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Just Cause January 27, 2014

Posted by nrhatch in Fiction, People.

Wikipedia ~ Lawyer

“I don’t care what the judge said.  No way am I going to convict him.  He and his family have been through enough already.”

Charlie grabbed the pitcher and poured a glass of water, sloshing some over the side of the glass.

Swiping the water off the conference table with his hand, he continued, “I would do exactly the same thing if anyone did that to my wife.  That animal deserved to die.”

Joe jumped in.  “Even if the guy deserved it, that’s not a defense.  We can’t continue to exist as a civilized society if everyone who has a gripe against someone takes the law into his own hands . . . ”

“A gripe?!” said Allison.  “Give me a break!  That fucker raped and tortured the defendant’s wife for hours while the defendant was forced to watch.  As long as animals like that are roaming the streets, we cannot claim to be civilized.  Sam did what any decent husband would have done.   Not Guilty.”

“We can’t do that,” Steve said.  “We took an oath.  We agreed to follow the law.  You heard the judge.  We have no choice.  He’s guilty.”

“Yeah, I heard him . . . and you heard me,” said Charlie.  “I am NOT going to convict him of murder.  I don’t care if we sit in this room deliberating for the next 12 months.  You will NEVER get me to change my mind.  That fucker, as Allison put it so well, deserved to die.  That’s a sufficient defense for me.  I vote to let Sam walk out of here a free man.”

Other jurors sounded in on one side of the debate or the other.  Then Sue turned the tables by asking, “What about the psychiatric testimony?”

“What about it?”

“Well, the psychiatrist said that people can *snap* with less provocation than this, right?”

“Yeah, so?”

“Well, if Sam *snapped* that’s temporary insanity.  We could find him not guilty by reason of temporary insanity.”

“We could . . . except that Sam testified that he knew what he was doing, he knew that it was against the law, and he did it any way.”

“Yeah, Sam didn’t leave us much wiggle room.  It’s almost like he wants us to find him guilty.”

“You’ve got a point.  Maybe he feels guilty about mowing the guy down with his car as the bastard left church.”

Cal snickered, “Perfect timing for a hypocrite like that.”

“Wait.  Back up.  Didn’t the judge say we could accept or reject ANY of the testimony?”

“He sure did.”

“Even undisputed testimony?”

“Yup.  Hey . . . I see where you’re going.  If we reject Sam’s testimony that he understood what he was doing, we can conclude that he was temporarily insane at the time of the accident.”

“Exactly!  He’s not a psychiatrist . . . what does he know?”

Joe looked around the room, “You’re all determined to let this guy walk?”

Everyone nodded, except Steve.

Joe nodded in Steve’s direction, “What say you?”

“I’m not sure.  The judge expects us to find him Guilty based on the law he gave us.  But . . . ”

* * *

The Courtroom stood at silent attention as the jurors filed into the jury box.

Barney O’Grady sat at the prosecutor’s table chewing on a pencil.  Sam Williams, the defendant, stared down at his hands.   His attorney, Jack Riley, attempted to read the jurors faces.

Several jurors glanced Sam’s way.  Usually a good sign.  Not always.

After the preliminaries, the Judge looked at the foreman, “Has the jury reached a verdict?”

“We have, Your Honor.”

“What say you?”

“We, the jury, find the defendant Not Guilty.”

“So say you all?”

“So say us all.”

Aah . . . that’s better!

What say you?  Did the defendant have “Just Cause” to do what he did?  Did the Jury?


1. Rainee - January 27, 2014

The old question of mercy or justice. I wouldn’t like to make a judgement on that case!

nrhatch - January 27, 2014

It’s hard being a juror at times ~ voting our conscience can be a challenge when others don’t agree with “our view of the world.”

2. Morgan - January 27, 2014

A Great, Make-You-Think post 🙂

nrhatch - January 27, 2014

Thanks, Morgan. Just when we think we know who we are, we often have to think again. 😉

Morgan - January 27, 2014

Keeps us reinventing ourselves 🙂

nrhatch - January 28, 2014

I once did a small watercolor that said just that:

Keep Reinventing Yourself!

3. katecrimmins - January 27, 2014

I can’t even imagine where I would end up.

nrhatch - January 27, 2014

It would be a tough call for lots of people stuck in that “hot seat.”

William D'Andrea - January 27, 2014

I was thinking about present day procedures, in which judges are required to follow sentencing guidelines. I’ll have to think this over carefully before I answer about dealing with a “hanging judge”.

nrhatch - January 27, 2014

Yes, a “hanging judge” would throw a bit more heat into the jury’s deliberation . . . especially if the defendant was charged with first degree (pre-meditated) murder rather than voluntary or involuntary manslaughter.

katecrimmins - January 27, 2014

I was on a jury once for a drug trial — federal court. The guy was guilty for sure but the police botched the evidence and we didn’t convict him. The whole jury agreed as to the guilt but we stayed with the instructions given us. I don’t know what would have happened if we had one ring leader in the jury (that’s all it takes) who tried to talk us into a guilty verdict. No saying what would have happened.

nrhatch - January 27, 2014

That’s an interesting scenario, Kate. I’d probably be OK with letting someone go under those circumstances. But if a rapist or murderer were going to walk free because the police botched the evidence, that would be far harder for me.

I’d probably be willing to ignore the “letter of the law” and find the rapist/murderer “Guilty” (unless the police acted in a reprehensible or egregious manner with flagrant disregard for the defendant’s rights).

