Waiting on a jury

Waiting on a Jury
 
 
 
                There is nothing quite like it…waiting on a jury to come back with a verdict.   I have been on both sides…a prosecutor and a defense attorney. It was always the same. The first hour after the judge gives the instructions and the jury leaves the courtroom, everyone relaxes. There is literally nothing to do. You can’t make any arguments to anyone, introduce any new evidence, make any new points. It is over for you.
 
                And so you wait. That first hour is the best. Your hopes are high, you know the jury is probably not going to come back that quickly, and so you can leave the courtroom, get a cup of coffee, talk to others and take a deep breath.
 
                As the hours go by and there is no knock on the door, you begin to go through all the “what ifs”. Maybe we should have done something different. If only I had made that argument or asked that question or put on that witness. You think of everything that you possibly could have done wrong. It is like revisiting a test, and wishing you had a do over.
 
                The longest jury I had to ever wait for was in federal court in Raleigh when, after seventeen and one-half hours, a federal jury came back with a conviction. One of the shortest was about two hours. Once, during the when the jury determining the fate of former Lt. Governor Jimmy Green was out, the deputy sheriff told me he heard the jury laughing in the jury room. It had been less than an hour. I hoped mightily that they would stay out at least two hours because anything less than that would be awful for me as the special prosecutor. I could see the headlines in the News and Observer the next day if that happened. They stayed out just over two hours.
 
                The jury in the Jeffrey MacDonald murder trial stayed out about five hours before convicting him on three counts of murder. The trial had lasted from mid July to almost Labor Day. I still remember the clerk saying to me those words “The jury is coming back. They have a verdict”
 
                For everyone in the courtroom…both sides…there are no words that focus the mind as much as those. For the defendant, the wait is excruciating. The only thing worse or better, depending on the outcome, is the clerk reading the verdict out loud to everyone in the courtroom. The defendant hears the words at the same time as everyone else.
 
                It is painful. It is a punishment all its own. But that is the way it is.
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