Miss Pelican's Perch

Looking at my World from a Different Place

Some Thoughts on Justice and Compassion


pencilI just returned from jury service. I was selected for a trial that lasted about three weeks. It is not important for you to know the details of the case; in fact, I find it has been exceedingly difficult for me to share the details of the case even with my friends. Let’s just say it was it was a felony and my experience of sitting through the evidence and rendering a verdict was intense.

When I finally did tell one friend about the experience, she congratulated me: “Good job!”  If I did such a good job, why to I feel so sad?

Yes, the jury did do a good job. We took the law that the judge gave to us, broke the definitions of the crimes down into their components, and then applied to those components only the facts that were given to us in the evidence phase of the proceedings.

Yes, we did our jobs, but had you been with us in the deliberation room, you would not have seen any high-fives or shoulder pats after we finalized our decision. It was somber and sad and there were tears.

I cannot speak for my fellow jurors, but the suffering of all concerned with the case fell heavily on me. The defendant ruined his life with his actions. The friends and family of all the parties have suffered and will continue to suffer for a long while.

Our culture, at least my little corner of it, has taught me that we should be compassionate and understanding. My faith tradition informs me “judge not lest ye be judged”. We live in a culture of “do-overs” and “time-outs”. So it is no wonder this experience of passing judgment on another seems so counter to my nature. I got through the deliberations and the aftermath by reminding myself: “you have followed the law, you have considered the evidence.”

That being said, the sound of the sheriff clicking the cuffs on the defendant and the look on his face at the reading of the verdict are seared into my memory.  The defendant and his attorney looked as if their guts had been kicked in. The energy of that fired across the courtroom and knocked me in the gut too.

So what did this experience teach me? Did this teach me to be more compassionate?  Or did the fact that I had to be totally objective and solely attentive to the law and the evidence hurt my ability to be compassionate?

The jury is still out on that one.

Miss Pelican (c) 2014


6 thoughts on “Some Thoughts on Justice and Compassion

  1. I don’t envy you that experience at all. I escaped jury duty because we were abroad at the time the hearing was scheduled and now I am no longer eligible to do jury service, for which I am heartily thankful. I cannot begin to imagine what you’ve been gone through – together with many others in that courtroom – and I’m sure it will weigh heavily on you for some time to come. From what I know of you, you will have carried out your duties conscientiously and as you felt was right. No one can do better than that.

  2. Like Carol I do believe you would have done your best! The inescapable truth is that from what I am hearing it was a crime that could not be resolved outside a courtroom. All cultures have mechanisms to deal with those who break fundamental laws. I suspect the harder aspect of this is knowing what this person is being sentenced too. Our society does have a good track record for dealing compassionately with people in the prison system. But you have no responsibility for that! All you and your fellow jurors could do was take in all the information and follow the processes as outlined. They are there to protect you too. Take care.

  3. What an extraordinary moral dilemma. Compassion and justice do seem at odd with each other sometimes yet we need structures and Laws that ensure justice prevails in our world. The Law is not without compassion yet, as you say, it is dispassionate and objective. Ultimately though the Law is just and fair. Without Laws our society could descend into mayhem and chaos.

    Compassion and forgiveness go hand in hand yet the Law asked you to put all that aside and to sit in judgement of another. This has caused you to question your own motives yet your deep questioning and the moral dilemma you find yourself in shows that you are a very compassionate person. On a spiritual level we are all responsible for our own actions. At this time, treat yourself with your compassion and spend time doing things that bring you feelings of peace, joy and love. You did the best you knew how in a difficult situation. You acted with fairness and integrity.

  4. I cannot imagine how hard this had to have been on everyone there. Jury duty is not a responsibility to be envied or taken lightly. But I’m sure you all did the best you could and made the decision that your collective consciences felt was best. As Traveller2006 said, “No one can do better than that.”

  5. Lori, everyone has already said such valid things. No joy in it, clearly also an experience that will require continual thoughts, and at least you fulfilled your obligations and were very careful about it all. Hard is the only word for it.

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