Sunday, 18 September 2011

Jury Duty

All of us, at one time or another, when parked in front of cartoons on a Saturday morning or left alone in a corner of the playground, dreamed of being a superhero or vigilante with the power to singlehandedly bring bad guys to justice. Sadly, as we mature and realise the likelihood of being knifed, these ambitions go unfulfilled. It should have delighted me then, when I played an instrumental part in sending someone to prison for murder.

Now, anyone that’s done jury duty will have already dismissed this as *ahem* ‘bigging myself up.’ I concede that, by and large, jury duty is a tedious ordeal that would be unbearable without a generous supply of Polos. Television has lied to us. Lawyers don’t shout at each other. Judges don’t bang a hammer. The closest thing to a surprise witness was a man who thought he heard a shout, ‘but it might have been his cat.’ Nonetheless, I was the last juror called for an above-average trial. A murder case.

It would be inappropriate to go into detail. After a fight between two gangs of teenagers, one boy had his skull caved in. The case was made more complicated by the main suspect committing suicide in custody, so the trial stretched on for 3 largely uneventful weeks. The main revelation that emerged during this period? Apparently using your lunch allowance to eat 4 Twix bars every day will result in it becoming difficult to fit on the end of the jury bench.

Fortunately I had my own chair when it came time to retire to a private room and reach a verdict. The judge provided a number of steps for us to consider that would render different sentences. Clearing the first step meant an assault charge. If we cleared the second and third steps, manslaughter. The final step; murder.

Gathered around a large table, the 12 of us agreed without objection to the assault charge. Soon, the majority had also cleared step two. And that’s where we hit a wall. The rest was a slippery slope; if we went any further there was no stopping until we reached the murder charge. We took a preliminary vote to proceed. Only I raised my hand.

The choice left to me was either to relent and let the boy get a relatively short sentence, or to try and talk the others round. So I rolled up my sleeves.

I didn’t do this for the sake of it. I wasn’t on a power trip, nor did I feel personal animosity toward the defendant. Even if he did seem like a cunt. I truly believed he was guilty of murder. And the problem was that everyone else around the table knew it, but were too scared to have the delivery of a life sentence on their conscience. It was questionable if one or two of the older jurors actually knew where they were.

One-by-one, I convinced them all to push for a murder charge. Like the games I used to play in the corner of the playground, I cited evidence, phrased an argument, and stabbed the air with a pen in a vaguely threatening manner. I was a superhero, a vigilante; I was Popeye, fuelled by Twix’s instead of spinach. And an hour later when we voted again, every single person raised their hand.

            ‘How does the jury find the defendant on the charge of murder?’

            ‘Guilty, your honour.’

The boy collapsed in the dock. A strange blend of euphoria and guilt whirled in my gut. This wasn’t how it had felt all those times I defeated the imaginary villain. The family of the victim cried and screamed as bailiffs led the guilty away. This was the only part of the trial that was just like it is on television. 

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