I was summoned to jury duty last week and was selected in to the pool for a criminal case. We met to hear the charge and receive instructions from the judge. Then we filled out questionnaires and were asked to return this week–unless called and told otherwise. The charge in the case was rape. A somber topic. The outcome of the case is going to affect the lives of many people for years to come. And I took the responsibility of (at that point only potentially) sitting in judgment very seriously. Yesterday, when my name was read to sit as juror number 2 “it got real” (as they say).
After sitting through a few hours of voir dire, the defense attorney asked that I be excused from the jury. They do not give a reason for a juror’s excusal. The few in-person questions directed at me were rather benign. The defense attorney asked something like, “Is it possible that a police officer may color his remarks to reflect a certain view?” which I agreed with. The prosecutor asked something like, “How would you feel if you learned there was some piece of information like a police report that would not be available to you?” which I said would probably be frustrating to wonder what was in the report, but I would do my best to work with the facts presented.
Based on the verbal questioning, I would have expected the defense attorney to prioritize other jurors for excusal before me. For example, the woman who stated she would essentially trust anything a police officer said without question; or the man who admitted he had a hard time seeing the defendant as not having done something if he was here in court; or the woman who said she would, as a default position, believe the testimony of the victim because she felt that a woman wouldn’t lie about being raped.
I would have to assume it was the answers I gave in my questionnaire that led to my excusal (I’m just not sure why that didn’t happen during the week they reviewed our answers and informed some people they did not need to return).
On the questionnaire they asked if we knew anyone who had been a victim of sexual assault. I responded that I had a friend in college who was raped by another student while on a date with him.
They also asked if we knew anyone that worked with victims’ groups or crisis centers. I responded that Jess was a volunteer, rape-crisis counselor when we met.
I expected those two responses to put me pretty high on the list of people the defense would not want around; though I do feel I could have acted fairly and conscientiously. I do not feel angry or have a desire for vengeance that I would misplace on to the defendant.
Once my name was called to take seat number two in the jury box I fully expected to answer further questions about those responses. Since I didn’t, I can only assume that the defense attorney intended to excuse me as soon as he knew I would be called.
The story of my friend who was assaulted is not mine to tell in full, but I want to share some parts and I believe I have sufficiently obfuscated any identifying information to protect her anonymity.
Her attacker was another BYU student, a returned missionary, a supposedly-righteous priesthood holder (for those LDS readers who believe that should mean something). He threatened her life if she went to the police and she fully believed him capable of following through with the threat. She came to me for help some days or weeks later, I don’t know the exact timeline. Not that there was anything I could do but try to console her.
She was too scared to go to the police. Not just scared of her attacker (who made repeated threats, in person, over the course of several weeks). She was scared that she would not be able to remain anonymous. Scared that if she reported it she had no evidence, would not be believed, and nothing would happen. Scared no man would want to be with her knowing she had been raped (YW lessons about chewed gum and licked cupcakes are life-destroying, Elizabeth Smart can provide more insight on that). Scared about her status in school.
(Sadly, that last concern was well founded given that BYU was recently mired in controversy over mishandling sexual assault reports and subsequently taking disciplinary action against women reporting them.)
Were I continuing on as a juror on the trial, I honestly don’t know how I would have tried to handle the competing demands of being a compassionate human being, wanting to let a victim know that she will be believed if she speaks up, not be accused of being yet-another-man who oppresses and dismisses women–to balance that with the requirement to hear her testimony as one part of the trial, to presume the defendant innocent, to weigh the facts of the case as a whole. How can you, potentially, say, “I believe you, but the prosecutor didn’t convince me past reasonable doubt?” or, “I don’t believe you, but other women should still speak up.” Actions speak louder than words and I can understand why anyone would feel that returning a verdict of not-guilty in such a case is equivalent to saying, “we don’t believe women who claim to have been raped.” But at the same time I’m very wary of accepting an accusation per se as sufficient evidence to convict someone. Unfounded accusations can destroy lives too.
It sucks. The whole thing sucks.
For my own mental well-being I think it’s good I was excused from the jury. I was burned out when I got home just from grappling with these thoughts throughout voir dire. I would have been exhausted and beyond stressed out by the time the trial concluded.
I don’t have a point I’m trying to make. I’m just trying to apply some order and closure on to these thoughts that have been keeping me up at night.