4. William D'Andrea - January 27, 2014

Thank you for this very good short story, which gives people some very important things to think about.
I believe that the proper verdict would be for the defendant to be found guilty, with the jury’s recommendation of leniency in sentencing.

nrhatch - January 27, 2014

Would your answer change if the judge, let’s call him “Hang ’em high, Harry” was prone to sentencing ALL defendants convicted of first-degree murder to the Death Penalty?

5. Carol Balawyder - January 27, 2014

I tend to lean with Willian D’Andrea on this. Of course, what he did was an act that many would do out of rage but to be found not guilty opens doors to revenge as a defense, which I think can be dangerous. Leniency in sentencing sends a more civil message.
Your short story sure gets the reader’s attention.

nrhatch - January 27, 2014

Thanks for your thoughtful response, Carol. We have, in large part, moved away from “vigilante justice.” Most of us view that as a step in the right direction. Offering “revenge” as a defense could be dangerous.

Glad the story grabbed your attention. Thanks for weighing in.

6. ericjbaker - January 27, 2014

I’m still wondering why Sam’s lawyer let him testify.

nrhatch - January 27, 2014

A. Sam insisted on testifying
B. To sway the jury with Sam’s sincerity
C. Public defender . . . you get what you pay for
D. To share Sam’s “state of mind” during the home invasion
E. Other

Take your pick.

ericjbaker - January 27, 2014

E. Other

Sam is an evil shape-shifing alien whose master plan involves getting up on the witness stand and declaring dominion over the Earth.

(Notice how I’m avoiding answering the question you posed).

To answer (without getting to see Sam in person, which would make this a lot harder): I think the obligation of a juror is to follow the rule of law and not let emotion take over when deliberating. If we decide to let Sam get away with vigilante justice because it feels good, we might as well not have a legal system. Anyway, in this scenario, it will be a hung jury, won’t it?

nrhatch - January 27, 2014

No, no hung jury . . . Joe and Steve caved (voted with the majority) because they didn’t feel like hanging around for 12 months to try and change Charlie’s mind.

You are correct ~ the sworn obligation of a juror is to follow the rule of law and not let emotion take over when deliberating. Of course, most people ARE swayed by their emotions on a daily basis. Human beings are overflowing with human feelings.

I love your Sci-Fi twist on the story ~ a shape shifting alien who plans to declare dominion over the Earth. :mrgreen:

7. Eric Tonningsen - January 27, 2014

Just what I needed as I prepare to commence Grand Jury duty on February 11th….

nrhatch - January 27, 2014

You’ll do great, Eric. The burden of proof on the prosecutor in Grand Jury hearings is MUCH LESS than in Criminal Trials. And the defense is not present and cannot put on ANY evidence to “muddy the waters.”

All you need to decide is whether there is a prima facie case to go before a jury. Easy peasy. (But often a very time consuming commitment since some Grand Juries remain sworn for up to 6 months at a time).

Good luck!

8. Andra Watkins - January 27, 2014

I hope I don’t have to do this any time soon. It made my brain hurt.

nrhatch - January 27, 2014

OUCH! Hope your brain pain does’t end up a migraine. That would be bad. 😐

9. Grannymar - January 27, 2014

I have only served on jury duty once, thankfully it was nothing like this. It is difficult to know how we would feel on a real jury for this case. If it were a daughter of mine that had been so defiled, I would want to kill the perpetrator.

nrhatch - January 27, 2014

I expect many would feel the same ~ especially if the perpetrator had “gotten off” due to some technicality. I know I would not want to see him walking down the street or shopping in my grocery store.

10. Three Well Beings - January 28, 2014

I have jury duty later this year, postponed from December. I don’t mind serving, but I would just hate a trial like this one. I think I can uphold the law, by voting guilty in the case of someone taking the law into their own hands, but it would be painful to do so. I hope I’m never in that position. The last time I served it was a hung jury. I think that this kind of a case might certainly end without a decisive decision.

nrhatch - January 28, 2014

I hope you do not have to sit on a case with sticky or painful issues, Debra. My younger brother served on a 3-week long criminal case in Colorado which took an emotional toll on the jury. In some jurisdictions, jurors are offered counseling to help them process their emotions.

It’s interesting the difference a day makes. Yesterday, I was leaning toward letting Sam walk. Today, I’m swinging the other way, thinking that a guilty verdict is the way to go.

11. Pix Under the Oaks - January 28, 2014

It’s early in the morning for this one… but I believe I would find him guilty with leniency in sentencing.

nrhatch - January 28, 2014

That’s the way I’m leaning this morning, Pix. Yesterday, I was all set to set Sam free.

12. jannatwrites - January 28, 2014

This is a tough one. While I can understand why Sam would feel justified in his actions because the f**ker was a scumbag, I’m not convinced that a loss of control should go unpunished. Good thing I don’t have to make this decision for real!

nrhatch - January 28, 2014

You and me both, Janna. Encouraging vigilante justice is apt to end up with more casualties than necessary. Just think of the Hatfields and McCoys.

13. Booksphotographsandartwork - January 29, 2014

I say you have the right to to kill in a situation like that. He did society a great favor. There was no question about who did that to his wife. When we know with complete certainy it should be handled that way. He did what any husband would want to do and has a right to do. I also think it would help a person move on with life if that would even be possible.

nrhatch - January 29, 2014

I’m not sure that I want to go so far as to say it “should” be handled this way . . . but I would have a hard time condemning a man to death or life imprisonment for doing what Sam did.

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