LOOKING IN THE EYE

Many years ago, a defense attorney told me that you can tell what the verdict is by whether the returning jury looks the defendant in the eye as they file back into the courtroom.  She claimed that due to our discomfort in judging people, and especially in condemning them, we cannot bear to look at the defendant if we are going to find them guilty.  We need to maintain a safe distance from the person.

With a not-guilty verdict, it is as if each person wanted to come in and say, it’s okay – you are still one of us.  We have not condemned you.  We have not judged you a criminal.  You are innocent and free.  You still belong to the family of humans who share this society, and its values.  I have seen many jury members give an unconscious comforting nod or smile directed toward the defendant as they file out to return a not-guilty verdict.

I have been amazed through the years at how fully accurate the lawyer’s predicting tool has been.  In fact, I can only remember one jury trial that did not follow the pattern.  In that case, there was overwhelming evidence of the defendant’s cruelty, and the jury members each came out and looked straight at him, quite intentionally, before they took their seats.

My theory is that they wanted to  show their own distance from his actions, as being so reprehensible.

It is as if they each said in turn: Yes, I have judged your actions.  And I look you straight in the eye to tell you that I have no remorse or guilt in so judging your actions.  You were absolutely wrong and I want nothing to do with your actions.  I refute them and reject them. And I want you to know the great distance between myself and your acts.

I see you, and I judge you.  And I find you guilty as sin.