We the Jury Find the Defendant…

After spending a week and a half on jury duty, in the same courthouse as 2 years ago,
a renewed confidence comforts that when an alleged crime comes to trial,
justice is possible, at least in my community. May it be so, someday, across our lands.
Therefore I’m re-posting this piece from a couple of years ago, below 🙂

The quality of mercy is not strained.
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blessed:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes. ~ Wm Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice

blind justice ~ nelson
blind justice ~ d nelson

The Judge states that jury duty is our civic obligation & should be served with pride. That she is there as a judge of the law. That charges are on paper, but not yet proven. The prosecution is required to demonstrate the burden of proof, beyond reasonable doubt. That we sworn-in jurors are to be judges of the facts, the facts based on testimony & evidence presented during the trial. That the accused is to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. He is being charged with forgery & second degree burglary, both, felony offenses. A digital beeping is heard in the courtroom. Then a digital voice stating, “low battery, low battery.” It is the radio collar placed upon the defendant’s ankle. The court is recessed for this technical interruption. Hereafter, the names have been changed to protect those involved.


Direct Evidence:
Mr. Accused Citizen, hereafter referred as MAC, entered on the Bank on Sept 1st and handed a check to be cashed made out to him for $1609 along with his ID to the teller. Upon looking at the check and thinking it may have been altered, she took it to her supervisor for approval. The supervisor also thought the amount looked altered, and the written payee name looked suspicious. She came out and told MAC it would take a few minutes to process. Supervisor looked up the phone number & called the customer of whose check was presented. Customer, an older woman, confirmed that the amount and name were not correct and she would come to the bank to confirm. She had made the check out for $69 to the water company, placed it in the mailbox to be picked up. The next day she notice her mail missing before the mail carrier arrived. The police were then called to the bank. When the supervisor came out MAC had fled the bank, leaving the check & his ID behind. After the police arrived the supervisor received a phone call by a younger woman claiming to be the customer; she says it’s ok to cash the check. Upon being asked by the supervisor her date of birth the phone is hung up. This is reported to the police. The bank teller, supervisor & customer testify as eye witnesses to these events.

jury badge
jury badge

Circumstantial Evidence:
Images from Bank’s surveillance camera shows MAC at the teller’s window. There’s the check which was altered; MAC’s first & last name are written around the water companies name. The amount is changed by adding numbers & words, from $69 to $1609. Displayed with the overhead projector, this looks like it was changed by a child.

The officer testifies that she found MAC walking down the street a week after the crime. He approached her and asks if she’s looking for him because of his ID being left in the bank. She reads him his rights, informing him that he is under arrest. She then asks for him to write down his name, the date and a few other words. He gives her the handwriting sample. He tells her the check was being cashed for an acquaintance who made the check out to him. Says he knows he did something stupid. He’s brought to jail and held for a couple of months until a hearing occurs and he is granted bail. At initial hearing the officer testifies that MAC told her that he saw acquaintance writing on & altering the check. This confession is not in her initial or follow-up written reports.

courthouse, upstairs jury room
courthouse, upstairs jury room

Walking peacefully upstairs with others to the jury deliberation room, smilecalm breathes deeply to relax inner anxious energies. Other jurors start speaking out on their views. There’s a general sense that MAC did not “mastermind” this crime, but that evidence implicates MAC’s guilt in the lesser offense of possessing, with the intent to pass on to the Bank, an altered or counterfeit check, knowing that the document is counterfeit. Were this decided, the requirement for burglary would also be met. After many voices speak out loudly, smilecalm remarks that some of us are more quiet, less competitive and would benefit from an orderly and inclusive discussion. To that request there is agreement. Smilecalm asks if we can read the written definition of these charges, which is done. We start to recount from memory & notes what MAC testified on the stand. He seemed angry, he swore, he apologized. He told of his being home that day. That Jen, the acquaintance, came by looking for her closer friend who was not at home. She then asked MAC to help her out by cashing a check. Said she was given this check by her grandmother to whom she had sold a wood chipper. She could have the check made out to MAC, and she would give him $200. She didn’t want to cash it herself because she had a warrant out for her arrest. He said Jen had not caused him any problems in the past, so he was willing to do her a favor and make a little money for the effort. She left, returning about an hour later with the check. MAC has no car, so she drove them both to the Bank & went in together. MAC said that after the supervisor came out and said to wait, he noticed Jen had left. He figured at that moment something was wrong so he left to find her. He knew then it was stupid. He asked “why is my life so much trouble?”


