Yes, it’s true, dear readers. The jury was out and I was on it. Jury duty. An experience every American should participate in to fully appreciate our justice system and our country. Rather than leaving me discouraged with our current state of affairs, this was a reminder to me of what we take for granted here in this country. We take for granted something that many people do not have access to in other places on this planet, which is the presumption of innocence until proven guilty and the right to be judged by a jury of our peers. Yes, truth, justice and the American Way are still alive and well.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal . . . ” (Declaration of Independence) In our country this is a given, but what does this mean? Because clearly all people are not created equal. Some are born with physical handicaps or deformities or genetic diseases. Some are born into poverty, some into wealth. Some possess great musical or athletic or intellectual abilities. It doesn’t appear that we are all equal in any sense of the word. But there is one way, there is one place in which we are all equal in this country. We are all equal under the law, we are all equal in a courtroom. Lady Justice wears a blindfold signifying the law’s impartiality to all. Justice is and should be blind; blind to wealth, power, race, fame, religion- to everything. We all look the same to Lady Justice. We are all equal under the law.
Lady Justice holds scales in her hand. What is she trying to balance? I think she is balancing justice for the victim with justice for the accused. Both deserve justice under the law. Can both receive justice simultaneously? Or is justice for one injustice for the other? As the twelve of us (jurors) deliberated the case before us, I pondered these issues. (deliberated is such a perfect word to describe the actions a jury must take, we must be deliberate, that is to say we must be thoughtful, careful, take our time because someone’s “liberty” is at stake. That is the reason we deliberate)
But there is a weak link in the chain. Or better said, the foundation on which everything rests is in jeopardy. That foundation is truth. You see, without truth there can be no justice. And without justice there can be no mercy. But it all starts with the truth. Deciding a defendant’s guilt or innocence is a daunting task. However, decisions based on the truth are always going to be better decisions than those decisions we make based on lies, deception, misrepresentation or omission of relevant, important information. In other words, if we as jurors are not given the truth, the whole truth; how can we be expected to arrive at a just conclusion?
I debated within myself as I listened to my fellow jurors struggle aloud along with me during the twelve plus hours of our deliberation following the trial. Were the witnesses we had heard over the past three days credible? In other words, were they telling the truth? Could we believe what they had said? What to do with conflicting testimony? We are forced to choose who to believe and who to doubt. Decisions determining guilt or innocence are always better decisions if they are based on the truth than if they are based on false information. But the truth is hard to come by.
This was a murder trial. There was so much at stake. I did not take this responsibility lightly, nor did my fellow jurors. We all felt the weight of the decision before us. What would be the greater miscarriage of justice? to imprison an innocent person or to set a guilty person free? Both weighed on my conscience and warred in my heart. I couldn’t bear the thought of either outcome. If only everyone spoke only what was true, decisions would be the right ones, given the facts.
I feel we struggle not because we do not know what is just, we struggle because we do not know what is true. Truth must precede justice, truth must be present for justice to occur. Without truth it is almost impossible for justice to emerge. But if we can possess the truth we can find our way to justice. We all want justice for ourselves, for our family members, for our friends. But are we willing to tell the truth so that others as well as ourselves may receive justice when others are the ones to whom justice is due? Justice denied to one endangers us all. Ironically, there is truth in the statement that knowing the truth will set you free. Truth can exonerate the accused, truth can set the prisoner free.
As we continued to debate, I thought of those I had seen in the courtroom. They had come desiring, demanding justice. Were they equally desirous of the truth? Would they as vigorously demand the truth? Because justice will follow the truth, but cannot precede it nor exist without it. Had they given us the truth or had they withheld it and given us lies in its’ place, all the while expecting us to return with justice? It just isn’t possible. (pun intended)
This was not a high profile case. That is to say the victim, a fifteen year old boy, was not rich or famous. Shootings of this type sadly, are considered commonplace in this day and age. Every case should be a high profile case because every life lost is important, every life is of value, actually of infinite value to God. Having that perspective, I continued to struggle along with my fellow jurors as we did the best we could with what we were given. We were looking for, truly desiring truth and justice. Of the two, truth is the more elusive. Truth seemed to come and go as the hours wore on, evading our grasp by inviting doubt to spend this time with us as well. Justice, we know in our hearts and we recognize her when we meet her, just as we also recognize her absence. She is universally known.
Our verdict was rendered, the case was closed. The loss of this young man’s life will never be closed for his family and friends. My appreciation for our justice system however was renewed and strengthened. Such care was taken to do everything correctly, beginning with the selection process by which we all became jurors. There was dignity and there was due process. Everything possible was done, it seems to me, to ensure impartiality and fairness every step of the way. Our justice system is alive and well. The problem I saw is with us, the citizens, when we are called to testify to the truth in any matter we might find ourselves having information about. If we know something and don’t come forward with the truth, we can’t expect to see justice take place.
If the law doesn’t protect one person, then it doesn’t protect any of us. We are all injured when justice doesn’t prevail. When the innocent are incarcerated and the guilty go free, we all suffer, we all pay a price. That being said, we have the best judicial system in the world. We should be grateful for it and the protections it affords us. The system is in place, but for it to work as it should, we have to do our part. I said earlier that “truth” is the weak link in this system and we are the bearers of the truth. We are the truth tellers. That is our right, that is our responsibility. If we refuse to play the part that is ours to play, then we deserve the less than desirable outcomes that are the result of our not doing what we can when given the opportunity.
“The Lord reigns. The world is firmly established, it cannot be moved; He will judge the peoples with equity. . . . they will sing before the Lord, for He comes, He comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples in His truth.” (Psalm 96:10,13)
Now that’s the judge I’m waiting for! He knows the truth, He judges rightly and He grants mercy. Mercy, the most marvelous of the three (truth, justice, mercy) but without justice we have nothing to apply mercy to. Actually, apart from knowing what justice looks like, we can’t even recognize mercy when we receive it. The measure and the meaning of the miracle that is mercy, well that is definitely another post.
sincerely, Grace Day