the book at Defendant A. Defendant B (a repeat offender) was just getting “back started up” in his business, so he personally processed much smaller amounts of contraband.
My buddy and I and one other felt that Defendant B’s liability was limited to what the government proved. Four others felt he was responsible for the whole enchilada, even though he was way out on the distribution channel. There’s good reason for this as the instructions I referred to earlier were written in such a way to support either line of thinking.
The foreperson actually sent a note out to the judge for clarification. I predicted he would be no help, as the “test” here was not Defendant B’s guilt or innocence; it was the interpretation of this instruction in conjunction with federal statutes. The judge was no help.
The other five members of the jury considered themselves “on the bubble.”
We had an option. Not coming to a conclusion would default the amount associated with the defendant to an extreme minimum. But that was a decision no one wanted, so there was pressure to arrive at a consensus.
Over the next two and a half hours, the boundary between the two camps fluxed back and forth. My side was down to just the two of us. The housewife-versus-my- buddy war broke out again, and I let his K/J battle with hers. It was really pretty irrational on both sides… huffy… harrumph!
The housewife turned to me as the more reasonable champion of the minority position. I explained that I understood how she interpreted the instruction (not threatening her K/J position) and that her interpretation had validity. Then I explained (it took a couple of times) that depending on where you paused in a sentence, there was a second interpretation (from my L/R to hers). Almost immediately, “bubbles” became converts. My buddy, now quiet, turned the negotiation over to me because my approach was working better than his.
When faced with consensus or defeat, the remaining challengers conceded and a unanimous decision was rendered.
It was a laboratory for recognizing when K/Js get involved, how to handle them, and how to bring everybody’s L/R to the party.
I’m ready to serve again, although statistically I won’t be summoned for another 10 years. Jury duty, as the judge aptly stated, is the greatest example of our democracy. And it’s fun!