Not Guilty

A couple weeks ago I heard some profound and beautiful words. Not Guilty. In fact, I heard them five times as the clerk read each of the five counts facing my client and the jury foreman responded to each one. 1st degree robbery. Not Guilty. Conspiracy to commit 1st degree robbery. Not Guilty. Felony Assault. Not Guilty. Robbery. Not Guilty. Conspiracy to commit robbery. Not Guilty.

I can’t really convey how it feels to sit next to someone, inches away from someone, as they wait to find out if they will spend the next decade in prison or if they will be going home that day. As the jury foreman spoke, the tension in my client’s body melted into pure joy. Gratitude towards these strangers, relief from this nightmare. I looked back at his family and saw people experiencing a profound relief that can only be felt by those preparing for a grave outcome.

I think about issues relating to criminal justice every day but a trial is something special. So few cases go to trial and when they do, the beauty of twelve citizens sitting in judgment over their fellow citizen is on full display. The jury heard five days worth of testimony and listened to opening statements and closing arguments from the attorneys. They listened intently, took notes, and undoubtedly grasped the seriousness of their responsibility. I can only imagine that most grimaced when they received their summons for jury service and I know that a couple even attempted to convince the judge to excuse them. But when called upon to serve, these fourteen citizens (two jurors become alternates) sat through the testimony of two Providence Police Department detectives, a patrolman, two eyewitnesses, two alleged victims, two medical professionals and two co-defendants. The jurors assessed the credibility of those witnesses, applied their own common sense and life experiences to what they heard, listened to the attorney’s summations and debated and deliberated with each other. After deliberating for almost five hours, they rendered a unanimous verdict of Not Guilty.

After being denied bail and spending a life changing eight months at the ACI awaiting trial, the sheriffs removed the handcuffs from my client’s wrists, opened the cage into which he was locked, and buzzed open the door to his freedom. He walked out of that courthouse with his family and his girlfriend who had sat there in support of him every day. No handcuffs, no probation, no restrictions. Not Guilty.