Thursday, April 08, 2010

Healthy Fear

Today my stint as a grand juror was supposed to end. It’s been six months, and we’ve been extended for another six months because we have three cases pending indictment that we haven’t finished yet.  Obviously I cannot write about the cases I’ve heard here. I wish I could. It’s been a fascinating experience, and I would love to share the stories I've heard in the deliberation room. Every other week I was told a story. Some of them made me cry after hearing them and some of them left my mouth hanging open in awe.

The thing I am in awe about the most is the lack of a healthy fear, which is something I've experienced on more than one occasion.  It’s the butterflies in the stomach, the mouth gone dry, the adrenaline surging through my body that causes my palms to sweat. I’ve felt it when having a near miss with another car while speeding in my car. I’ve felt it the time I broke Mom’s vase when I was a kid, or at work when something happened that was entirely fault. It’s the healthy fear that makes me fess up because I am afraid of what would happen if I didn’t. It’s this healthy fear that keeps me, and other normal people, from doing something like knocking over a 7-11. However, observing some of the witnesses I’ve heard in the last six months has taught me that not everyone has this healthy fear.

We mostly hear from witnesses that work in law enforcement, however on occasion we hear from civilian witnesses. We never get to hear from the person who is accused of the crime, or is the target of the investigation. But we hear about them from other people, and it’s the stories of these other people that help me and the rest of the jurors decide if they have to go to trial later on.  The civilian witnesses amaze me. It's not that they don’t dress up for their testimony like the law enforcement witnesses do. It isn't even that they aren’t prepared like the law enforcement witnesses are. It's in the way they speak.  They answer “Yup” and “Yeah” instead of “Yes.” Some of them nod or shake their head, and then the court reporter has to tell them to answer verbally so she can type it into the stenotype machine. The last two sessions I’ve heard from witnesses who, in addition to not being prepared, they just don’t have the healthy fear. Yesterday I listened to a witness tell us that something confiscated from her desk at her workplace in a search and seizure “might” be hers. She wouldn’t not say the word yes, but knew she couldn’t say no either. She stuck with “might be.”  The prosecutor pressed the question "Yes or no, is this yours?"  And she answered "it might be" every time without batting an eye.

My mouth hung open as she answered that way over and over. She was on the edge of lying, and yet she appeared calm. She testified for nearly three hours, and did not “crack” under the pressure of the prosecutor. She answered that she “didn’t recall” to questions that we knew that she knew the answer to.

If it were me on the stand, I’d be shaking in my boots. I would be singing like a canary because I’d be too afraid of what might happen if I didn’t tell them exactly what I knew about the situation. The healthy fear would take over, and the sense of right or wrong would kick in and would compel me to say something other than it “might have” been my fault.

But if there’s anything I’ve learned in the last six months of being part of the greatest judicial system in the world, it’s that I will never ever do anything illegal because I never want to find myself in that seat.

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2 Comments:

Blogger Taoist said...

I've been working loosely with the university police department for a bit over a year now, and my estimation of them as a whole and their commanders in particular has gone through the roof. They're the exact sort of police you dream about - no swagger, no over-aggression, no over-reaction, they're just trying to keep people safe.

The chief said that in his first month as a cop way back when, he thought he was a badass because he'd written a bunch of tickets and found a stolen car. He went back to his commander, who blew him off by saying "I could care less how many arrests you make or tickets you write. How many crimes were there on your beat? That's the number I want to concentrate on." He said it was a real revelation to him.

Now I've sort of gotten into watching the real-crime show "The First 48" in which they follow homicide investigations through the first 48 hours, with the theory that if cops don't get a lead in that time, their odds of solving the case are cut in half.

Well, now my city is one of the ones in the regular rotation - I've seen two homicides that were two miles or so from my house. YIKES.

April 9, 2010 at 9:31 AM  
Blogger Beej said...

So, what you're saying is that it's not the number of indictments I've issued, but the quality of them? LOL.

It just amazes me that people aren't afraid of getting caught, you know? I am assuming that people commit crimes because they don't think they'll get caught. And even when other people involved are testifying about them, those people don't seem to be afraid of getting caught either. It's astounding.

April 9, 2010 at 11:23 AM  

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