A Lesson Learned

By Meri Ulrich
June 6, 2012

Having a background in law and having always considered myself to be of reasonable intelligence, I discovered a major flaw in myself today.

I believe in the justice system for the most part and usually believe that it works pretty well. Yes, there have been cases (Casey Anthony), where I have felt let down and even angry at the results but for the most part I am happy with our court system and how it works.

What I DO NOT believe in is the jury system. I would prefer a judge (or a panel of judges) over a jury any day. I have personally witnessed conversations among potential jurors where they had decided on the person's guilt or innocence based on appearance prior to the trial and that soured me on the process. There is always the possibility of a stealth juror slipping into the jury box or the juror who is swayed by wealth and fame which also sours me on the fact that one's "peers" are supposed to be able to judge fairly and based solely on evidence and the law.

But I digress.....the lesson learned is far more important than my views on the jury system.

Every single day I listen to various reporters, show hosts and talking heads discussing the more widely known criminal cases. They spin them, hash them out, hypothesize, defend or condemn them, speculate and generally "try" them on their shows. No need for a judge or jury, Nancy Grace will tell you who is right and who is wrong. When she's not "dancing" with the "stars" or hawking one of her books (right now she's actually producing one of her novels for Lifetime), she is thrilled to pick a side and nag it to death. She will scream and yell and insult anyone who opposes her until they finally give up, utterly exhausted by the wrath of the great Nancy. There are many others who do the same and sadly, I seem to watch them all.

This past few weeks I have watched a trial being covered by the old Court TV, now called "In Session" on Tru TV and I had not heard one word about it prior to the start of the trial. I never heard it mentioned on the news or by the usual suspects with their ranting and raving style and I never knew any of the details of the case. The details don't matter here but what happened after I watched the trial does. I watched it from gavel to gavel and I listened to both sides present their cases. I heard every word without benefit of having been influenced by any media source. I was able to put myself in the place of the jurors and judge the defendant based solely on the evidence or lack thereof. I was able to weed out what information I found to be solid and accurate from the many competing experts (including the infamous Michael Baden). I could evaluate the 9-11 call and listen to the defendant's voice and judge his demeanor for myself without any prejudice from the nightly harpies ringing in my ears.

I was able to understand that the case was loaded with reasonable doubt and determine that the prosecution had not proven their case at all. Had I been able to deliberate in the jury room when the case concluded and had I voted for or against conviction I would have done exactly what the actual jury did, I would have voted "not guilty" just as they did.

This probably sounds like no big deal but to me it is. I have always been pro prosecution and usually believe that the defendant is guilty by virtue of the fact that the police found probable cause to arrest him/her and the D.A. found probable cause to charge him/her and bring him/her to trial. That sounds close minded but I thought that I was relying on my knowledge of the law and my gut. I thought that I was educated enough to make a decision based on what I believed to be obvious to the prosecution side of the courtroom. What I didn't realize was that a huge part of those decisions were actually based on my nightly dose of media hype.

Me? I could be so easily influenced by bully pulpit journalists like Nancy Grace? I could be swayed by talking heads who are paid handsomely for their opinion (even though they are asked to pick a side before they even speak one word)? Yes, I was and today I got a huge shock when I discovered that without any of those crows sitting on my shoulder screaming at me that the defendant was evil, despicable, and guilty, I could make a decision all on my own and based only on what I heard and witnessed in the courtroom. I could be a fair juror who was able to select the "not guilty" box on the jury form without any remorse or fear that I was letting an evildoer go out into the world.

Strange that at my age I finally learned to think for myself and to listen to my own instincts without the chorus of naysayers and doubters echoing in my ears. Today, I became a qualified juror.


About the author: Meri Ulrich has a Medical/Legal background and is a former forensic researcher specializing in psychological profiling.

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