by David Sisler

"Your Honor, we, the members of the jury, find the defendant guilty. Seven of us find him guilty as charged, three of us find him guilty as they come and two of us find him guilty as sin."

The late Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black told a story about a sharecropper who had been charged with stealing his landlord's mule. The landlord was universally despised, but the evidence against the defendant was overwhelming. The jury returned with their verdict in only five minutes.

"We, the jury, find the defendant not guilty, provided that he returns the mule," the clerk read.

The judge angrily replied, "There is no such verdict in the law. The defendant is either guilty or not guilty. Please retire and return with a lawful verdict."

The panel was back five minutes later. The clerk read, "We, the jury, find the defendant not guilty. He can keep the mule."

I've heard dozens of stories like those, watched the original CBS broadcasts of "Perry Mason," and the endless reruns. Someday I may even watch "Matlock"--if he ever changes his suit. I look forward to each new novel by John Grisham. But none of that prepared me for the realities of serving on a jury.

Along with about 50 of my fellow citizens, I answered "Present" when my name was called and took my place to be examined as a potential juror for criminal court. I answered in the affirmative when I took my oath, but there were many negatives before I reached that point in the proceedings--no parking, no waiting room, and no directions.

My summons was for 10 a.m. When I arrived at the courthouse at 9:30, the closest parking place was almost two blocks away. It was a sunny day, and I enjoyed the walk, but two days later when I reported for a possible second selection, it was raining, and once again there were no parking places at the Court House. Since there are no parking spaces reserved for jurors, why don't the "powers-that-be" provide a shuttle service from the infamous (and empty) down-town parking garage.

We signed in and were told to wait, but there was no jury waiting room. There is a lawyers' waiting room, but there were no lawyers waiting in it. If the lawyers do not wish to use the room, several elderly prospective jurors would have enjoyed the comfortable-looking chairs.

Once we signed in, we were told to go into the courtroom and have a seat. At the door, were told, "You can't come in here yet, wait outside." The folks out in the hall and the folks back in the courtroom should compare notes in advance and read from the same page (that advice would also apply to several prosecution witnesses, but before those remarks are found to be incompetent, irrelevant and immaterial, I will withdraw the objection).

Eventually, twelve of us were impaneled and we were sworn in as jurors, promising to render a true verdict, based solely on the evidence presented. And we did. His Honor thanked us and told us to report back in the morning for possible selection for another case.

We've all heard it, in the American judicial system, a defendant is innocent until proven guilty. The judge instructed us that the defendant comes to court, wrapped in that cloak of innocence and that the state must prove guilt, beyond any reasonable doubt. The jury, we were charged, cannot return a verdict of innocent, only guilty or not guilty.

And that brings to my mind, the occasion when I was brought before the Judge.

I stood that day guilty--guilty as charged, guilty as they come, guilty as sin. But my Attorney was the Judge's only Son. And my Advocate had already paid the penalty for my transgression with His own blood. The Judge looked at me through that precious blood and said, "David Sisler, I find you innocent, because of my well-beloved and only-begotten Son." The Judge dismissed the case and set me free.

If the verdict is still out on your eternal case, use my Lawyer. And then thrown yourself on the mercy of the Court.


Published in the Augusta Chronicle 4/8/95

Copyright 1995 by David Sisler

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