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Call of Duty: Weebles Wobble Part 1

April 5, 2023

By this time you are surely aware of the trial of the person who, with malice aforethought, so hobbled a group of Weebles that they literally fell down.

This was no insignificant hobble. Everyone knows Weebles wobble but they DON’T fall down.

I got called for jury duty and selected to a group of 14 from a sub-group of 30 of a main group in excess of 200. The final selection was made by some system of choice between the defense attorney (Mary Payson) and the prosecuting attorney (Francine Ferter). The selection process was a mystery (to me anyway). There were only several questions asked of each candidate, the main one (in my opinion) was whether we could be impartial based on the ghastly charges being considered. The legal presumption of everyone must be that the defendant is innocent until proven guilty.

It is almost a mantra of mine that I do not presume. Presumptuous people are (in my opinion) insufferable. According to Merriam-Webster, presumptuous means:

overstepping due bounds (as of propriety or courtesy): taking liberties

In a legal sense, to presume is to “suppose to be true without proof.” Again from Merriam-Webster, presumption is legally required. With good reason. In the legal world, consequences are significant and lasting. Further, in the legal world, one premise is presumed over another. We must presume INNOCENCE until proven otherwise.

Sitting through voir dire in the winnowing of a group of people to serve on a jury, one filter was that those chosen must be able to make that presumption. I was surprised at the number of people in a cohort of forest neighbors that could not do that. They declared, by their own admission, in a public forum, they could not be impartial in the issue at hand. There is a lingering aftertaste for me in this.

I work as hard as I can to avoid being presumptuous in my daily life. I’m sure I fall short, but it is ever-present in my mind. That means presuming people who speak to me are telling the truth. That people who deal with me are being fair and honest. Things that deviate from what is right and honest are mistakes, not lies. I’m cautious and often suspicious, but I try not to presume the worst. I saw a significant group of people who heard charges but could apparently not separate accusation from guilt. Presumed the worst without evidence.

I wrote several years ago in the Forest Press about a summons for jury duty. It was canceled before I ever got to voir dire. I considered it, at the time, not a bullet dodged but, rather, an opportunity missed. That duty has come around again and I will find myself sitting on a jury weighing a person’s future against facts presented in a court of law. I presume the defendant is innocent, as required by my duty as a juror. As I write this, the trial is still in the future. I’m contemplating only the duties of a juror.

In the years between my two calls to duty, there were two presidential impeachments, which are different examples of similar legal dynamics. A whole senate, a body of 100 people, is specified as jury. At the time, I found things appalling. The accused was entitled to the same presumption of innocence as any defendant in any trial. However, many in this body of jurors announced, in advance of the trial, that they were not going to convict. They had no intention of listening to the evidence presented in the trial. They ASSUMED innocence. They tried to prevent the trial as unconstitutional, despite historical precedent. Some coordinated trial preparations with the White House.

I’m not commenting on the results of Mr. Trump’s impeachments. I’m commenting on the conduct of those called to the duty of juror. The kind of assumption of innocence I perceived cannot possibly be what was intended when the idea of trial by jury was conceived. Innocence should only be presumed until conclusively proven one way or the other in a court of law. Proof must be determined on the basis of evidence. Never in spite of it. Or the absence of it.

What I saw in the lead-up to the first impeachment trial of Donald Trump was a considerable number of jurors publicly declaring that they could not (would not) be impartial. Then they proceeded to serve on that trial. The matter was thus decided before they even heard (or ignored) evidence. They ASSUMED.

I’m not out to re-litigate that decision. It is decided. I just have a hard time reconciling it with what I understand to be the duty of impartial service on a jury, presuming the innocence of the defendant UNTIL proven one way or the other. The word UNTIL indicates that at a point, innocence will be proven or disproven. A significant number of U.S. senators stood before America and stated in advance that they ASSUMED innocence regardless of proof. Before a trial even started. No jeopardy.

After the trials, senators who heard the evidence and voted to convict were formally censured by their own party. Imagine this on a micro level. People who think alike are ASSUMED innocent. Imagine being censured by your neighbors for finding someone guilty in a court of law, even if that defendant was not convicted. Innocence by association. People can defend this mindset in any light they choose. I could never embrace such an approach to so sacred a duty. A responsibility accepted under oath. So help me God.

I have now, in the forest, heard a second call of duty. I will soon sit in a forum to answer that call. I presume the accused Weeble hobbler is innocent. I will hear witnesses and evidence and weigh them against reasonable doubt.

I used a lighthearted example of crime and fictitious attorney names in this article not to diminish the process but to respect the privacy of everyone involved and focus on the call to jury duty. I will share in deliberation and decide, with eleven peers of the accused, between guilt and innocence; Replace presumption with decision to the extent the legal system can do that. Then I will consider my duty fulfilled. I discuss my experience in part 2.

Lessons from the Impeachment Trials of President Donald J. Trump

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