Wednesday, January 13, 2016

What We Don't Know

If you have never served on a jury you probably did not know that many things–truths that could be factored into the collective decision of twelve strangers–is, more often than not, prohibited from being told to said jury. In other words, actual facts can be withheld so that the twelve strangers must reach a verdict based only on limited truths, and semi-complete information that is missing large chunks of real usable details.

Years ago I was a juror in a civil case. The plaintiff was suing an individual’s insurance company for damages and lost income due to a fender bender. The plaintiff’s case was based on photos of the accident, a video report by a chiropractor who claimed the plaintiff had back injuries, a witness who claimed the plaintiff had indeed missed some work and a few heavily redacted 1040s. 

The plaintiff was self-employed as a massage therapist. Being self-employed myself at the time I was familiar with the inherent opportunity of someone who sets his/her own schedule so this bit of evidence was not enough to persuade me that the plaintiff was missing work because of pain. But I just didn’t know either way.

Based on what we were given, we, the jury, were sent into a room to deliberate. It was late in the day so we talked a bit and then were ordered to return the next morning to finish. 

The next day we tossed things out among ourselves. We studied the photo and most of us concluded the damage seemed pretty lame to be claiming major personal injury but who among us was qualified to determine such a thing? The chiropractor seemed a bit smarmy but there was nothing to counter his statement–he was the ‘expert” witness. I put in my two cents, which was only opinion, not fact, regarding the witness testimony about self employment. 

In the end we found for the defendant who was represented by the insurance company’s attorney. But it wasn’t the body of evidence alone that we were provided on which we determined our verdict. 

The morning we returned to the courthouse one juror said he had something to share that he had witnessed in the parking lot coming in that morning. He said we would all have to agree it was okay for him to tell us. We agreed. He said, as he was parking, he saw the plaintiff pulling in driving a brand new $90,000 car. Now the plaintiff had painted a picture that he was on his last leg financially and that he could not work because of his injuries. 

With the fresh information we looked once again at the evidence with a keener perspective and came to our conclusion. In fact, based on the process of law, this juror’s eye witness encounter should not have been allowed to influence us. That it made a huge difference in the pertinent knowledge base was irrelevant in the confines of the law but a truth that did matter to us, the jury.

About a year later, I was entering a building on my way to an appointment when a nice man opened the door for me. We recognized each other immediately. He was the attorney for the defendant. In the few moments that we had to talk we hashed the case over and he revealed that the plaintiff had a jaded past of causing small accidents then suing the insurance companies which usually settled to avoid the cost of litigation. But finally, having done this once too often, the insurance company said no more! However, this very real history of the plaintiff’s previous cases was not allowed to be entered into the trial. 

The argument is that regardless how many times he might have lied, this time it might be the truth and the decision must be based only on the evidence presented by both parties. Thus the defendant’s attorney was more or less limited to challenging only the evidence that could be seen.

In our brief encounter there wasn’t time to go into all the details so I didn’t mention the juror’s observation in the courthouse parking lot. It was moot anyway. Clearly justice had found its voice that time. This is not always the way jury trials end though. 

Telling this story is a round about way to make the point–for the lack of verity, we are often undermined by falsehood. What is actual is very often just beneath the surface. If we take everything at face value we risk not finding out what is genuinely true about anything. How then can we know when we are being manipulated or on a collision course before we find out it’s too late to hit reverse? 

There’s not much we can do about the protocols of the justice system but there are many areas of our lives where we can choose to be more discerning–or not, in the news we ingest, the leaders we trust to tell us the truth, both secular and religious, the books we read and the icons we give our allegiance and respect to, the ‘polls’ and statistics we never question.

They say the devil is in the details. The nature of the devil is to confuse/blind you so that you are veered away from the truth itself and so I say the devil hides the details so you cannot know what is true and what is false. 

This seems to be the common theme in this reprobated age. I have often referred to this as The Matrix where what is true rarely matters anymore–only illusion and what we think we see. The tip of the iceberg, so to speak, is all we care to know.

Here’s the catch–what you don’t know, can’t or refuse to see, might ultimately be the very thing that sinks you. 

For Him,

Just because something isn't a lie does not mean that it isn't deceptive. A liar knows that he is a liar, but one who speaks mere portions of truth in order to deceive is a craftsman of destruction. ~ Criss Jami


  1. Thank you for sharing your story, perspective and the quote.