Thursday, September 08, 2005

Jury Duty

I experienced a first this week -- jury duty, or jury "service" as the Charles Kuralt-narrated video explaining the process preferred it to be called. It was a very interesting experience -- one that gave me a good feeling for having served the public good by performing the old civic duty. But it was also one that left me somewhat frustrated at the realization that this is the process we have to judge guilt or innocence.

The case involved a guy who shot and killed his neighbor's dog, lied to the police about it, lied about owning the air rifle that killed the dog, then admitted and apologized to the act a day later saying it was an accident. The prosecution called a 14-year old boy and his mother that owned the dog and had watched the aftermath of the dog suffering, the policeman and animal control officer that investigated the case, and the veterinarian who performed the autopsy revealing that a gunshot had killed the dog. The defendant never testified, and there were no defense witnesses.

In North Carolina the law allows a person to be charged with misdemeanor cruelty to animals or felony cruelty to animals, with the differentiator being whether the act was one of malice or not. That was the jury's task -- to find the defendant guilty of a felony, a misdemeanor, or not guilty.

It was obvious the guy had shot the dog -- intentionally or not -- and we all agreed he should be charged with at least a misdemeanor offense. When the question of malice came up, six of the twelve (including myself) thought the defendant had acted out of malice. The other six did not think it was an act of malice.

Malice was defined to us as one of many things.

  • Hatred, ill will, or spite
  • the condition of mind which prompts a person to intentionally inflict serious harm or serious injury upon another without just cause, excuse or justification
  • the condition of mind prompting a person to intentionally engage in an act inherently dangerous to the health and safety of another with reckless indifference to the probable consequences of that act and without regard to any social duty
To me, the issue was cut and dry. I argued that a person who fires a gun in a subdivision at a yapping chihuahua -- regardless if he was trying to scare the dog and didn't intend to kill it -- was guilty of an act inherently dangerous to the health and safety of another with reckless indifference to the probable consequences of that act and without regard to any social duty. I looked at the case from a more literal perspective. Others disagreed though. They looked at the issue more broadly than just the definition of the law. They thought the guy made a bad choice, obviously regretted it, and shouldn't be tarnished for life with a felony on his record for that bad choice.

Deliberations got heated at times. After 2+ hours the two groups with differing opinions agreed that we weren't going to convince each other. So we found him guilty on the misdemeanor charge and called it a day. As a result I left the courthouse with an empty feeling like I needed closure. I didn't feel like our decision was the right one. On the positive side though, it was quite a lesson in dealing with different opinions and personalities in a group setting. Maybe Charles Kuralt would have at least applauded that.


Melanie said...

Arrgghh! You know me, I would've thrown the book at him! Not that I haven't considered punting a yapping chiuaua at times, but gettin' ma gun?!

What a difficult task, and yes, an eye-opener when we realize we must live/work/play/compromise with others in society. Even on the strongest of passions.

Anonymous said...

I remember that Judge Benny Dickinson told me that case in the courtroom are decided by the evidence that is presented, not the facts. At least you found him guilty. Pappy