Jury duty raises the question: `Who am I to judge?'

December 04, 2005|By T. S. GRANT

I am a Baltimore public school teacher, so Lord knows I need to be in the classroom. I am also the peer court adviser at my high school, and we had a case one week. I am a husband and father, and I hardly get a chance to spend time with my family. And now jury duty.

I thought of acting crazy, just so the lawyers could excuse me from the juror pool at the Baltimore City Circuit Court. They had already rejected more than two dozen people and selected about 10 jurors. In the midst of thinking how to get out of jury duty, they read the charge: attempted murder against an African-American man in his 20s.

Then it all came into context.

Besides my civic duty to all Americans, I have a historical responsibility to this man. Who should be that man's juror? I stole pocketbooks, robbed stores and was on probation before I was a teen. On the flip side, somehow I escaped imprisonment, became a cop in the Air Force and went to college. I was ordained in New York in 1997 and consider myself guided by a moral compass. Who else should judge him?

If I were on trial, I would not want jurors who aggrandized their importance to the point of ignoring the significance of my constitutional and American rights or to the extent of abandoning the continuance of my African-American liberation. My attitude changed.

Three days later, the trial was over. We took an initial count: nine for "not guilty," two for "guilty" and one "undecided." I thought he was guilty. I gave my reasons, but it didn't take long before I changed my verdict to reflect the evidence. Then the other "guilty" voter changed her answer. Then the "undecided" juror said, "I mean, who am I to judge?"

That's the moral dilemma, isn't it? How does one judge another human being?

The defense attorney never once said his client was innocent, offered an alibi, asked his client to take the stand or brought forth a witness. He made one point: The burden of proof is on the state. And it worked.

In the end, we unanimously voted "not guilty." The state offered no fingerprints or credible witnesses. The victim testified for the defense. Most of us jurors - if not all - felt that the detectives were lying.

The state lost because jurors had to wade through a quagmire of lies from the state's witnesses. Baltimore won because 12 Baltimoreans participated in the Sixth Amendment by ensuring that "the accused ... enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed."

We witnessed the Fifth Amendment in action as the defendant never once opened his mouth. It reads, "No person ... shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself."

I was proud to be among the 12 because, by embracing our responsibility, we underscored the value of a person's life and liberty.

I am a fair-minded American citizen. I am the one to judge.

T. S. Grant teaches government at the New Era Academy High School. His e-mail is teacher@tsgrant.com.

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