I'm now free to blog about something that was off-limits until it was all over: I've spent the last week and a half serving on a jury for a murder trial. Quite an experience, all the way around. We returned a first-degree murder conviction yesterday afternoon, and I then talked D's ear off all night, telling her all of the stuff that I had to keep silence about during the trial itself. Then I slept for 9 1/2 hours, and maybe by tomorrow I'll start feeling back to usual; today so far seems to be something of a wash, but I'm giving myself a break on this.
The title of this post is a paraphrase of something the defendant said during the police interrogation, which was recorded and which the jury ultimately listened to twice, once during the trial and then again during deliberations. And his experience, that all of this was like Law & Order but somehow real, was one that was shared by many of us on the jury as well. Indeed, the jury talked about several crime shows during our deliberations, and I became interested in the extent to which television was shaping our work. Herewith, my thoughts on crime television and actual crime trials:
Law & Order: This show was the one that the defendant explicitly referred to a couple of times in the interrogation and that I also had in mind much of the time, mostly because it's the only courtroom show that I watch (although I don't tend to keep up with the new episodes but rather catch reruns). And much of the time, the court experience was a heck of a lot like the TV show, which I've always thought must be fairly realistic in some ways (e.g., Family Court meeting in a dingy little room, etc.). Of course, the TV show skips over the boring parts, like the time-consuming introduction and approval of exhibits, and the real lawyers don't have as good writers as the actors do, but actually the feel of the proceedings was pretty much that of the courtroom portions of the show, albeit with a lack of editing in the real thing.
The huge difference, for me, was that on the TV show, the jurors are played by extras who rarely have any lines and who usually aren't characters in the drama, but in the actual trial, WE were the stars! Okay, we still didn't have any lines during the trial other than the foreperson's reading the verdict, but we were the primary audience to whom everything was directed; we were much more important than extras, even though all of our lines were off-stage.
Also, the jurors (including the third-year law student on the jury) regularly referred to the show when thinking about police procedure. And we were very, very careful to follow the judge's instructions about first-degree versus second-degree murder versus voluntary manslaughter -- actually listening to the tape of her instructions again -- because I think that we all had confused ideas about these categories from our years of TV-viewing. We didn't want to move forward erroneously because of a TV show, but the show did inevitably shape our understanding of how the entire police-investigation-through-trial process worked.
CSI: I don't actually watch CSI, but other jurors did or were at least more familiar with it than I was. But certainly the medical examiner from Law & Order is one of my favorite minor characters, so I've paid my share of attention to scientific evidence on television shows. And the murder that was being tried was a very gruesome, bloody crime. I think that, in this regard, the jury's collective TV-viewing cut both ways. On the one hand, we all had some basic understanding of DNA. The defense attorney tried to throw all kinds of doubt on the DNA results, but all but one of the jurors saw right through that. (The law student, actually, was the one who seemed initially convinced by his deliberately misleading line of questioning, which I found somewhat dismaying, although she came around in the jury room as soon as one of the other jurors explained it.)
On the other hand, many jurors expected to have a lot more evidence than there was; at one point, one of the expert witnesses actually said, "This isn't CSI; most crime scenes aren't littered with DNA and footprints and fingerprints like they are on TV." I actually think that this misunderstanding lengthened our jury deliberation, since a couple of jurors felt uneasy about deciding "guilty" without a bloody fingerprint -- the specific requirement that one juror was holding out for. After the jury officially delivered our verdict, the judge came up to talk with us in the jury room and answer any questions we had -- what a fabulous experience that was! -- and she told us that the evidence in this case was "overwhelming," which was interesting since it hadn't seemed like enough to some of the jurors. Afterward, some of us talked about how difficult the deliberations would have been with less evidence, given how difficult they seemed with the "overwhelming" evidence that we did have.
The Closer: I'm a fan of The Closer (great characters, I think), and I was interested in how the police interrogation in many ways fit the pattern of some of Brenda's interrogations; the police detective acted very sympathetically to the defendant (who at that point was "a person of interest") and tried to create a rapport with him, often using his own language back to him, telling him how much the police appreciated how he was helping them out to get to the bottom of this, etc. The difference is that the defendant never cracked, never broke into tears or yelling to exclaim "Here's why I did it!" The interrogation was still incredibly useful to us -- that, together with the DNA evidence, is what led us to convict him -- but a couple of the jurors (the same ones who wanted the bloody fingerprint) felt uneasy that we never got a dramatic declaration from the defendant about how and why he was guilty. At one point in the discussion yesterday morning, I felt compelled to say to those jurors, "This isn't The Closer! We can find him guilty even without his confessing to the crime on tape!"
Light-weight crime shows (Monk, Murder, She Wrote, etc.): No one actually mentioned any of these other crime shows, of which there is a plethora, but I was thinking about them during deliberations. There's a staple episode in light-weight crime shows in which the detective at some point winds up on a jury. Inevitably, in those episodes, the wrong person has been tried for the crime, but everyone on the jury is convinced by the evidence, so it's up to the detective/juror to solve the crime and figure out who really did it, based only on the evidence already provided during the trial. There were a couple of jurors (again, the bloody-fingerprint ones) who seemed to be working on this model. One of them was hung up all Thursday afternoon on the other evidence he thought he needed, and the rest of us had to keep saying that we were supposed to determine the verdict based on the evidence we'd actually been presented, not on what else we'd like to have. The other one kept coming up with alternative versions of the crime, some of which were completely outlandish in a Monk sort of way: One in particular was about how someone else we'd never heard of perhaps came into the apartment and put on the defendant's shoes to commit the crime, thus explaining the bloody footprint, and then planted the shoes in the defendant's bag, which the defendant somehow then took possession of without realizing a crime had been committed. This is exactly what would happen in an episode of Monk or Psych, but it seemed more than unlikely in real life. I started thinking of this approach as the "maybe space aliens did it" theory of jury deliberation. When I came home from the first day of deliberation, I was incredibly stressed out, wondering how the rest of the jury could convince someone who seemed to be confusing "beyond a reasonable doubt" with "beyond any doubt at all, no matter how remote, including even space aliens." Fortunately, when we all returned the second day, everyone seemed to have left behind this particular model, and we got down to more productive work.
And yes, this was a crime that involved bloody footprints and DNA evidence from blood stains and taped police interrogations and a medical examiner's testimony about the two different weapons used. It was mostly very much like a TV show in that respect, which I think added to the unreality and to our turning to those TV shows to understand what was going on, just as the defendant himself had done during the interrogation.
It perhaps goes without saying that I've been unable to watch any crime shows or read any mystery novels during the course of this trial, and I'm not sure how long this viewing and reading hiatus will continue. The fictional version of murder was too much to handle while I was in the midst of the reality of it. And the mystery novel I've been trying to write? Completely on the back burner for now. In a month or so, I'll try thinking about it again. Which doesn't mean that I regret this jury experience; it's been exhausting and emotionally draining, but also really interesting and educational. But my relationship with crime and legal entertainment may be permanently altered.
Well, there's one exception: I did watch Legally Blonde when it was on TV one night this week. But during the courtroom scenes at the end of the movie (definitely the weak part of what is otherwise an amusing film), I kept pausing it to turn to D and say, "You know, that's not how it actually works." But that didn't ruin the film for me (especially since that's already the least worthy part of the movie), but rather made me feel superior in my knowledge! And another juror had the same experience with watching A Few Good Men this week. But hey, you know I'm always excited about an opportunity to parade my knowledge, so no harm done on that point!