MY JURY DUTY EXPERIENCE
Ideologies separate us, dreams bring us back together
When I was only a few years old I started to ask myself questions about life. I wanted to know everything, the evolution of man, the differences in skin colour, creation of the earth but as I grew older my questions became more specific. Like what motivates us? Who are we? If not who are we then why are we the way we are? Why are we the same yet so different? Why are we (i.e humans) here? This eventually led me to pursue psychology as a first degree.
I wanted to know everything so I read about religion, not an in-depth reading but a fundamental understanding and just as each religion provided solutions they also raised questions. So I looked at science and that just seemed to complicate things even more. What was I to do?
Then a few years ago it hit me. The problem wasn’t the information I was getting but the way I was interpreting it.
This might be a little complex to understand but I will try to simplify it as much as possible. This is something I think I can term Multiple Directions theory (MDT) I realised that as I was being fed different information about different causes my brain almost quite automatically kept some aspects of the information (each theory) without necessarily synchronising it as a whole. The more I tried to synchronise it the less sense it made. My only option was to either build a hybrid theory (mixture of the two) or discard every information obtained and start again.
Maybe an example might help to explain this a bit better. If I was to explain a flight from Aberdeen to Amsterdam and I start to go into details as to how the pilot controls the aeroplane, the engineering mechanisms involved, the aeroplane speed and what makes it glide successfully, what altitude then I suddenly tell you that it goes out of the earth close to the moon, then down again directly into Amsterdam.
As a whole you should discard my theory and want nothing to do with it as you might be aware that intercity planes don’t fly out of the earth’s atmosphere but subconsciously your mind would have recorded the parts that make sense. The next question would be filling the gap/ the missing information (not starting again).
The next assumption is when you hear another theory that supposedly provides a different view of a flight from Aberdeen to Amsterdam. Your mind might seem to process the information as a whole, but in reality what we do not know is that we are processing this information in relation to our previously accepted information and trying to correlate them (It’s like hearing to different witness testimonies and trying to find out what parts are the same). Ideally as a rational being if a story is not totally complete and consistent it must be said to lack validity and reliability but I appeared to disregard that rule and piece things together based on my mixed information. This is something we are not aware we sometimes do
This basically means the more we hear, the more explanations that are provided. The less correlation we would be able to make and the further away we get from the answer we previously set out to get.
We do not realise that our confusion is not always necessarily brought about by the inability of each explanation to define a situation holistically (in wholes rather than analysis or separation into parts) but by a lack of synchronisation from the little parts of “accepted” information.
This view is in many ways different from the Gestalt theory (is a theory of mind and brain that proposes that the operational principle of the brain is holistic, parallel, and analogue, with self-organizing tendencies; or, that the whole is different from the sum of its parts, The word Gestalt in German literally means “shape” or “figure”) in psychology.
I feel I must at this point state that I do not disagree with the gestalt view of a holistic approach but I do think it applies more to visual situations than mental cognition.
Our perceptions are more individualistic and units related than we consciously realise. This can be found in situation where we say one thing and do another.
All I am trying to explain in simpler terms is that the way we interpret the information we receive is what forms our understanding of the world, it determines what we believe and what we act upon. Not the information we receive, so take a moment and realise that sometimes our interpretations might not be right even when the information is the same. It will help you avoid conflicts and lead to greater self-development.
When we mis-interpret information it often leads to mistakes that we sometimes blame ourselves for. Think of how many questions you answered wrongly during your educational development that you know were because you dint read the question right (interpretation) and how many times you blamed yourself for it.
Don’t be afraid to take a minute to re-think of an answer you think without a shadow of doubt to have gotten right. You just might have interpreted the question wrongly.
Build you competence by being willing to go back and take another look at what you think you know. Things are not always what we think they are. Trust your instincts if you have good ones. It sometimes helps.
In order to explain this properly let me draw from an experience I recently had. I tried to write about this as close to the end of the event as possible for two main reasons
a) I could not legally talk about an active case when I am a member of the jury until it is over and
b) I wanted to make sure it was as fresh as possible in my mind.
For anyone who does not know how a jury works or what it is let me give a short and hopefully clear background story.
First of all, a Jury (in the UK) is simply a 15 man or woman panel made of what society will term as responsible members of the community selected randomly to listen to possible evidence about a case in relation to the accused brought forward by the procurator fiscal (crown/city). Their sole responsibility is to decide on if an accused is guilty, not guilty or a not proven charge can be applied. In the United Kingdom as well as many civilised societies it is the responsibility of the procurator fiscal to prove beyond reasonable doubt the guilt of an individual and not the accused responsibility to prove his innocence. This means the onus of proving a charge lies on the crown/state/procurator and not the defence.
