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Tuesday, July 23, 2013

A Glimpse into the American Justice System

This post is first in a three-part miniseries based on my jury duty experience.
See part two here
and part three here. 

As many of you know, I just had the opportunity to serve as a juror... for two. full. weeks.

It was intense.

The case was involving two semi trucks that crashed just outside the town I live in, in August 2010.
It was a rear-end crash: an underride from the perspective of the back truck, and the man in the back truck died. You don't need to know the details; it's not fun.

The charges were two: one, that the driver in the front truck, Mr. Kozlov, had driven below the posted legal speed limit (on Interstate 80 in Nebraska, the lowest legal speed is 40 mph), specifically, that he had been driving 13.5 mph at the time of the collision and had therefore been responsible for the death of the other man (manslaughter, murder without the intention of doing so);
and two, that Mr. Kozlov had intentionally given misleading information in his statements to law enforcement officers regarding the speed he had been going (he maintained for three years that he had been driving 60-65 mph). This is known as false reporting.

After two weeks of hearing the testimonies of witness after witness, watching the lawyers for the defense and prosecution do everything they could to make the facts fit what they wanted the jurors to believe, we were presented with the evidence and told to make a decision.

It was a complicated process, but suffice it to say that we did not have enough trustworthy information to prove him guilty of manslaughter.
We did decide that he was guilty of false reporting.

I gained a great respect for what judges and lawyers do, and especially for what juries are expected to do. It's not an easy thing. What we kept coming back to was the fact that Mr. Kozlov was "innocent until proven guilty" "beyond all reasonable doubt." There was plenty of reason to doubt that he was guilty. We just didn't have enough trustworthy information to declare him guilty of manslaughter, specifically, of breaking the law and driving too slow. No one saw it. No one could satisfactorily prove it.

We declared him innocent.

I'll get to the spiritual implications of this in another post. And I have another story to tell, too.

But right now I'm reflecting on the incredibly difficult jobs that judges, lawyers, and jurors have. Judges have to correctly apply the law during court cases. They have to really know their stuff, remain neutral about a situation, and then decide consequences based on a jury's decision.

Lawyers have to do everything in their power to prove their side of things, whether they're the defense or prosecution. I will say that I don't like lawyers very much, as much as I know there are plenty of lawyers out there who are good and decent people. But it's part of a lawyer's job to be a jerk in the courtroom. You can't be kind if you're trying to force the truth out of people. Plus, lawyers never swear to tell the truth. They can say whatever they want to try to sway the jury to their point of view. It's not a job I'd want, for sure.

I definitely have the most respect for jurors. They aren't trained in law, but they're expected to correctly apply what they've been told about the law. They're given a ton of information and told to decide, based on the facts they have, whether a person is guilty or innocent. And they're not the ones being paid several hundred dollars an hour. We got paid $35 a day (and I'm not complaining; it's about as much as I would have made working part-time at the library for those two weeks). But in my opinion, we had the hardest job of anybody. We were told that as a group of twelve people, we had to come to a unanimous decision. It was an amazing group of people that I worked with, but we didn't all think the same way by any means. We weren't all 100% thrilled with the way things turned out. I'm quite pleased about the not-guilty verdict for the manslaughter, but I wasn't entirely convinced that the man also committed the false reporting. But a few people weren't entirely convinced that he hadn't driven below the speed limit, either. What we were able to do was say, "you know what, I'm convinced enough. It's not that I have no doubt whatsoever, but we have to make a decision based in reasonable doubt." And that's what we did.

One of the jurors made an interesting comment at one point. He said something like, "Whatever decision we make regarding this man, he will have to face a much bigger judgment one day. If it turns out that he's not innocent, he'll have that on his own conscience, and he will have to answer for himself someday, to a much more important Judge than we are."

I take comfort in that. We made the best decision we could with the knowledge we were given. And the rest? It's up to God.


Have you ever served on a jury? What was your experience like?

Stay tuned...I have more stories to share from my jury duty experience!

4 comments:

  1. I have never served on a jury though I was called to a juror. I guess I wasn't good enough! :P It sounds like it was quite the experience, and I agree that jurors have a very difficult job. They choose basically the fate of another person. It's quite a big responsibility.

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    1. Being picked to be on a jury is mostly a matter of chance! And yeah, it was quite the job. Luckily, jurors don't decide on a sentence--the judge does that!

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  2. Very interesting. Enjoyed your insights and the wisdom shared by the man who said the driver will have to face a far great Judge.

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    1. thanks! and yeah, that was very thought-provoking!

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