This morning I was called to jury duty and my regular Monday routine was a bit out of whack. As I sat in the juror waiting room looking around at my colleagues, I wondered: Who would serve on the jury with me? What type of trial would it be? Will we be good stewards of the criminal justice system?
I wondered if I would be able to pass judgement on another, whose life I didn't know and whose pain I couldn't feel. It struck me that these feelings were very different than those I had last time I received a jury summons. Last time I felt confident that my intellect would serve the system. I felt sure I could discern opinions from facts, truth from falsehoods.
As I grow, I can see more complexities inherent in every situation. There is more gray than there has ever been. While some would say that's a negative, I feel like the level of clarity I had before was a false read. It was a surface skim. Now, looking beneath the layers and folds of an issue, it can be hard to land on one undisputed "truth."
When I sat down in the juror's seat to be questioned by the judge and attorneys during the voir dire process, I felt a lot of emotions. The case was that of a convicted felon who was accused of possession a firearm. I looked at the defendant and found compassion in my heart for whatever circumstances brought him to that table. The prosecuting attorney asked if anyone had strong feelings on either side of the gun rights/control issue. I felt my lips part, but I, along with the 26 other potential jurors did not speak. The state's attorney asked more questions. I stayed silent.
Then the defendant's attorney asked a similar question about the gun rights/control issue. I had been processing through my feelings since the prosecuting attorney asked the question. Yes, I have strong feelings, but would they get in the way of me offering the defendant a fair trial? I didn't know, so I spoke up.
After admitting that I had personal opinions on the topic, I was called to the bench. I was asked by both sides the extent of my feelings on gun rights/control. I was asked on which side of the issue I stood. I told the court that I believe we have a major problem with gun violence in this country. I also told them I thought I could separate those feelings from the facts of the case.
It probably won't surprise many of you that I was dismissed from being a juror. But there is something I wish I had also told them: I have compassion for the defendant.
After being the only person who spoke up, I became concerned for the defendant. I wish I had posed the question to judge and attorneys, "Don't you find it curious that in a group of 26 people who live in Alexandria, VA, #14 on the Daily Caller's America's 20 Top Liberal-Friendly Counties, not one other person spoke up saying they have strong feelings about gun control?"
Leaving the courtroom, I felt more concern than ever for the defendant. Would he get a fair trial? Do the people left in the room have an understanding of the personal bias they bring to their jobs as jurors? Will they understand that the system and the individual are intertwined and yet separate? Will they be able to see the assumptions and labels they inherently bring into the trial, acknowledge their presence, then set them aside to reach a just verdict?
One of my favorite journaling cards is "What do you know for a fact that might actually be fiction?"