Over the last three months or so, I’ve twice had the experience of riding the elevator with a client. There’s nothing out of the ordinary about riding the elevator with the client, but these two particular times, the proverbial bell was tolling. Both times we were on our way to find out the verdict of a jury of my client’s peers.
Both times, I looked over and stared at the face of a man who had placed his faith in me and in the justice system. Some might call that foolish (I might be one of them) and some might call that rolling the dice. Both times, though, I couldn’t imagine what it felt like to be him.
As any regular readers left out there know, I consider myself able to empathize with the plight of our clients, to have some insight into their world and their though processes. But this…this was a foreign emotion to me. One that I could not duplicate in my own mind.
How, I asked myself, did they have the courage to step off that elevator and into that courtroom, knowing full well that they may never walk out again into those hallways and out those doors?
Maybe my experience with the system is a curse in this regard. I’d never, never (well okay, almost never) risk a jury trial. I’ve come to the conclusion that jury trials are a crapshoot. That you’re always taking an immense risk placing your fate in the hands of 6 (or 12) strangers, who might have their own agenda and their own skewed view of the evidence. That you’re placing your fate in the hands of your lawyer, who may – with the best of intentions – pick the wrong approach to convince your jury.
Everyone knows what the consequences are of going to trial and losing. It’s called the trial tax for a reason.
I’m more convinced than ever that I’d never take that risk. That I’d probably plead to something I didn’t do to spare myself the agony of the Russian roulette that is a jury trial.
I’m sure there are many more like me. Which means there are many, many more innocent people in jail than we currently estimate.
More than anything else, though, those two moments emphasized to me the awesome responsibility we have and the seriousness with which we have to execute our duties. We can get jaded after a while, but we all need to remember that simply by representing someone we are shouldering an awesome burden: the faith of another individual and the delicate fate of their freedom and liberty. This not only means that we have to zealously advocate for them, but to them as well.
I don’t think I’d have the gumption to step off that elevator to hear a jury’s verdict. I’d probably run.