Fellow jurors argued that while there was no evidence that he had stolen the check from the mailbox, or that he had done the altering of words and numbers on the check, he must have known this check was altered. Somehow jurors remembered MAC saying he saw Jen writing on the check. This would create doubt in MAC’s story. Smilecalm said he did not hear him say that, rather, only that was stated by the police officer. The court testimony record needed to be re-read to the jurors. After some time the court recorder arrived and read his words. He indicates she brought the check already filled and he looks at it briefly, sees his name, the amount and that it’s signed, all while on the way to the bank. He never sees Jen writing on it.

Those in the room confide that they would not cash a check for someone that they don’t know well, who states they can’t cash it because they have a warrant out for their arrest, and that they would look carefully at the check scrutinize it. Exhibit 2b is passed around the room. It is a court document that shows that Jen was convicted of check & credit card fraud & possession of an illegal fire arm in this same court one month ago. Expressing what is true in his heart, smilecalm shares about his time with others living in poverty & despair, in urban areas & Indian Reservations. How it is possible to do what MAC had done, without realizing the crime or consequences. That if MAC truly did believe Jen’s story; that a check from her grandmother for an item sold was made out to him to cash, to help her out of warrant’s eyes, to make a couple hundred bucks, then there was reasonable doubt that he committed the crimes, as defined. Other jurors shared their experience with down & out, so called low-life relatives & acquaintances. How low self esteem & unmet economic, social & emotional needs can give rise to ill-advised actions. The energy of empathy and wisdom spread throughout the room. There was no longer any certainly that MAC knew before going into the bank that this check was “not true”, and therefore intended to defraud. With with collective sense of harmony for the sake of justice, Smilecalm offered his gratitude to each of them as they prepared to leave.

enter fearlessly
enter fearlessly

Returning to the courtroom, the judge asked for the verdict. She glanced at the paper, then looked over the 3 pieces of paper, one for each charge, over again. Nodding affirmatively, she handed the papers to the clerk to read. We the Jury Find the Defendant not guilty of forgery, … not guilty of 2nd degree forgery & … not guilty of 2nd degree burglary. Everyone in the courtroom looked surprised, including several bailiffs awaiting, as if expecting this defendant to continue playing out the sad role of a throw away in this society. The judge thanked us for our service and dismissed us. Walking out, I smiled to the prosecutor, to the weary public defender, to MAC, to the women in the gallery weeping, perhaps a mother & sister. A fellow juror commented that he appreciated the compassion conveyed during the deliberations by smilecalm, who smiled humbly in return. May all involved in this dance of justice be well, May we all find fairness, compassion & mercy when our judgment day comes.

court wi-fi access code, with fingerprints :-)
court wi-fi access code, with fingerprints 🙂

“The fragrance always remains in the hand that gives the rose.” ~Hada Bejar

76 Replies to “We the Jury Find the Defendant…”

  1. From reading your account David, it seems that jurors could easily fall prey to group-think, and for justice to fail to be served as a result. You clearly did a marvellous job, which I can appreciate must have been undertaken in stressful circumstances, rendering it all the more challenging to remain clear-headed and equanimous. Well done my friend.

    1. thank you for kind understanding of the potential shifting of the scales of justice, Hariod! if someone could be convicted of doing something dumb, then we would have had to vote guilty. but in this case it was not proven that he knew about passing a forged check, and therefore didn’t deserve the many years associated with that sentence. have a wonderful day 🙂

  2. A wonderful outcome, David – the voice of mercy (heart), based on evidence (intellect), is such a crucial lesson and gift to all involved and all who read your eloquently-recounted story.

