‘Twas the week before Christmas
And all through the courts
Eleven angry jurors
Were no longer good sports.
The evidence was lame
The man should be freed
Self-defense was enough
What more could anyone need?
But Juror Twelve disagreed.
During the jury selection for a criminal case of assault and battery, the defense attorney thanked and excused every single white male in the jury pool. I suspect it’s because almost every white guy I know espouses some version of “if they have enough evidence for a trial, of course he’s guilty.”
The lone white male remaining was a pain in the ass once deliberations began. But it wasn’t because he thought the defendant was guilty. It was that Juror #12 either couldn’t — or wouldn’t — make up his mind. In under an hour, the rest of the jury had decided that there wasn’t enough evidence to prove the defendant attacked his father with intent to harm first during a family altercation.
We spent two days explaining our logic to Juror #12. I even drew him a flowchart on the jury room’s chalkboard.
My masterpiece did not help. Juror #12 put his head in his hands. “I just need a minute to think.”
I hid my gritted teeth behind a smile. “Take your time. We will all be quiet.”
Juror #9 dug through the pile of jury instructions. The pile was big. The papers rustled for almost ten minutes before Juror #9 handed a page to me. I don’t remember the exact phrasing, but it read something like, ‘if you cannot decide between guilty or not guilty, you must find the defendant not guilty.”
I mouthed, “thank you” and went over to the chalkboard, adding this:
Juror #12 finally opened his eyes.
I asked, “Did you make a decision?” If he said, “I can’t decide” one more time I was going to pounce, tell him that the inability to make a decision WAS, per the jury instructions, a “Not Guilty” verdict, and then the ordeal would be over.
Instead, Juror #12 said, “I think if I hear the father’s testimony and the son’s testimony, and the detective’s testimony once more time, I’ll be able to make a decision.”
I was 90% sure that weasel was stringing us along, but the room was tense. If I didn’t set a patient tone, I feared other jurors might start throwing things. (I wasn’t entirely sure I would stop them.) So once again I smiled and nodded, and sent out the question, “Can we please have the testimony of father, the son, and the detective read back to us by the court reporter?” to the judge.
Court was adjourned for the day before our read-back could be arranged. Another shopping day and workday had been lost.
The next morning our jury was sent to an unused courtroom, where the defense attorney and defendant waited with the court reporter. None of us could meet the defendant’s tortured eyes. The longer a jury deliberates, the more likely it is to return a “Guilty” verdict. The defendant was sure we were sending him up the river.
If only we could have told that poor man HE wasn’t the asshole we wanted to send up the river.
Hearing the testimony the first time was bad enough. Hearing it the second time was excruciating. Especially since I figured I had better sit by Juror #12 so no one hit him.
My seat choice was a mistake. I wound up wanting to hit him. While the rest of us slumped down, tired and frustrated that justice was being delayed, Juror #12 sat up attentively. He smiled, took notes, and even fucking GIGGLED over one of the stupid questions the defense council had asked the defendant:
Attorney: “So why do you wear a belt?”
Defendant (confused as all hell): “To keep my pants up?”
Juror #12: “Tee-hee-hee!”
I clamped my right hand around my pencil, ground my left elbow into my armrest, and pressed my left hand to my forehead. Juror #6 later asked me if I had fallen asleep.
“If only,” I grumbled. “I was afraid that if I didn’t hold myself rigid, I might jam my pencil into Juror #12’s stupid, giggling face.”
She looked shocked. “Really? How were you able to appear so calm and reasonable?”
“I practice a lot. With my in-laws.”
Rehearing the testimony took another day. That night, I fumed and plotted…just like I sometimes do with my in-laws. Clearly, Juror #12 was enjoying his time on the jury. Maybe it was better than coping with the four kids he had at home, or his work at an insurance company. Or maybe he relished gumming up the gears of justice more than denying an amputee an adequate prosthetic limb.
Either way, I was done. So done. Juror #12, the eager beaver, was usually first in the jury room. But the next morning, I was waiting for him. Tapping my finger against the chalkboard. The part that said: “Can’t Decide = Not Guilty.”
I smiled. “Did you get a chance to see this the other day?”
“Uh…should we be talking without the other jurors?”
“Oh, we’re not deliberating. I just wanted to make sure you saw this.” I tapped again. “Because, you know, not being able to make a decision IS a decision, according to the jury instructions.”
“I have a question for you. It’s not related to the evidence, of course, because that would be wrong for us to discuss. And I’ll ask it again later, when all the jurors are here and can hear my question and your answer. But since it takes you such a long, long time to decide on stuff, I wanted you to have plenty of time to think about your answer before the others arrive and I ask this question:
“Do you hate your job or do you have a neurological condition that makes it impossible to make decisions? Because if it’s the latter, it’s something I think the judge needs to know. We do, after all, have three alternate jurors.” They were stuck at the courthouse, same as us, only in a different room with wifi, phones, and computers. The only thing they didn’t get was Juror #12. Lucky bastards.
Juror #12 did not answer. I said nothing further. The other jurors trickled in. Once everyone was seated, I turned to Juror #12. “I have a question–”
Juror #12 interrupted. “Not Guilty.”
The room erupted.
Juror #5 shoved the envelope with the verdict forms at me. “Quick! Write it down before he changes his mind!”
Juror #9: “He can’t change his mind. Can he?”
Juror #11: “No way, man. We all heard you!”
I had the verdict written and delivered to the bailiff in under a minute. We had to wait for another 30 minutes for the courtroom to be cleared and the parties summoned.
As soon as the verdict was read and the jury dismissed, we bolted from the courtroom like school kids released for Winter Break. Juror #12, seated closest to the door, opened it and held it for the rest of us as we exited.
But once we were in the elevator, I didn’t see him.
I asked, “Where is Juror #12?”
Juror #9 snorted. “He went back into the courtroom.”
“Like a stalker?” I shuddered. “So weird.”
Juror #8 said, “Hey did you guys see the defendant? He was sobbing.”
Juror #11 rolled his eyes. “That man should be cheering.”
But I understood. When I left the courthouse that day, I felt as if a great weight had slipped off my shoulders. There was a warm breeze on my face and Southern California sunlight on my lips. They tasted like freedom. Which seemed silly, really.
I’d only been trapped by an entitled twerp for a week. The lunch breaks had been long. My chair was cushy. I wasn’t concerned about the possibility of prison — so long as I didn’t throttle Juror #12. The stress was nothing compared to what the defendant had been under for months.
I hope the court allowed him a good, long cry.