For a couple of hours this morning, I became "Juror #2."
Over the past decade, out of five times being summoned for jury duty, this is the fourth time I've served -- one shooting/homicide trial, one theft and two (including today's) were drug possession. I began dreading the whole thing; getting dragged through someone else's dirty laundry and, ultimately, making a decision that was going to negatively affect his/her life. Leading up to today, all of the trials ended with a guilty verdict.
Imagine my surprise when, as the State and defense presented their cases, I saw a glimmer of hope. I really believed this guy was innocent. The prosecutor likened the elements of this case to one of the answers on a Magic 8 Ball: "All signs point to yes." However, all signs clearly did NOT point to guilt. I won't go into the minute details of the case, but suffice it to say that this guy was a drug abuser (crack cocaine being his drug-o-choice), which he ended up admitting to the arresting officer. In a surprising, bold move, the defendant actually took the stand. I've never seen that done in any trial so far. He admitted being addicted to crack last year -- he was unemployed and his life was "a mess." (His words.) During the past year, from the information he gave, we learned he was now gainfully employed by a company who more than likely used drug testing either in the hiring process or periodically on the job... or both. I really got the feeling that this individual was trying to turn his life around, despite the State's attempt to convict him of drug possession. They had three points to prove: that he knowingly possessed crack cocaine. Lab tests proved the substance was cocaine -- check. And, while it wasn't on his person, the baggie was in his car -- check. It was the "knowingly" part that hung them up. He testified under oath that it wasn't his. Whose was it? Well, he had a passenger in his car the night he was arrested. The details that came forth firmly convinced not only me, but my five fellow jurors that the drugs in possession were most likely the property of his acquaintance. Seriously. We deliberated for about a minute and a half. And I'm not entirely sure you could even call it deliberation -- we all felt exactly the same way.
After delivering our verdict and being dismissed from the courtroom, another juror and I were chatting. She said how hopeful she felt for the guy, and also had the distinct feeling he was really trying to make a fresh start. I agreed and told her that was exactly how I felt. I added that I find myself, time and time again, looking for the good in people. Unfortunately, more times than I care to recall, I have been proven wrong... disappointed... duped. One might think by now I'd be jaded to the gills, and walk around all brooding and cynical. Nope. I just can't do it. Even when I've given someone the benefit of the doubt for the umpteenth time, and was surprised when things turned around and bit me firmly on the ass, I'm still not able to make myself believe most people are simply awful to the core.
So, today was a good day for the defendant. It was a good day for me -- to be able to feel that familiar optimism and stand firm on my belief that he wasn't your average Joe Junkie, just looking to beat the system for now. I firmly believe that guy didn't leave the courthouse today and immediately ring up his dealer on speed dial for a quick score. I think he went home, changed out of his suit and went to work for the rest of the day. I sincerely hope he also took a minute or two to thank his lucky stars he found six optimists out of 40 or so people to decide his case today.