    1. thank you for your kind, insightful words, Carol!
      initially I wrote more details, but opted to share
      the short, sweet story, as I experienced it this week.
      i believe it was the right outcome and hope MAC finds supportive conditions
      to live a happier & better life 🙂

      1. I hope so, too, David. And I’m so glad you were there to help convince others to carefully consider the evidence so they could do the “right” (both merciful and ethical) thing and give him that opportunity.

  3. I know someone who had a very similar experience. Though she was not innocent of making a stupid choice, she sincerely didn’t put it together what was happening. She also ran and left ID behind. She didn’t have a jury trial. She was convicted. Maybe some kind of plea. I don’t know, but it has effected her whole life in a very very negative way. I am glad you had compassion for Mac, and that he uses this opportunity to change his life. Thanks for sharing this.

    1. thank you for your kind, personal reflection, Mary. we all hope MAC is able to experience favorable conditions in the future. it’s so hard for people who’ve been down do long to get up 🙂

  4. Your story is also an example of why prosecutors pressure defendants into taking plea deals by threatening them with exorbitant sentences. The state wants to avoid jury trials at all costs. Thank you for sharing your wisdom with us as you did with your fellow jury members.

    1. i’m told that the prosecutor must have been quite confident in this conviction, Jeff. but they did not prove to me that he knew he was commiting this crime prior to walking into that bank. I sincerely hope he gets some breaks in life and avoids future arrests. may your day be well 🙂

  5. We have a new evidence gather coming. No more jail either. This will no longer be a problem where a innocent finds several months in jail and a Bail bill while waiting to be innocent before guilty.

  6. I would love to be able to waste a day or two showing up for my duty and actually be allowed to do it – alas, over 25 years I’ve worked on both sides of the fence for one thing or another and there is always, always one side or the other that looks at my work history and says, “Oh, we don’t want her….” 🙂 Do you think they’ll pursue charges against Jen?
    And do you think the utility company waived the late fee for the victim? 🙂

    1. perhaps you’ll get your day(s) in court, TamrahJo! 1st time for me, seemed like luck of the draw. Jen is convicted and doing time according to document jury was provided. hopefully the victim gets her water turned back on someday for the late check 🙂

      1. OMG! They turned her water off?!? Love to be in the jury for that valid lawsuit – Sheesh!

        I did quit putting down on the intake form under “Favorite TV shows” – Law and Order and under Favorite Author, “John Grisham” – back in the days when I was working 3 jobs and couldn’t waste 3 days while they decided they didn’t want me – – LOL –

        At one time, I was working in the Civil Division of the local sheriff’s office, married to a State Trooper, working part-time at a local defense attorney’s office, helping out when his assistant was out with surgery, AND I still had to sit through 2 days of no pay and grumpy bosses before they said, “yeah, they don’t want you” – LOL
        Since that long ago life, I’ve discovered, neither me, nor my immediate family are ever chosen, given my work history – I think my broad perspective regarding good and bad cops/attorneys, etc., would be useful…apparently not… LOL

      2. Durn It! Cuz I’d love to be on the one over the whole ‘shut water off to elderly person’s home’ Case – – Sigh – – Keep Me Posted on that miscarriage of justice – 🙂

  7. I have jury duty coming up in June, smilecalm. I’ll remember your compassionate listening story. Peace, John

    1. thanks for sharing your opportunity, John. while i wasn’t actually expecting to be on a jury, that’s what happened and the need to be fully present became apparent. wishing you a joyful experience 🙂

    1. a wonderful wish
      that other’s find their
      own calmness, then smile
      before taking actions!
      something i can continue
      practicing myself 🙂

    1. thank you for kindly hearing my story, sara! perhaps another jury, the doctor, the two nurses, the casino waitress, the landscaper, or another, would have offered a voice of reason. i felt MAC deserved help more than punishment. may he get what he needs 🙂

