Very few moments in life hold as much drama as the ones just before a criminal jury verdict is published.
And please know I don’t mean that flippantly — I’ve had good friends whose lives were affected as defendants in criminal court cases, so I’m not saying it’s a thrill or anything like that.
But the human drama is palpable, the tension of having our cases assessed by our fellow citizens, and a judge holding a piece of paper that indicates their decision.
Everyone at some point in their lives should go watch a criminal jury trial. Some people see their first trial as a juror. Being called for jury duty is such an equalizer — the poor are called alongside the rich; the well-known citizens sit beside the unknown citizens. Even basketball superstar LeBron James recently reported for jury duty.
It’s a civic duty to serve as a juror, and it’s an activity to be proud of if you serve. Jurors swear an oath to hear a case objectively, to weigh the evidence, and to rationally debate until a verdict is reached. It’s such a simple process, yet one that is beautiful in a human sense.
Then we have attorneys who we hire to argue our cases. I know the perception of lawyers; I’ve heard the jokes, as we all have. But to me, there is something noble about the passion both sets of attorneys have in arguing their cases, of speaking to the jury and trying to make them see the evidence they believe is important.
And there is always an interesting cast of characters in any courtroom — the legal assistants, the family members on both sides of a case, the court reporter, and the people who merely come to watch.
In olden times, a trial was an event. People would drive wagons in from the far reaches of the county and the gallery would be full of people watching the justice system work.
Every year in Youth Leadership, we take our students to observe our court system. It is an important thing for them to learn.
Rarely are there true “winners” or “losers” in criminal situations — usually the situation is unfortunate all the way around or there wouldn’t be a need for a trial.
But to me, watching the system work is fascinating. It makes me feel proud to be a citizen of the United States. Our justice system might be flawed in some ways, but I wouldn’t trade it for any other method I know.