Sunday, June 2, 2013

Royka: Reason - A Mind's Eye View of Jury Duty

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In late September 2009, I received a summons for jury duty for Cochise County in Arizona where my wife and I reside. I informed my supervisor and my site lead and then on the morning of the 28th I drove to the Cochise County Superior Courthouse to report for jury duty. Upon arrival I was placed into a room with the other prospective jurors. We were then taken across the street to the courtroom and were told to find seating by the bailiff. About 10 minutes after that the Judge came into the room and announced to us for what we were summoned, to pick a jury of 12 + 2 alternates for a murder trial.

The selection process seemed tedious but I watched the lawyers and judge show reason and logic in their choices. Some of the people were excused for personal reasons, moral, ethical, or just real life. All parties involved in our selection seem to blend experience, knowledge, and a lot of observational learning to make judgments about a prospective juror. It amounted to over a day and a half of selection then there the jury was formed. I had the distinction of being chosen as a juror to sit and hear this case.

That afternoon the Judge before the opening arguments by the attorneys read the jury its initial instructions. We were told to listen to all the evidence, arguments, witnesses, and statements made by the participants wholly and impartially. This I found to be not as hard as I had initially feared it would be, I found myself utilizing my experience as an analyst and my reasoning skills with logic to categorize the information presented.  We were issued note pads and writing utensils to take notes, of which most of the jury took copious notes throughout the trial.

The assumptions that I think most of us juror’s had were to the effect of “can I be truly fair and impartial?” Only one of us had ever sat upon a trial before and that juror was involved in a civil case. To say that we were apprehensive was a bit of an understatement indeed. The opening arguments took about 30 minutes and then the state called their first witness. I found myself quickly and rapidly assessing and categorizing the information as it was presented. I relied upon my logic and reasoning skills to avoid letting my emotions influence my perceptions of what was going on before me.

This is not to suggest that I ignored my emotions, to the contrary I utilized my emotional intelligence to asses each witness for their emotional state and to attempt along with rational (reason & logic) aspects of my mind to discern if they were being truthful and any dissimulation that they may have been attempting. I also made a point of looking around the room at the defendant, the attorneys the defense team and prosecution, the audience, and the judge. I was taking in the essence of the room to assist me in gauging the trial whether a witness was testifying or not.

We sat upon the trial for 2 weeks going home each night with the admonition of the judge etched into our minds. Memory was a part of the process and an important one but I was aware enough not to completely rely upon it solely. I took meticulous notes throughout the trial, these served me well when we were given our final instructions from the Judge and told to retire to the jury room to begin deliberations.  The entire jury began to pour over their notes and once a foreman was selected we began deliberations.
We the jury began by starting at the beginning of the trial and working our way through the process from its beginning. We found that we were the largest obstacles in this part of the process as a few jurors’s appeared to be dominated by their emotional intelligence and it appeared to hinder their reasoning abilities. Another obstacle that presented itself was the crime itself and the flow of events. The evidence both physical and circumstantial was powerful and compelling. This required us to find a way to “recreate” in our minds how the crime actually took place.

During the deliberation my fellow jurors and I several types of reasoning, used was the following, inductive reasoning, cause and effect, cognitive awareness, and plain old common sense.  Several of the jurors, me included were either federal law enforcement officers (US Border Patrol, Immigration and Customs Enforcement) or former military. I also found myself utilizing an analytical tool that I had learned in the military to aid me in my deliberations upon the evidence.

I utilized the Association of Competing Hypothesis Matrix or ACH; this was developed by William Heuer for the Central Intelligence Agency back in the late 1990’s to combat human bias that skewed analytical assessments. I shared this process with my fellow jurors and I believe it made a critical difference in how we approached the case. I also had noted that my fellow juror’s and I had been conducting observational learning throughout the trial, whether that was observing a witness or the physical evidence.

I believed that we could as a body been more effective if we had been permitted to use my analytical model from the beginning of the trial. We were delayed in our deliberations by one juror whom could not get past their emotional reaction to the case.  Another method that would have been effective in my humble opinion would have been too been able to ask questions directly without going through the judge. But given the importance of the legal necessity of the trial I can accept that limitation that was placed upon me and my fellow jurors.

Memory and language were definitely a real aspect to this case, we relied upon it as we took our notes, when we went home for the night as we assessed the information provided that day. Still I found myself not thinking in words but a mix of words, images, and emotions.  I found myself completely drained at the end of a day in the courtroom. I attribute this to the fact that I was completely focused upon the case and trying to assess/analyze without predetermining my assessment/judgment of the case at prior to proper legal instructions from the judge to do so.

In the end we found the defendant guilty of Premeditated Murder in the First Degree. I believe that we did so fairly and impartially. We utilized all of our reasoning skills, our logical thinking processes, and our various intelligences. Reading about this information after going through this experience has shown me how important it is for me to attempt to better understand those processes such as thinking/reasoning, memory, language, and emotion.  If I am to assist my fellow human beings someday as a mental health professional, I must learn all that I can about how we think, perceive, judge and how our emotions, perceptions, biases play a part.

Article originally published at Jared M. Royka's Juxta-Suppose, Copyright 2013 by Jared Micheal Royka, reprinted with permission.