  8. Thanks for sharing this, David. I was touched by a couple of things– one being the need to bring this type of all-seeing compassion into our daily lives all the time, where countless on-the-spot judgments are rendered almost without realizing it. I was also touched by your compassion and willingness to share your own story. It seems to me that presenting yourself as a competent citizen, while at the same time being able to share stories of how the mental and emotional bodies can work in circumstances of poverty, hopelessness or other such difficulties, you helped people to really see another human being who was temporarily in over their head, so to speak. One not in possession of all the faculties a person in another situation might be counted on to possess. We forget how deeply we are all affected by our suffering…


    1. i appreciate your deep understanding & supportive words, Michael. i saw how easily this person could have been convicted of the least of the charges and potentially having to spend many years imprisoned. i’m grateful that justice was served, imho. i’m hoping for the best, come next judgment day 🙂

  9. Thank you for being compassionate, not only to “Mac,” but to the other jurors. May these ripples of compassion spread far and wide!

    1. thank you for your kind, supportive comment, JoAnne. i’m happy that when the opportunity presented itself, that collectively there was a unanimous not guilty decision. something that we all could feel was right. yes, may justice somehow spread in all directions 🙂

  10. First of all I wanted to thank you for coming to one of my blogs. It’s great to start a day with positive reinforcement. If you were to go to my other blog, My Name is Jamie, you’ll see that it’s largely about the misuse of our justice system and the lives that get ruined. Some of the charges that get filed and the sentences handed down have an ulterior purpose. But with this case were charges filed against the woman who had possession of the check and how she got it
    ? It’s not a crime to be naive and gullible, but he surely knew there was something wrong. The lure of money overrode good judgement. Hopefully there was someone who stood up and helped teach him to not trust people when they ask you to do things like this.

    1. thanks for your compassionate & wise efforts to help those inside. and helping those of us outside understand what is going on, sonniq! yes the woman who took & forged the check was convicted. yes, MAC should have known better. yes, he could use a boatload of support. wishing you a happy moment, one calm breath at a time 🙂

      1. I hate seeing anyone unjustly convicted. It happens so much. It seems sometimes that it doesn’t matter if they convict the right or wrong person as long as they can close the case on someone 😦

      2. if only those in need
        of their overdue conviction
        for bankrupting the country,
        destroying the lives of millions
        & pillaging the environment,
        if only…
        we could believe that there is justice!
        still, what you do to help those who
        are so easily thrown in
        is genuinely commendable 🙂

    1. thanks Bruce for the kind observation! fortunately they didn’t seem too angry, & about half were women! it was an unexpected, but valuable experience for me and, i believe, for others as well 🙂

  11. You are such a shining Example of Truth and Love, David. It is an honor to know you. And it does bear thinking upon to know that such a heavy burden that falls on everyday people in the jury who really don’t know much law at all, can be the difference of imprisonment or freedom. ❤

  12. Today I was waiting to see the dentist at the free clinic (since I am considered homeless) and talking with some other guys the usual talk came around to jail time. They were shocked to hear I have none as they, on the lower end of the income scale, are used to being arrested and jailed over what can only be described as trifling offences or not so smart behaviors. All that some of these men (and women) need is help understanding what is legally acceptable, public behavior. A feel-good read, David.

    1. gratitude for your personal reflection, robert! wishing you continued well-being, strength & wisdom to share with those who can benefit so much from your connection to them 🙂

  13. A powerful example of deep listening, gentleness and mercy, David – such crucial gifts to all who shared the experience. How tragic that no efforts are made to assist people who see few alternatives for survival. If only communities helped those in need because they valued the gifts all members have to offer. …

    1. gratitude for your kindness, Carol.
      conditions had me there along
      with all those other strangers
      put in the position of passing judgement.
      yes, if only community…
      may we continue trying
      to make it so 🙂

  14. I like your opening quote much better than Shylock’s quote about taking a pound of flesh from Antonio as payment for his debt.

    It takes a lot of restraint and wisdom to be able to listen well without clouding up ones judgment with preconceived prejudices. Wonderful post!

