Many years ago, I was picked to serve as a juror for a criminal trial. At the time, I was a young reporter who often covered trials for my local newspaper and felt the experience would help me better understand the entire process.
And I was secretly thrilled by the prospect of weighing the facts of the case and then wielding the power to help decide a person’s fate. Pretty heady stuff.
At that time, in Brooklyn state Supreme Court, jurors were not allowed to take notes during the trial, so I tried my best to stay attentive during the nearly four-day trial of three men charged with assault.
But like the two Andersen jurors who allegedly stole catnaps during the accounting firm’s recent obstruction of justice trial, I have to admit my attention sometimes wandered and I didn’t always pay strict attention to either the attorneys or the witnesses. I’d also wager that I wasn’t the only one.
So it’s no surprise that when we got back into the jury room, our disparate recollections of the trial didn’t exactly gibe, and that it took us two days, and an awful night of being sequestered in a motel room with a stranger near Kennedy Airport for us to finally decide the defendants’ fates.
And in the end, we sent to prison three men in their 20s who were most probably guilty, mainly because we all wanted to go home that night and sleep in our own beds.
From all accounts, the Andersen jury didn’t come by their verdict in a much more sophisticated fashion. And if two jurors were caught sleeping, it’s a sure bet that at least a few others were daydreaming during key testimony.
The outcome for the defendants in my trial is a loss of liberty for at least a few years of their young lives. But if they kept their noses clean and did their time, I imagine they were released back into society years ago and have hopefully gone on to more productive activities.
Andersen has no such hope for its future. Its unprecedented conviction guarantees a death sentence for the firm, and it’s entirely possible that the verdict was reached because the jurors, after hearing more about accounting in one week than they’d like to in a lifetime, just wanted to go home.
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