Jury Duty Part III – The Verdict

Finally, the last day came. After the closing arguments we officially went into jury deliberations.

Someone volunteered for jury foreman, so that was a quick decision. After that we decided to start by taking a quick vote just to test the waters. There were three defendants, and we were immediately unanimous in agreeing that two of them were not guilty. However, we were split on the third defendant, slightly in favor of not guilty by a vote of 7 to 5.

Honestly, I’m kind of glad we didn’t all agree. If we would have all agreed it would have been almost TOO easy, you know? And then I would have missed out on one of the key experiences of jury duty. That being said, I didn’t have anybody to watch the kids on Friday, so I surely didn’t want deliberations to last until then.

Of the 5 who felt the final defendant was guilty, three of them were convinced fairly quickly, leaving the score at 10 – 2. At this point it was probably inevitable, but just then the bailiff came in and informed us that in 10 minutes we were to be sent home, and we could return the next day to continue deliberations. I think this was the final pressure to flip the other two jurors, and we came up with a verdict of not guilty for all three parties on all counts.

This somewhat bothered me. I really, really hope that those two jurors were okay with their decision and not just going along with the crowd. I told them I’d much rather come in the next day and debate until they were sure than have them spend the next 10 years thinking they’d made the wrong decision. But at the end of the day, they signed their name on the paper. So I guess I can’t worry about them too much.

Whenever I tell people about the trial, they always seem extremely surprised that the ruling was not guilty. I guess people think that if something goes all the way to trial, then that means they are guilty? I don’t know, but I do know that I am surprised that people are surprised. I guess I really didn’t have any preconceived notions about their guilt, but I thought that was the way everybody felt. Maybe I was in the minority after all.

Now I personally had always felt the defendants were not guilty throughout the trial; my opinion had never wavered. I really tried to keep two things in mind:

Number one was to separate out hindsight. In retrospect we know that perhaps certain actions could have been taken which may have changed the outcome for this poor lady. However, it is a question of negligence: could the doctors have known, should they have known, would any random doctor off the street put into their position have known what was going on without the benefit of hindsight? Putting myself in their shoes, I don’t think so. I think they acted reasonably with the data they had. As a software engineer, I can’t count the number of times I’ve spent hours or even days trying to track down some mysterious bug, only to have it be so obvious once the root cause is eventually found. Thank god I don’t have somebody staring over my shoulder and questioning every decision I make. Being a doctor is a hard, hard job.

Number two was to separate out sympathy. There’s no question that something horrific happened to this lady and that the rest of her life is going to be rough. But was it because of these doctors? Sometimes bad things happen to people. Was this bad thing the fault of these doctors, or was it just one of those things that happen? Not everybody who has something bad happen to them deserves to sue.

As we filed back into the court, I found it hard to look at anybody, plaintiff or defendant. As the clerk read out the final verdict, my heart was pounding, my stomach was roiling, and I was sweating. Why? I totally agreed with the ruling. It was just stressful being part of this enormous decision. One way or the other, someone’s life was going to change in a major way. In retrospect, maybe the weight of making this decision really had been weighing on me all along, and causing me a lot more stress than I realized. Even now, a week later, I still occasionally think to myself, “Did we make the right decision?”

Afterwards I stayed behind in the jury room until everybody had cleared out to make sure I could snatch the leftover doughnuts. Therefore, I missed out on the lawyers questioning the jury members. Apparently, it is a common practice that the various lawyers wait out in the hallway and ask jury members about their thought process and what happened during deliberations. I’m not opposed to that per say, but I just didn’t want to talk about it at that moment. I was really just feeling overwhelmed. So I weaved through the chaos and made it to the elevator untouched. Afterward, I was talking to some of the other jury members outside, and the plaintiff’s attorneys ran into me out there. It wasn’t too bad though, they actually seemed like nice guys.

I almost forgot to mention, the judge gave me a nice jury certificate, suitable for framing. You can be assured that will go right on my wall.

In retrospect, I’m a little nostalgic for the whole thing. It was just one of those experiences that really sticks with you. I’m glad the jury was so nice. I didn’t get any information to keep in contact with anybody, but I do feel like it was a bit of a bonding experience the way we were all sort of thrown into this sort of unique, life-disrupting circumstance. But jury duty is no joke: weighty, make-or-break life decisions take their toll on you, whether you are conscious of it or not.

I’d do it again, though, if a suitable period of time passed. It was definitely one of the more interesting things I’ve done in my life. And hopefully a little justice was served, at my hands. I’m kind of like a super hero, if you think about it.

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