Perhaps my regular readers have noticed there hasn’t been a new post by me for two weeks. If not, you guys need to pay closer attention. I mean, come on! It’s been two weeks!
Well, there is a good reason for my absence: I had jury duty.
This was the third time Ramsey County, MN found the need for my services. When I received the summons, I said to my wife, “Ah, man. Can’t they pick on someone else?”
This tour of jury duty was even more special than my previous stints. This one lasted nearly two weeks. Normally, Ramsey County only requires citizens to give up a week of their lives, unless you end up on a jury and the trial extends past that week. Which is what happened this time. (It could have been worse. A fellow juror had once served on a trial that lasted six weeks!)
This was a civil case. A man was suing his attorney for legal malpractice, alleging negligence in drafting a stock sale agreement. It was a complicated case with loads of emails to sift through. But, it was more interesting than you might think. We found in the plaintiff’s favor.
As in my previous jury duty stints, I got to thinking about Sidney Lumet’s 12 Angry Men (1957). This classic jury room drama stars Henry Fonda as Juror #8, who, at first, stands as the lone not guilty vote in a murder case requiring the death penalty. The film shows us how #8 gradually brings the other jurors to his side.
Oh, he didn’t necessarily think the 18 year-old man on trial was innocent of the murder of his father as the deliberations began, he just thought the jurors should discuss the case and not return such a quick verdict. It did seem cut and dried once all the evidence had been presented, but he just didn’t feel right sending a young man to the chair without talking about it first. So, he said, “Not guilty.”
He expressed having a problem with the quality of the court-appointed attorney the young man had as a defender. Juror #8 thought the attorney let too many things slip by without really questioning them. A lawyer should fight tooth and nail for a client facing the death penalty. He thought the accused should have asked for another lawyer.
With his position made known to the other jurors, it was decided that each of the 11 for guilty would take a minute or two to discuss why they believed the young man killed his father. (This was a nice way to catch the audience up on the particulars of the case.) Most of the jurors get a chance to speak, until some came in out of turn with other comments.
Still the case was laid out. A fight between the father and son was heard earlier in the evening, later another fight was heard. This time the son was heard shouting, “I’m going to kill you!” The downstairs neighbor heard the boy shout that threat and then heard a body hit the floor and someone immediately run out of the apartment; then the neighbor saw the accused running down the stairs. A neighbor in the apartment across the street actually saw the young man stab his father and run away.
When the boy returned home much later that night, he found the police in his apartment. He claimed to have been at the movies when the murder occurred. But, in his father’s chest was a switchblade knife that was identical to the one the poor young fellow was known to possess. A knife that was considered to be unique with a curvy blade and a handle with an inlay of a dragon. A knife which he claimed to have lost through a hole in his pocket.
OK, I’m convinced. The kid killed his father.
Except, that knife was not as unusual as the jurors were led to believe. Juror #8 stood and pulled from his pocket a knife that was identical to the murder weapon. It would be incredible to think that someone else had killed the man with an identical knife, but as the dissenting juror pointed out it was possible. The first inkling of reasonable doubt?
It was a dramatic moment, but the other jurors were unconvinced. Juror #8 conceded that he didn’t intend hang the jury. He made a bargain. He asked for another vote, this one secret, with him abstaining. If there were still 11 votes for guilty, he would go along with the group.
The vote was taken. One man changed his vote…
I won’t go into the plot any further. If you haven’t seen this film, I want you to enjoy the way it unfolds. (Yes, I know I’ve already indicated how it comes out, but how good a movie would it be if the jury was hung or found the kid guilty?)
The acting throughout is really good. These actors are all up to the task. Going around the table from Juror #1: Martin Balsam, John Fiedler, Lee J. Cobb, E. G. Marshall, Jack Klugman, Edward Binns, Jack Warden, Henry Fonda, Joseph Sweeney, Ed Begley, George Voskovec, and Robert Webber. There isn’t a bad performance put in by any of these talented men.
Two cool things to point out about this movie:
1) As the jurors make their way into the jury room, we get to listen in on snippets of conversations as they make their way to their seats. If you watch closely, you will noticed it is all done in one shot. The actors and the camera all make their way around the room seamlessly. I had watched this movie a dozen times before I noticed the scene was one long take.
2) When Juror #10 (Ed Begley) gets particularly angry, he goes on a racist tirade. That’s not cool, but the way the other jurors respond is. They act like mature adults. They don’t shout him down or beat him up. They turn their backs. They simply move away and wait for him to lose steam.
12 Angry Men is a brilliant film and ought to be required viewing for all prospective jurors (and everyone else for that matter).
In the real world, this would have been a mistrial. Read no further, if you don’t want a big spoiler.
A friend explained this to me and my recent jury duty confirmed it. Jurors aren’t supposed to do any investigation of their cases. They are to solely decide the case on the evidence and testimony presented at trial.
So, what does Juror #8 do? Just after he produced the knife, he admitted to walking through the boy’s neighborhood, getting a feel for it. It was there where he found and bought the knife. Folks, that would be considered investigating and that’s is a no-no.
OK, so he investigated? So, what?
None of the other jurors are going say anything. Heck, none of them even mentioned he violated the rules of the court. Only one pointed out that he broke the law by purchasing a switchblade knife, and that notion was pretty much just shrugged off.
The thing is the dunderheads left the second knife in the jury room! The bailiff, after escorting the men to the courtroom to give their verdict, would have returned to the deliberation room to clean up. He would have found the second knife and reported it to the judge and the jurors would be brought back in to explain its presence.
“So, Juror #8 did some investigating, did he? Mistrial!”
Oh well, the movie world isn’t the real world.
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Warehouse Find is the official blog of NostalgiaZone.com, where you can find books, games, toys, cards, and a huge selection of Golden, Silver, Bronze, and Modern Age comic books. Jim also has a podcast called Dimland Radio. He’d love it if you checked it out. It’s available on iTunes.