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Nina in New York: Justice Fatigue

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Empty jury box

Empty jury box. (AP photo)

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A young professional’s take on the trials and tribulations of everyday life in New York City.
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By Nina Pajak

So, it’s been two days now since the Casey Anthony acquittal. I can’t say I’m surprised, though I will admit to being disappointed.

I’ve been obsessed with this case since the beginning, like many, and rather convinced of her guilt, like many. All signs and stories seemed to point to her being a liar and possibly some sort of sociopath. The evidence made public was sickening and painted a pretty undeniable picture, and to be totally honest I’m pissed that this woman is now free to go off and procreate again.

But the fiasco that is the Dominique Strauss-Kahn case has made me realize a few things. First, none of us is above succumbing to a mob mentality. And what’s presented to us in the press is clearly not always the full story, nor does it give the proper perspective to allow someone to formulate an actually educated conclusion. Of course, some have taken the DSK mess as an opportunity to praise “the American way” of “innocence until proven guilty,” and I don’t think now is quite the best time to go patting ourselves on the backs for our brilliant justice concept. We still hang people in the media coverage first, and when that backfires we go cuddling up with “innocent until proven guilty.” I’m not saying I necessarily think the guy isn’t a creep anymore, but we sure do have oeuf on our faces.

Anyway, it is easy to forget why the system is in place. And it’s hard to force ourselves to keep it in mind when reading stories like these, which are highly emotional and seem to take on some personal meaning for many people watching. A good villain is a good story. And once you set that stage, it’s tempting to let the facts fall the way you want, whether you’re a journalist or a reader. I read about these cases and I quickly get fired up, ready to take a stand. It’s tough to admit that I just don’t really know what I think I know, no matter how strongly I feel. And I’m just a bystander. The pressure to be a juror in the Anthony case must have been monumental, not to mention incredibly frustrating. If I’d been a juror, I imagine watching the defense lawyer trot out every sleazeball trick to cast misgivings on his client’s guilt—and knowing it was working—would have made me want to punch him in the face. But doubt is doubt even if it’s a sliver, I suppose.

A few years ago, I served on a jury for two weeks. I remember feeling overcome by the realization of how arbitrarily composed a jury panel can be. Thankfully our case was a civil one so no one was facing actual death, but our decision affected the lives of the people involved in no small way. And yet to my recollection, most of us were selected based on a few cursory questions about what sorts of publications we regularly read (uh, Don’t Pick Me magazine?). It took no more than fifteen minutes to go from Nina to Juror #6. I barely had a moment to think, let alone deliver my fake racist rant.

We did our best to make a fair judgment, and looking back I continue to think that we succeeded. But it still comes down to the fact that we were a bunch of randomly selected strangers with varying levels of understanding for the proceedings, varying abilities to argue and debate and communicate our thoughts. I suppose it’s fair, mostly because it’s what everybody gets. It seems like an awfully delicate arrangement to me. And it becomes downright brittle when you throw in a media frenzy, a peanut gallery filled with looky loos and tabloid-hound Floridians with too much time on their hands, a couple of desperate lawyers and a beautiful dead child and her beautiful, young, mean mommy. I don’t see how justice could ever truly be served in that environment.

I don’t know if anything that’s happened in either the DSK or Anthony case is enough to change my mind. But maybe next time I won’t make up my mind so quickly. When all is said and done, I’m just grateful that I have another few years of reprieve before I’m eligible for jury duty again.

That’ll give me plenty of time to work up the perfect fake anarchist diatribe.

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Dear Readers: While I am rarely at a loss for words, I’m always grateful for column ideas. Please feel free to e-mail me your suggestions.

Nina Pajak is a writer and publishing professional living with her husband on the Upper West Side.

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