Jerry Large, a columnist for my local newspaper, The Seattle Times, just served a brief stint in jury duty and reflects on it in this morning’s edition. For Large, the experience caused him to reflect on the larger context–how special it was to play the role of juror in our system of justice:
Saying it is a way of acknowledging that in the real world we usually have less-stimulating drama and more doubt and imperfection to wrestle with. That was certainly true of my jury service over the past few days. We jurors earned our $10 a day and got for free a chance to be a part of democracy in a way that people in many other countries can’t.
Large’s service was short and sweet. It was a criminal case with details familiar to those who study juries: there was a defendant who was loosely associated with a crime–maybe one would get the gut sense that he committed it, but the evidence just wasn’t that strong. The case had the makings of a not-guilty verdict, even though the jurors’ hunches might have been the opposite. And that’s the verdict Large and his jurors returned:
We could not find the defendant guilty if we had a reasonable doubt. That was a frustration jurors worked through with civility and earnestness even in the face of strong feelings about the case and the defendant. Our verdict was not guilty.
Once again, this juror found larger significance in the jury system–learning the kinds of lessons we’ve documented in The Jury & Democracy. Large ended his column by writing,
Real life isn’t neatly wrapped up like a TV drama, but it is satisfying to sit in a room with a dozen very different people and be reminded that we are capable of working together to do the sometimes hard work democracy requires.