Juries are weird creatures. They're made up of ordinary citizens. No special training is necessary - hell, most of the time its a disqualification. They wield the power to ruin someone's life, and in some cases end it. Yet jurors generally are under no obligation to talk to anyone about their deliberations and it is exceptionally difficult to try and get a verdict overturned for some kind of misconduct.
So, it's always interesting when a writer of some sort gets on a jury. It's even better when it's a case that involves a big name. Last week, a jury convicted a New York man of stalking and threatening Uma Thurman. Wall Street Journal writer Emily Steel was on the jury and writes about her experiences here. It's an interesting example of how jurors use their own experiences when resolving issues.
For example, one issue was whether a package of stuff that the guy sent to Thurman was meant to frighten her:
This package generated one of the aggravated-harassment charges. That has a different legal standard than stalking. The judge told us we had to decide whether the package was intended to harass, annoy, threaten or alarm her.Or another example, of the jurors doing what appellate courts think they are in the best position to do - judge a witness's credibility:
We read through all of the package's contents again. We still couldn't agree.
The woman who worked as a rock-show caterer said the card was disturbing, and that Mr. Jordan was a smart, manipulative man who knew what he was doing. He had graduated with a degree in English literature from the University of Chicago. By marking out some words, she said, he indicated that he knew what he was sending was inappropriate.
A juror who works as a statistician compared the situation to writing emails to a woman at work: If I did that, he said -- even if I hoped it would make her like me -- it would be inappropriate and get me fired.
I didn't agree it was Mr. Jordan's intent to harass, annoy, threaten or alarm Ms. Thurman with that card. Sitting a few seats away from Mr. Jordan as he testified in his own defense, I saw him as a lovesick individual who was trying to prove himself to her with these cards and objects, which he described as artworks.
We talked about Ms. Thurman. She said on the stand that she was very frightened when she read the contents of the package. As she testified, I was struck by how she wouldn't look at Mr. Jordan. At one point, leaving the stand, she seemed to hide her head in the crook of her arm.It's hardly the case of the century and, in the grand scheme of things, pretty meaningless (the defendant faces only a year in jail). Still, imagine these same discussions and application of personal experiences in a murder trial or rape trial. Does it give you confidence in the work of your fellow citizens? Or does it give you the willies?
But was she genuinely afraid? While we believed her testimony, we discussed whether Ms. Thurman could have exaggerated her fear. The fact that she was a famous movie star made us partly charmed, partly suspicious. One juror jokingly said Ms. Thurman isn't that great an actress, but that her delivery on the witness stand was the most heartfelt performance he'd ever seen her give.