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Off-Topic: The Jury Duty Blues

I haven’t posted anything on my blog in a week, which is longer than I ever go. There’s a good reason for it. I normally don’t get into personal things other than travel on this blog, but I’ve been in a funk and need to write about it.

I was in Costa Rica for a week, and returned on a Saturday at midnight. I had to report for jury duty the following Monday. It was my first time to be called for jury duty, and I was hoping I wouldn’t get picked. Not only did I get picked (12 people out of 60 are chosen), but it was a double-manslaughter case that lasted from Monday through Friday. It was one of the most emotionally grueling experiences of my life, and every evening when I got home, I had no mental energy to do anything.

I don’t want to go into too many specifics, but the case was about a tragic car wreck that left two women sitting at a bus stop, both mothers, dead from a car crashing into them. The person who lost control of the car and crashed it was an incredibly remorseful young man, and witness after witness proved that he was a great person who was on the right path in life until this mistake.

I had to look at grisly pictures and videos from the crash scene. I had to hold horrific autopsy photos. I had to listen to a man cry and say what it was like to find out that his wife died in a freak accident and how he is trying to cope with raising three small children on his own. I had to watch a mother and father beg and cry that their son not be sent to prison. While prosecution and defense both had many police and expert witnesses, many who spoke were the friends and family of the victims and the defendant. They cried. We cried. I didn’t eat very much that week.

I was voted the jury foreperson. Based on the evidence and the definition of the charge, we had to convict him as guilty. I didn’t want to–none of us did–but we had an obligation to do so. Once we got back to the jury room after the conviction was read, many of us began to sob. I got physically sick that night. I felt such a huge burden knowing that someone’s fate was in my hands. This young person was now a convicted felon and could get anything from probation for two years to prison for 20 years. It was up to us.

The next day, it was time to deliberate on the sentence. I was hoping to god that the other jurors would agree with me that we had to go with probation. Thankfully we were able to all get on the same page and agreed to give him probation rather than prison. This person didn’t belong in a prison. The crime was reckless, but sober and massively unintentional. He wasn’t a danger to society. He has a bright future and a loving family. Probation will give him the opportunity to give back to society through community service and employment, in addition to keeping him accountable and law-abiding. I still felt awful for giving him the permanent stigma of a convicted felon, but my conscious felt so much cleaner giving him a punishment that felt right.

The trial ended on Friday, but I’m still digesting everything I heard, saw, and felt. My dad is a criminal defense attorney and my husband is in law school, so it was fascinating to see the full process of a felony case up-close and in real-life. We got to talk to the judge afterward, and it was great to hear her perspective. She told us she knew we saw many things that most people never see and thanked us for serving our civic duty.

It felt like a very fair trial; the judge was fantastic, the lawyers on both sides did everything they could to make their case, and my fellow jurors and I were all very compassionate and rational. Our criminal justice system in America is far from perfect, but after all of the things I have read about legal systems in other countries, even Italy, we have it so good. It made me appreciate that I live in a country where you have an undeniable right to a fair trial among your peers. I felt like the system worked exactly how it was supposed to in this case I was a part of.

It also gave me a startling reminder as to how quickly things can change. An accident can happen at any time to any of us. These two women sitting at a bus stop had no idea that seconds later they would be dead by a car losing control and crashing into them. That’s life, but it’s easy to forget how every day, there are all kinds of crazy things that can happen to us. Life is so temporary. It’s a good reminder to tell people you love them every chance you get and to do what makes you happy now.

Phew. Back to travel and fun things later this week. I just haven’t been able to focus after spending all of last week in a court room dealing with incredibly heavy stuff. And it’s been all over the news here. Believe me, a real case in a courtroom is different from what you see on TV.

A generation 'y'er from Ireland, living his dreams and convincing you to do the same. Traveling through more than 90 countries around the world and showing no signs of slowing down