Movement is always possible, even predictable


I sat on a criminal jury in 2011.  I'm a trial lawyer.  The case was a homicide case.  The defendant admitted that he was the killer.  The only thing being tried was whether the crime was 2d-degree murder or manslaughter.

I was one of two alternate jurors.  I sat through all of the evidence and heard all of the arguments.  But because I was an alternate I wasn't allowed in the jury room (although I was required to remain within 15 minutes of the courthouse).  The jury deliberated all day Thursday and Friday.  At 3:30 Friday I got a call telling me to report to the courtroom.  I took my seat in the jury box and listened to the foreman tell the judge that the jury was "hopelessly deadlocked" at 9-3 (in criminal cases the vote has to be unanimous).  She didn't say which way.  The judge told everyone to enjoy the upcoming three-day weekend and go back to work on the case Tuesday morning.

I returned to court on Tuesday and the clerk announced that the foreman had to leave the jury because of a death in the family.  That meant the foreman would be replaced by one of the alternates, which turned out to be me.  I got into the jury room at about 11:00.  The rest of the jurors told me that they had been deadlocked at 9-3 in favor of 2d-degree murder and that the foreman had been the strongest vote among the 9.  So the current vote was 8-3, plus my vote.  They asked me for my take and I explained why, based on the jury instructions, I thought it was manslaughter.  So it's 8-4 in favor of 2d-degree.  It's also clear to me that the jurors just want to get done and go home.

After some more discussion the jury took another vote.  6-6.  Then we broke for lunch.  We returned at 1:30 and went around the table again.  Almost all of the 2d-degree voters asked me questions about the instructions and my vote.  By 2:00, the vote was 12-0 in favor or manslaughter.  My work was done.

After the verdict, the family of the defendant mingled with the jurors in the hall.  One of them thanked me for giving the defendant "another chance."  I thought, "That's not what I did.  I didn't vote for manslaughter to cut him a break; i did it because I thought that was what the law required."  But I had the sense not to say that.




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