    1. smiling to your poetic insights & kindness, Rose! i suppose that the pound of flesh is now more safely extracted than back in the day, when one continued losing bodily fluids.
      so many impoverished need mercy while so many obscenely rich need some
      serious weight/wealth reduction, imho 🙂

      1. Ha! I completely agree, David. Some corrupt, rich being like the U.S. “president” would do well to drop a few pounds. Perhaps Shylock would do us the honor 😀

  15. David, I am so thankful you were upon the jury, and able to throw your thoughts into the deliberation room that sparked others to think beyond that which was presented to them.
    It would have been so easy to presume.. ( something we all do too often ) and not see the true evidence staring back at you all..
    With you digging deeper, and showing others that we are not all as savvy, in our dealings with others. And that sometimes, trusting others can lead us into corners that we cannot always see our way clear of getting out of.
    Knowing that we have been taken for a ride and left holding the baby so to speak..
    Thank goodness your presence helped others to then question and look at the facts from a different perspective.

    I hope MAC goes on in his life to avoid further people who take advantage of him..
    I feel you were in the right place at the right time for this man..
    And you gained another feather! And I am sure gave thanks for his guardian angels protection. 🙂
    Well written and well done And thank you for sharing xxx 🙂

  16. It’s always good to have at least one calm person in a group, to keep everyone from getting swept away in a wave of emotion. Well done, sir.

  17. I really appreciated this post, David. Many Americans forget the privilege we have in this country of sharing in the judicial process, and contributing to our democracy. We all get weary at times, especially now with a dubious leader. But it is important to never forget this is a right, and we have the opportunity to exercise it. This encounter with your fellow Americans, the deliberation of the group, the sharing of compassion, it is a powerful one. Thanks so much for sharing it, my friend~~

  18. hello smilecalm its dennis the vizsla dog hay it sownds like yoo all did a gud job on that joory lissening to and konsidring all the evidense and that yoo wer a verry attentiv joorer indeed!!! thank yoo all for yore sivik serviss!!! ok bye

  19. Dear David – I do recall reading this before, though the re-read know almost brought me to tears…The man’s attempt at cashing the check seemed humorous and astonishing at first, but people’s reactions to his alleged story were much less so. Fran’s daughter is a bank manager and has a few stories of fraud. But so often, people fall though the cracks, and you illustrate here (and during the jury duty), how active listening and compassion can bring a different and positive outcome for the world. As you say… may justice (as described) be so, someday, across the land.

    1. thank you for sharing your understanding the situation so well; a bank incident with almost a predictable outcome. i made note of the experience upon returning home, as the notes taken during the process were taken, per custom, and destroyed. perhaps i made a difference that day, as i believe any one or more people could do. because a sense of justice gives us hope of a civil society, may it be just for all 🙂

  20. This made me teary-eyed. What a blessing that you listened keenly and had gotten a replay from the court recorder. During my somewhat recent time responding to the call for jury – the judge also made me grateful for his opening discussion on innocence until proven guilty. His words inspired the human spirit as has your lovely record here brought peace and hope, especially that you requested an orderly discussion so that the less aggressive jury could have a chance to deliberate in earnest. _/|\_

    1. i’m honored knowing that you, too
      recently served and offered your best compassion and judgement upon a fellow human being. makes me happy knowing that justice is possible with engaged, awake citizens. wishing you a happy moment, Ka! 🙂

    1. the merchant…that’s quite a moral play, Lara/Trace! impressed you memorized it!
      if only we could all live in harmony and get along. ok, well the next best thing is a belief that resolutions to wrongs are just, and more often than not, fair. may you and all experience justice in this sweet short life. 🙂

  21. An interesting post, David and I am left with the feeling that every jury needs a Smilecalm on board. I’ve often felt that the louder confident people on a jury would get a say whilst the shyer, quieter ones would struggle to make their opinions heard…reassuring to know your words, your experience of life could make such a difference to Mac.

    1. thank you Annika! I suppose there’s a complexity to group dynamics depending on the characters. My response was specific to that “case.” My hope is that others will let their voices be heard whenever there’s something important to be said. may your day be well, david 🙂

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