The Beauty of Justice In Action

by Diane Dimond on May 27, 2012

Watching Our Justice System - Awesome

When they first sit down together they look uncomfortable. No one knows each other and it could be a group of people who have gathered for a mandatory driver’s ed class or in response to some training ad about how to get a better job. They sit stiffly with their eyes straight ahead, afraid to look at the person sitting shoulder-to-shoulder next to them.

But after a day or so they invariably come together as a cohesive group. When they file in the room and the person in charge says, “Good Morning” they begin to respond more robustly, sometimes even boisterously as the days progress – like smiling kids singing a strung out version of “Gooood Morrrrn-ing!” They have gelled.

They have become a jury that will decide the fate of a fellow citizen.

Not A Real Jury - They Remain Anonymous

They are Black and White, Hispanic and Asian and all sorts of other mixed races. They are young enough to still wear a scrunchy in their pony tail or old enough to walk in with a shuffle. Like the judge they sit in an elevated box to signify that, in the end, they too will judge. These jurors are anointed with the oil of civic duty and while, perhaps, annoyed at the inconvenience in the beginning they always come away proud of what they did.

I’m proud too as I watch this process unfold at every trial I attend. I know it sounds corny but to watch this time-honored process – American citizens giving up their time to perform this most important civic service – is awesome. It isn’t pleasant duty. Jurors can be kept away from their daily life for weeks and it isn’t easy passing judgment on others.

Still Guiding Us Today

This is exactly what George Washington, James Madison, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton and 35 other forward-thinking founding fathers had in mind when they signed the U.S. Constitution in 1787. And here we are centuries later still adhering to their ideal of how to form a more perfect union. Awesome.

Back in the day it really was a “jury of peers” that sat in judgment even though nowhere in the Constitution does that phrase appear. It was the farmers, blacksmiths or cattle ranchers who lived most closely to a defendant that decided the accused’s fate.

Today, jurors likely have no neighborhood ties to the person on trial. In the case I most recently attended – U.S. vs. Johnny Reid Edwards (aka John Edwards)—the jurors were chosen from a pool plucked from 27 counties in the Middle District of North Carolina. None had ever met each other but fate brought them together to pass judgment on no less than a former U.S. Senator and two-time presidential candidate. Again, awesome.

Edwards Arrives at Federal Court in North Carolina - May 2012

At the Edwards federal trial in Greensboro, North Carolina I watched closely as the white man in seat number two made friends with the black woman next to him. He, a financial consultant, she was listed as a customer service representative and they likely had little in common. The young black woman in seat number seven works in Human Resources and the sixty-something white man on her right is a retired railroad worker. In the back row, the last three seats were occupied by two black men – a retired police/fire department employee and a mechanic— and sandwiched in between was a white corporate vice president. All three appeared engaged and respectful of each other.

As I watched this jury’s relationships grow, through frequent smiles and thoughtful gestures, I daydreamed about how juries are wonderful microcosms of equality — all races and sexes and ages working together toward a common purpose. I wondered if these jurors would exchange contact information at the end of the trial (as some have been known to do) and stage verdict anniversary parties to stay in touch.

Black Students Demanded Justice Here - And Made History

Greensboro, North Carolina has a history of bringing people together in the name of justice. Just three blocks away from the federal courthouse is the famous Woolworth lunch counter where four black college students defied the convention of the day and sat down to be served on February 1, 1960. The location is now the International Civil Rights Center & Museum. Franklin McCain, one of the four brave students from that day was recently quoted as saying, “We had no notion that we’d even be served. What we wanted to do was serve notice, more than anything else, that we were going to be about trying to achieve some of the rights and privileges we were due as citizens of this country.”

Nothing embodies the rights of an American citizen more than the guaranteed privilege of having a jury decide their justice. We may not always agree with a jury’s final verdict but we must respect it – and continue to honor the process that makes this system of justice possible.

Jury service is the great equalizer and a reminder that none of us is above the court sanctioned judgment of another. If you have never sat in on a jury trial – pick one and go. It’s a real eye-opener.

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Diane Dimond May 28, 2012 at 10:02 am

Facebook Friend Steve Liddick wrote:

” Diane, your “Jury in Action” article is as well-written a piece as anything I’ve ever read. Great job! With all its flaws, including juries cursed with Human Nature, our justice system seems to work for the most part. The trick is to get scoundrals into the system who have a knack for avoiding it.”

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Diane Dimond May 28, 2012 at 10:04 am

Facebook Friend Omar Montgomery writes:

“That’s so true Diane, and America’s justice system is all the best around the world. Their justice system is different.”

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Diane Dimond May 28, 2012 at 10:12 am

An ABQ attorney who wants anonymity writes:

“Your take on jurors is so right! I might use some of that in my next opening . . .”

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Diane Dimond May 28, 2012 at 10:26 am

ABQ Journal Reader Kyla Thompson writes:

” Wonderful – beauty of justice.”

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CLS June 2, 2012 at 3:38 am

This is an excellent article. I just so many mixed feelings about how jurors are chosen and how the chosen jurors arrive at their decisions. Perhaps I’ve seen too much.

Yet, I did enjoy your written reminder of how human those who sit on the jury truly are.

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Diane Dimond June 17, 2012 at 10:48 am

Huffington Post Reader tall coolone writes:

“I was privileged to serve as an alternate juror on a federal case about 10 years ago. Don’t understand why people sometimes try to get out of serving. Great experience for me.”

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Diane Dimond June 17, 2012 at 10:49 am

Huffington Post Reader pmorlan writes:

“I agree Ms Dimond. I proudly served on a jury several years ago in a civil case that stemmed from a criminal case that had already been decided.

What a pity there is an organized effort in this country to strip juries of the power to decide civil cases. The Chamber of Commerce calls it tort reform. Their tort reform includes advocating for mandatory arbitration, a system that favors businesses over individuals and they also want to limit the dollar amount a jury can award. They want a one size fits all dollar amount for damages regardless of whether it’s sufficient to cover the damage done. They say they want to stop “jackpot justice” (a term they made up) but it’s pretty obvious their effort is designed to prevent plaintiffs from having their day in Court decided by a jury of their peers. I trust juries, they don’t. When people are harmed the Chamber would prefer that juries not be allowed to decide damages for each individual case because juries tend to punish wrongdoers and the Chamber doesn’t want that to happen. They spend millions of dollars to trick citizens into believing that when people sue it’s only to get rich. Sadly, far too many people in this country believe such nonsense. It’s up to the rest of us to enlighten them.”

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Diane Dimond June 17, 2012 at 10:50 am

Huffington Post Reader charleyvldm9 writes:

“….And yet they are expected to interpret the law and make decisions without any legal knowledge,experience or training,just on a hunch or a feeling,how asinine, hey its one of the odd American ways.”

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CR July 1, 2012 at 11:49 pm

Let me first begin by extending my condolences-as a mom myself, I truly cannot say I know what you are feeling but I can say that I am so very sorry that you have lost a great big piece of your heart. I’m not sure exactly what or whom you have contacted, but anyone who lives here in Baltimore knows that Jane Miller for Channel 11 is quite the bulldog and she usually is relentless when she has a story against the police. Unfortunately, in the town that coined Stop Snitching, one has to wonder if perhaps the ‘gentleman’ involved in your daughters story was quite possibly an informant for the police when he just happened to stumble a cross this little ‘problem’. Trust and know this-a lot of things can disappear for the right people, info, etc…just a thought…Good luck to you and your family in your quest for justice-this will be ahard fought battle…

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