2014 was full of rampant injustices.
We saw unarmed men killed by police — sometimes even on video.
We saw those same men responsible escape punishment, even after grand juries were convened.
As much as these injustices make our stomachs turn, many of us still have one thing we hate more: jury duty.
We simply cannot be bothered.
When that card comes in the mail, we start working on the reasons we can use to get out of jury duty. Some of the reasons we use to write in to try to get out of having to even show up. Those of us that are called in, we wait for the judge to bring up any possible reason we can fathom to get out of being there. It can be an innocuous question, but we will find a way to respond that alerts either attorney we should be excused. After all, we have better things to do than be bothered by being on a jury.
Recently, I sat in a jury box — & while waiting to be probed with the standard questions, I had an epiphany.
We cannot complain about injustices in our legal system, yet fail to participate in the process.
It simply cannot work both ways. We cannot have our cake & eat it too.
After this epiphany, I set aside any reasons I could ask to be excused (being a caretaker for my grandmother, etc.) as well as any loaded answers I had that could have gotten me excused by either attorney. I would be fully engaged in the process. I wouldn’t simply complain about injustices without taking responsibility for my small role in civic duty. Because it is a DUTY: a privilege and a responsibility.
Those questions. They do come with loaded answers. I know a judge. I know an ADA. I may not speak to them very often, but I do have those acquaintances. Crimes against myself or loved ones? That’s a longer list than most would ever expect, or want to know. But I gave them the worst of them. If anything could disqualify me, those would be it. Still, I sat in the box. When the prosecution and defense attorney took turns inquiring further, I simply wasn’t on their radar. All my answers warranted was a further, “Can you set that aside, as it is unrelated to the case?” Like it or not, there I was. Jurors being excused. Qualifying answers got them dismissed. Still, I sat in the box — & somehow I knew — I was about to be a juror.
Being a juror as part of a criminal case gave me some invaluable insight — both personally and spiritually.
Being asked to sit in judgment of someone else — it’s a heavy burden to bear. A HUGE responsibility. Especially because of the letter of the law. Things are not always as black and white as we would like them to be. You can know something, yet be unable to reach a verdict that reflects such. It’s a far better legal system than most places in the world — but those flaws make it hard to want to be a part of the “peers” sitting in judgment.
Thankfully, the phrase “only God can judge me” is true. Absolutely, unequivocally, true. My heart feels peace & relief that I am not facing judgment from people who — with their own biases and opinions — could hold something against me, through no fault of my own. I’m not paying for someone who has an ax to grind. The only One who judges me is the One who knows me best; the One who has my best at heart. What a relief that He & He alone has the final say.
Eye-witness testimony is an unfortunately gruesome monster. See something you didn’t mean to see and you could be putting yourself in danger. Recognizing an old friend or colleague can get you placed in the middle of a investigation you want nothing to do with. Being a victim, you better have dotted every “I” and crossed every “T” in your description of any perpetrator, or “unsub” in Criminal Minds speak. Because — like it or not — your description will be scrutinized to unimaginative levels by a defense attorney trying to cause confusion in the form of “reasonable doubt”.
Spiritually speaking, we have eye-witness accounts down to a science. We pay attention to every tiny detail of someone else’s missteps. We use their sin as a barometer for our own soapbox. We use our good works as a means to excuse our sins, while wanting to continue to punish those we see in the wrong. We want to throw the book at anyone doing wrong, but want to cling to grace when it comes to our own.
Again, because God is just all by Himself, I don’t have to worry about sitting in judgment for anyone else’s opinions. I also don’t have to worry about paying for anyone else’s crimes either. Eternally speaking, there’s no false identification against me that God will consider. He knows my heart, He knows my deeds. The good, bad and ugly. He doesn’t need anyone else to testify. Yet, the most amazingly gracious part — Someone has already sat in my place. Someone already went on trial for my crimes. Any judgment against me, Jesus already sat on trial for. He was already sentenced for. He already paid the price for.
Opposing counsel is often equivalent to the enemy we face spiritually. In a criminal case, the sole job of the defense attorney is to create reasonable doubt. Unfortunately, their tactics in doing so usually include trying to defame the victim and any other eye-witnesses to the crime at hand. Again, if you have been a victim, you better have your facts straight. Any discrepancy and they will pounce like a lion chasing a gazelle. Sitting on a jury, I saw firsthand the defense attorney go after things that were NOT debatable; in this case using “alleged crime” in a means to cause doubt. A crime happened; it was not up for debate. But she was doing anything she could to undermine the victim’s accounts of the crime, even though the ONLY question was what role her client played. Our enemy is our accuser. He would love to discredit us. He wants to create reasonable doubt in our own minds as to WHOM we really belong, WHOSE we really are.
Similarly, think about the church-y question, “If you were on trial for your faith, would there be enough evidence to accuse you?” That question is supposed to steer us towards doing more that would, in that instance, create evidence against us. If you find yourself on trial, the prosecution’s job is to point to the evidence that got you there. You wouldn’t be on trial without ANYTHING pointing to you. There may be holes in their case, but the DA’s office is not going after you if they don’t think they can win.
That’s how our enemy is. He wants to shame and guilt you because of your past. He will try to accuse you of anything he can to get you sidelined. As he sits on trial, better believe he wants to have you linked to him. He will get you caught up in his crimes if he can. In the criminal case I was involved in, we were instructed that aiding and abetting gets you found just as guilty as the person committing the crime. The prosecution likened it to a set of elevators. Both elevators get you to the same destination. Satan wants to see you bound by chains… & he will use whatever elevator he needs to for that to happen, even if all he can do is accuse you of aiding and abetting. He already knows his judgment — but that won’t stop him from taking as many people down with him as possible.
The letter of the law can be painful in deliberations. The mere wording of the law can bring about a loop hole; causing the guilty to get off or an innocent to be convicted. Reasonable doubt is one thing. Common sense is another. Unfortunately, the letter of the law can get you. The smallest word can force a jury to find a perp not guilty of something they know he did. Being bound by the letter of the law, the same perp can get off on a misdemeanor instead of being convicted of a felony. All because of word choice.
Because of that, “innocent until proven guilty” — especially in understanding double jeopardy — will never mean the same to me again. We are told the defendant is innocent until proven guilty, but the legal system goes counter to our very thinking. We crucify people in the court of public opinion all the time. We are enraged by officers who are guilty of misconduct, brutality, even murder and yet escape trial. Especially when their crimes are caught on tape. When it comes to being a juror, we follow the same principles. We assume if the case got to the trial stage, the person is guilty. If their face is in a 6-pack of faces used by police for identification, they must have a previous record. Our very nature looks for the guilt in someone, not the innocence. We need to fight that urge.
When looking at my experience through spiritual lenses, I found myself embracing not just the phrase “innocent until proven guilty” but the concept of double jeopardy. Because Jesus has already taken my place and paid my debt, I cannot be charged with the same crime. Regardless of what my enemies might say, I can trust how God sees me. Because of His Son’s sacrifice, I can only be seen in God’s eyes as innocent — and that is beautifully just.