In order to decide or be a member of the jury there are a few things expected of you for the court to accept it was a fair trial.
a) You are not allowed to be biased (i.e race, age, sex, dressing, haircut etc cannot play a role in your decision making).
b) You must not bring in your own prejudices to the court either from experience or otherwise
c) Speculation or hear say in any form is not tolerated in the court which means you cannot assume an explanation to anything unless given during the process of evidence.
d) If the accused remains silence it cannot be taken as guilt.
e) Testimonies of expert witnesses such as doctors can only be taken as the presence of something and not evidence that the accused committed the crime.
g) There must be two or more corroborating witnesses that the just decides to be credible (truthful) and reliable (given a true account of what happened). This simply means there must be mutual corroboration.
h) A witness cannot corroborate themselves. i.e if witness A tells witness B what happened and the witness B is called to the stand, their testimony is the same as witness A and so does not provide mutual corroboration.
I) In a case where there is only one witness and so saying no mutual corroboration there is an exception to the rule in order to establish guilt. This however must be done with serious care. There must be at least two victims in which there is a similarity in method, timing, process used and the two witnesses must be seen as credible and reliable. In order words if for example a child is raped in a corner by a man by the strict sense of the law we only have the childs eye witness testimony against the man. There needs to be two or more victims with very similar events, similar methods and similar timing to the point in which it cannot be disregarded as a coincidence. I must admit I had difficulty believing that an event must have more than one victim if there is only one witness but this is the law as we were given.
J) Only established facts are acceptable.
H) The absence of a particular piece of evidence does not mean the presence of its opposite and vice versa (example is just because someone is not sad does not mean they are happy).
My jury duty experience lasted over 3 weeks and was made up 15 members of society (including myself). We did not have an equal representation of men and women as were made up of an odd number nor did we have an equal age representation as we were randomly selected. The case was details are irrelevant in the lesson and also I am not so sure if it is against the law to state it.
As with any case the procurator fiscal gives a statement then the defence gives the same statement. The onus to prove guilt is on the state and they need to be able to prove it beyond reasonable doubt. One of the most amazing things about my experience was that on day one after just hearing the opening statements with no evidence whatsoever. People had already formed their opinions of the case and the defendant’s guilt.
As this was my first just duty experience I assumed that this was normal. After all “do we not form our opinion of a person within the first few seconds”. The only thing is, I assumed that this would change after a while. I assumed that people will wait and see what the procurator brings to the table and then use that to determine his guilt when compared to the defence’s alternate version of the story. Little did I know that I was extremely naive in this thinking or maybe the best way to put this is that I was the only one that shared this version of thinking. Somehow as the days passed by it seemed like people used their own person experiences to come to a conclusion about the case, now I must hasten to add that this was not what everyone felt but what a good number felt. They spoke about experiences as a child, divorce experience, experience raising a child and even experiences at work and somehow seemed to attribute guilt and innocence based on this. It seemed as if our ability to independently judge a situation was impaired. Almost like hypothetical thinking was either none existent or we just would rather not consider it.
Even to the point that they decided that certain things mentioned in the charge but lacking any evidence or even mention by the procurator fiscal or defence were also assumed to happen. I learnt two very important lessons in this.
1) Changing a person’s mind is a very hard and difficult task and in some case even when multiple contrary evidence is present it still does not seem to register. It took the presence of a judge to discard some charges as there was no evidence mentioning it before people actually seemed to consider it. The charges dropped from about 15 charges to about 7 charges by the end of the trial and even then some members of the jury felt that even though there was no evidence or mention of those things, it still should have stood.
2) People seemed to prefer to believe the worst in a person before they take a second to see if there is any good in that person.
These two things made me realise certain things for my daily life.
1) Never take the importance of making a good first impression for granted. It takes a lot more to change a person’s mind.
2) Never forget to take a second to rethink something you seem to be absolutely certain about. It is very possible you have used your previous experience to make that judgement
3) Objectivity is not as natural as we think. Subjectivity seems to be the more natural of the two. It takes effort to remember to be objective.
4) Be careful when you make judgements about people. It might not matter to you but it might matter to them.
5) Rules (such as the rules for make a decision as a member of a jury) matter very little when making judgements about people. Somehow our bias seems to come into play. It is very important to be aware of this.
While a lot of the members of the jury were willing to reconsider their initial judgement when they realised that a man’s freedom was a stake. There were still two or three people that did not even want to reconsider and actually became defensive and took the case personally. They even questioned the judge’s decision to drop some charges even though they knew there was no evidence to support the charges or even a mention of it. This brings me to my final point
6) No matter how hard you try to change a person’s opinion about an event or about you. Sometimes it just does not work. They have their own opinion no matter what happens. Do not waste time on this. Do your very best and move on. Life is too short.
You see in that funny and unfortunate experience I realised that life is not always decided on what we do but what others think about what we do.