I had an opportunity to learn a life-changing lesson on diligence and thoroughness last week.
And it all centered around a piece of cocaine.
Last week, I had the experience of having my first stint of jury “service”. I say jury “service” because that’s what our area dubs what many call jury “duty”. For once, I agree with the government. It definitely IS a service when you get a check for $34.00 after two days of being off from work, stuck downtown at the courthouse and paying $12.00 in parking!
Anyway, I digress.
Like many of the other hundreds of people called in on that day, I mistakenly assumed that I’d be home by lunch time. At the latest.
However, it wasn’t too long before I realized that God might have other plans. After the first two courtrooms summoned their prospective panels, I reclined back in my chair and thought I was out of the woods. Then all of a sudden, a bailiff walked in and started calling out names and numbers for an “overflow” court. Now, for those of you like me who are unfamiliar with how our justice system sometimes work, an overflow court is normally presided upon by a visiting judge who is trying to help the rest of the judges catch up on their dockets.
Amazingly, I got picked in this random group and trotted off with 65 or so other unsuspecting souls to the courtroom. Still, I rationalized that I had a real slim chance of getting picked, just because they weren’t getting much feedback from those on the back rows (I was #46, so way in the back and next to the wall) and we had quite a few vocal characters in the place. But toward the end of the voir dire (that’s your Latin word for the day, meaning to “tell the truth”) process, I sensed in my spirit that God had a new experience for me ahead and that I’d be spending some quality time in that courtroom.
But as they started calling out the panel assignments, I started to wonder if maybe I didn’t hear that Still Small Voice correctly after all. But lo and behold, just as they were announcing juror 12 of 12, my number was called.
At first glance, it seemed to be an open-and-shut narcotics case. Man is stopped by policeman. Cocaine is allegedly discovered in man’s possession. Man goes to court, with a maximum sentence of 10 years on the line. A plus B must equal C, so the jury should have an easy decision ahead.
With the prosecution’s case revolving around one star witness, the arresting officer, it was easy to think that a guilty verdict would be simple to deal out. But as I listened to the case unfold, it became sadly apparent that this police officer had some flaws—-notably in the thoroughness and diligence department.
While we are all guilty sometimes of taking shortcuts, botching paperwork, and failing to be thorough, this officer couldn’t have picked a worse time to cut corners.
To make a long story short, he ignored pertinent details, didn’t bother to write down the names of witnesses (and potential suspects), and ignored vital evidence. What SHOULD have been an open and shut case, turned into a maddeningly annoying experience for 12 people who desperately wanted to send a career criminal back to jail, but couldn’t because the officer left us with pages of reasonable doubt left unanswered.
At the end of the trial, a man who simply could not be proven guilty went free. And yes, it was the right decision, as thank God, our justice system doesn’t revolve around “hunches” and assumptions. Was he guilty? I pray not, but only God knows. What I do know, is that there were other people at the scene of the crime, who couldn’t even be questioned, just because one man didn’t bother to take the time to write their names down on a slip of paper.
I walked away from the courthouse very somber and introspective on how much diligence matters, even in our line of work. I thought I understood that diligence was important in our daily walks of life, but this was a startling encounter with how much it is important.
After all, we never know when a little thoroughness, going the extra mile, and diligence will make all the difference in the world.