I have been a juror for two and a half weeks. Today we submitted a statement to the judge that a unanimous decision was impossible to arrive at. Ten guilty verdicts against two not guilty left us with a hung jury. For the ten, it was a heartbreaking moment. We felt we had failed to remove a child molester from society.
The jury selection is a daunting process, as much is not revealed about an individual. The factors that an attorney must use are only perfected with experience and even then, humans are an unpredictable species.
The secret society that you inhabit with your fellow jurors is truly unique. We did not exchange names or social chitchat, rarely was anything personal discussed, and the code of silence outside the walls of the court clearly weighed heavy at times. We sat in silence on benches and waited for the bailiff to usher us into the deliberation room. Once there, the debates began and the evidence of truth or deceit often hotly and emotionally argued.
When there is only one voice accusing another, the issue of belief comes from all your senses. When the voice is one of a small child with little ability to express the events in the vocabulary of adults, one must truly rely on what we know of children, what is known of that child and how our intellect deciphers the probability of the events based on the testimony.
There were three separate events, two different houses, changing configurations of others present in the homes, and a passage of over a year before this trial. This child never wavered from the facts of the events during the defense attorney’s rapid fire cross examination of who, what, and where. In her soft and shaking voice, she described unique and frightening encounters with a person she had trusted and loved and who sat before her now. She had remained silent about them until a pivotal moment of intervention by other members of her family that had suspicions of this man’s behavior towards her. This shy and frightened child was consistent and believable.
The accused never took the stand nor had any witnesses on his behalf. He sat silently in the courtroom next to his attorney, rarely even glancing up.
We deliberated for three days. We drew charts, had the testimony read back to us, reviewed the parameters set forth by the judge, and followed the rules of probable cause determination. As the days wore on, the two with doubt revealed their cemented opinions that children tell tales and their belief that without an adult witness, the testimony of a child is not evidence of guilt. We grew weary of their inability to grasp that crimes of this type rarely are done publicly and that such a young and innocent child could not have possibly fabricated the unusual account of these acts. Many jurors reviewed the statements of others that supported her credibility, but the two would not waver.
It is an honor and a civic duty to serve as a juror. It is also an education about how the system works and what a jury of ones’ peers is like. You never know when you may be on the receiving end of such an unfortunate event and you trust justice will be served. In many events it is not, but the system in place is better than most any in the world and we should be grateful.
To this child, I can only feel regret at the verdict and disappointment in the judgment of the adults whose duty was to protect her.