Without more, it’s impossible to know what motivated the juror to write the note. Maybe she was the sort of person who was just your typical, New York, neurotic nutjob who somehow eluded detection in voir dire. Or was acceptable to both sides despite being a nutjob. Or maybe she was a fragile teacup, as are being trained in special education on university campuses nationwide.
In any event, she sent out a note to Southern District of New York Judge Valerie Caproni, presiding over the corruption trial of Shelly Silver, former Speaker of the New York State Assembly.*
I am wondering if there is anyway I can be excused from this case, because I have a different opinion/view so far in this case and it is making me feel very, very uncomfortable…I’m feeling pressured, stressed out … told that I’m not using my common sense, my heart is pounding and my head feels weird. I am so stressed out right now that I can’t even write normally. I don’t feel like I can be myself right now! I need to leave!
Like a little microcosm of the whining of, well, everyone who isn’t receiving their entitled “respect” for their opinion, the juror couldn’t bear to be on the receiving end of her fellow-jurors’ bullying and harassment. And that was after a mere two hours of deliberation.
Sure there’s the psychological pressure, the stress, but it’s not just her mental trauma. Her heart is pounding. Her head feels weird. Can she eat? Sleep? She doesn’t feel like the can be herself!
She needs to leave! Sound familiar?
This may be just one nutty juror who slipped through without the gumption to exist in a world where people have disagreements. That happens. But because her complaints ring way too familiar, the alarms raised can’t be ignored.
There was once a time when the idea of war erupting in the jury room, as people of sincere beliefs battled over their respective positions for refusing to yield to the overwhelming pressure of the group, was admired. This strength of mind was dramatized in the 1957 movie, 12 Angry Men. Coincidence that the title wasn’t 12 Angry People, or just a sign of the times?
The concept is that the prosecution must persuade twelve jurors, each individually and independently, of the guilt of a defendant beyond a reasonable doubt. The pressure, if things worked as intended, could be intense. Names might be called. Harsh words expressed, like “you’re a blithering idiot.” Or tame words, like “you’re not using common sense.” Some might argue that’s a good thing.
But what being a juror requires, at minimum, is the ability to hold one’s belief in the face of disagreement. On the first vote, there is often a majority and a minority. Sometimes, it’s a minority of one. We count on that one to stand firm in her belief rather than acquiesce to the will of the majority.
That’s why a unanimous verdict is required, so that twelve jurors agree that the burden of proof has been met. Or not met. Eleven, plus one who won’t stand in the way of the majority, defeats the system.
Over the last generation, notions of compromise and consensus have enjoyed a good ride. Students are trained to work together, to get along, to reach consensus, as if this was an ultimate virtue. The same is drilled into corporate drones in the workplace, where teams are the mechanism of accomplishment, and designing camels when the mandate is to create a racehorse becomes acceptable. That’s what’s expected, desired, in order to “value” everyone’s opinion. That’s why we’ve come to live in a world of camels.
We’ve been trained, indoctrinated, to believe that giving up one’s firmly held belief to the will of the majority, the collective “good” of reaching a decision, is a stand-alone virtue. We’ve been told this is the best way to make decisions, that groupthink will produce a better decision than holding firm to one’s individual beliefs. Students are graded on their ability to cooperate with others, to submit to the group.
In 12 Angry Men, the lone holdout eventually persuaded the other eleven to see that their simplistic grasp of the case was misguided. Sure, it’s just a drama, but not even the movie would seem plausible today. They would never survive the fighting, the arguments, the language of reaching a verdict.
I don’t feel like I can be myself right now! I need to leave!
The solution to disagreement isn’t discussion or argument, but running away. The juror needed her safe space, where no one would question her disagreement with the group, no one would say such traumatic and painful things to her, like “you’re not using common sense.” How can any human being stand to suffer such micro-aggressions?
How can a legal system dependent on the integrity of jurors survive if the jurors can’t brave the nightmare of disagreement?
And lest my prosecutorial-ish friends rub their hands together in glee at the thought that there may never be a lone holdout, firm against a strong Allen Charge, willing to scuttle their carefully orchestrated narrative of guilt, consider this: along with the rhetoric of melodrama that accompanies the trauma suffered by special snowflakes comes the irrationality of social justice warriors, who find neither fact nor reason persuasive when it comes to apologizing for the evils perpetrated by society on minorities.
In other words, they have suffered and continued to suffer such horrific racism by dint of every glance and sigh that is interpreted as a racial slight that their ensuing conduct, palpably criminal according to the elements of an offense, is entirely understandable and forgivable, the anticipated detritus of surviving in your racist society.
We usually think of the lone hold-out juror as the one standing firm for acquittal while the rest buy the prosecution’s song and dance. Maybe that lone hold-out will be the one who refuses to view crime through the prism of historic racism manifesting in a romantic indulgence of compensatory crime? That could happen too.
*Note that there is absolutely nothing in this post discussing the merits of the Shelly Silver trial. That is not an accident.