Clerk: We've got a note.
Me: Is it a verdict?
Me: Inaudible gasp and stomach grumble.
Despite all the trials I've done, I cannot shake the stomach grumble when I get that phone call.
The defense attorney is already in the courtroom. I walk to the prosecution's table with my co-counsel and take our seats next to the jury. The defendant is brought in and the judge emerges from chambers moments later. My thoughts drift to before the week-long trial. Before the witnesses and evidence and schedules that need to be coordinated. Before the last minute witness was found in Virginia and flown in. Before the sleepless nights and feigned composure in front of the jury. I think of one of the first lessons I learned as a trial attorney.
Don't react to the verdict, whether it's in my favor or not. This is the jury's decision. We did our best in representing the People, but it is in the hands of four men and eight women and their decision deserves respect.
Guilty means there was a measure of justice for the victim, but the defendant will now be going to state prison for a significant portion of her life for her first offense. I don't celebrate the victories because a crime just means that one person chose to act and now that choice has affected so many more lives in a negative way that it seems imprudent to revel in it.
Not guilty means the defendant leaves and avoids punishment. Even though I'm confident in her guilt, the jury may not be and that is why these people took time from their lives to serve. We asked this jury to hold us to our burden and, when they did, we failed.
The jurors amble in, six in each row. I avoid eye contact with any of them. All secrets will be revealed in moments and I have to focus on squashing that queasiness in my stomach.
Judge: Has the jury reached a verdict?
Foreperson: We have.
Judge: Will the defendant please rise. (Said like a statement, not a question). Is the verdict unanimous?
Foreperson: It is.
Clerk: In this action, the People of the State of New York vs. (omitted), on the charge of Assault in the First Degree, how do you find?
My vision is focused on a small spot on the mahogany table in front of me. There's a glass top covering it and underneath the glass it looks like something's trapped. I'm confident in the next word but can't look away from the spot.
Foreperson: Not guilty.
Three days later - Despite the consolations from co-workers and family, this will hurt for a while even though I try to detach from the emotions of these cases. I don't agree with the verdict, but if I didn't respect the choice made by the jury, a right guaranteed in the Bill of Rights, why did I swear to uphold the constitution?