Program #0369 for Friday, September 7, 2012: Insights from Grand Jury Service

September 7, 2012

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Jaymie Stuart Wolfe: Insights from Grand Jury service

Jaymie Stuart Wolfe: Insights from Grand Jury service

Summary of today’s show: Jaymie Stuart Wolfe was called to serve on a grand jury for three months earlier this year and the experience left her with 16 distinct insights as seen through her Catholic faith into our culture and human nature. Scot Landry and Fr. Mark O’Connell discuss her unique take on a process most people will only see in TV legal dramas, but can be applied to every person’s life.

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Today’s host(s): Scot Landry and Fr. Mark O’Connell

Today’s guest(s): Jaymie Stuart Wolfe

Links from today’s show:

Today’s topics: Insights learned while serving on a grand jury

1st segment: Scot Landry and Fr. Mark O’Connell discussed the upcoming annual Red Mass and luncheon for the Catholic Lawyers Guild of Boston. Fr. Mark is the chaplain for the local guild. This year’s speaker is Rep. Chris Smith, R-New Jersey. The Red Mass is celebrated by the Cardinal at the cathedral. This year it is September 30 at 11:30am. Rep. Smith is well known within the pro-life movement.

The website with information about the Red Mass and luncheon is Catholic Lawyers Guild of Boston

2nd segment: Scot welcomed Jaymie Stuart Wolfe to the show. She works as an editor of children’s books at Pauline Books and Media and has been writing a column for The Pilot for the past 17 years.

Jaymie wrote a column in July about her experience serving on a grand jury. She said in Massachusetts grand jury is a three-month commitment, 3 to 4 days per week almost full-time. She clarified that this is a separate summons than the usual jury duty. The reason it’s such a long commitment is because it takes so long to get the members of the jury up to speed.

You are called to consider major crimes and their duty is to be a check on the government. They are a safeguard to prevent people from being railroaded on the basis of insufficient accusations. The grand jury considers the evidence of the prosecutor. There are 23 jurors and 3 more alternates. The judge does not judge reasonable doubt, but instead consider probable cause.

They only hear from the prosecutor to see their evidence. You don’t hear from the defense. Then they weigh whether it’s probable to believe that this person committed this crime. You have to connect the dots from the crime to the person. They vote to find a majority.

She said it could become heated at times, but it was cordial. One of the challenges is that evidence isn’t presented all at once, so they have to keep notebooks for weeks, hearing evidence one day and then again several weeks later. She said a bond forms among the jurors even such they’re having a reunion today. You see in the jury room interacting with people in very positive ways and not just the jurors but also the people work work in the criminal justice system.

Jaymie said the jurors can ask questions directly of the witnesses. They also came to know the assistant district attorneys very well in their work. She noted that they were in Woburn two days per week, two days per week in Lowell and in Natick once per month. One day in Lowell there was a witness who’d seen a stabbing. Her personal life was a mess, but she was there to testify for her friend and to help her out. Jaymie said the prosecutor was able to humanize the witness to the jury through her testimony.

She said about eighty percent of the cases they saw would not end up in court, but would be settled. But the success rate of convictions for those that do is over eighty percent.

In her column, Jaymie wrote about sixteen things she’s learned:

  1. If someone is a drug addict, homeless, or has been convicted of a crime, it is still possible for that person to be a victim.
  2. Sin is real. People routinely do terrible things to each other. They also tolerate terrible things being done to them for a chance to be loved.
  3. Virtue and selflessness are also real. People often come to the aid of a stranger at great personal risk.
  4. The amount of child sexual assault reported is astonishing. I can only imagine what goes unreported.

Jaymie said the first thing speaks to our perceptions of the poor and not just the materially poor. People can be victims no matter what they look like, sound like or even smell like. Fr. Mark asked about the judges or prosecutors becoming jaded. She found that they were all quite sympathetic and theorized that those who do move on to other jobs.

You do see that sin is ver real. Not every sin is a crime, but every crime involves sin. There are a lot of terrible things that go on and you may not be aware of it. We tolerate evil and disrespect because we hope for better. She said it as rare even in the rape cases that there victim didn’t know the perpetrator. But she wanted to be loved or believed it could be better.

  1. Police, prosecutors, state and federal agents, forensic interviewers, court reporters, computer experts, accountants, and lab technicians engaged in law enforcement have a high level of professionalism and dedication to their jobs. None of them gets the respect they deserve.
  2. People from intact families are far less likely to commit a crime or be the victim of one.
  3. Victims of crime are among the most courageous people you could meet.
  4. A very high percentage of criminal activity involves drugs or alcohol in some way.

Jaymie said of the 150 or so cases, she could count on one hand the number of cases that involved an intact family: a mom, dad, and children living in the same house. The breakdown of families leads people either to act out or to become victims. It puts you in jeopardy. It puts you at risk. The risk for divorce also puts you at risk for so many other things and into a world where criminal activity is so much more common.

  1. Mayhem is a felony.
  2. On the whole, bank robbers are probably the dumbest criminals.
  3. Being in the wrong place at the wrong time, or hanging out with the wrong people can cost you your life.
  4. The overwhelming majority of criminals are men, and the overwhelming majority of victims are women.

Jaymie said mayhem is injuring someone in a way that disfigures them intentionally. Slashing someone on the arm is assault and battery, but across the face is mayhem. It’s disfigurement or dismemberment.

She also said that bank robbers always get caught. There are cameras everywhere, marked bills, ink packs and more, and then you don’t get the money you think you’re going to get. They get a few hundred dollars and are caught within minutes.

Jaymie said in violent or serious crimes men are almost certainly the perpetrators and it will be a woman who is the victim. There were maybe a dozen cases where women where perpetrators and even then it was usually a joint venture crime with a man.

Fr. Mark asked about the men and women on the jury. Jaymie said there were differences were in how they got to the decisions, but they usually came to the same conclusions.

  1. Nobody wakes up one morning and rapes a child. There has to be a long line of other choices that brings a person to a day on which something like that becomes possible.
  2. People can change, but most never do.
  3. The worst day of your life can lead you to make the changes that could have prevented that day from ever happening.
  4. I have more in common with every defendant I have voted to indict than I will ever be willing to admit.

On Number 15, Jaymie said when someone is the victim of s tremendous act of violence they were in a state of mind–drunk, high, out to the early hours–that could bring them to the place where they said they want to make a change. In some domestic violence cases, some women have woken up one morning and decided that this is the rock bottom and now I’ve got to change and do something different. Some people were brought to a moment where their lives changed because they found themselves in a place they never planned to be.

On those who can change but don’t, they often saw cases involving people who were habitual criminals, who kept offending over and over again.

On the last point, under some of those circumstances that she saw which she doesn’t share in a daily basis, maybe she would act the same way or make the same decisions. She has much more in common with both criminals and victims than she has in common with God and that’s why we need confession.

Scot asked Jaymie how this has affected her faith. For her, evidence was what she heard from people. It was the compelling story someone made of the facts. When she thinks of sharing faithful she wants to be a good wittiness that testifies in a way that’s honest enough or detailed enough. She wants to be able to share what happened to her, not just her thoughts or insights about God; what God has done for her. She remembers how some victims weren’t compelling in their stories, even though they were true victims. She wanted victims to tell her how much it hurt them. One of the most compelling witnesses was a 15-year-old boy who was able to communicate clearly and without embellishment the horrific violence he saw.

It’s really easy to put up a persona and tell the story you wish was yours. Just tell your story. Scot said Pope Benedict says the beginning o the New Evangelization is not testifying, but is having a deep conversion and relationship with Christ. He suggested those to pray for the Holy Spirit to enter into a deeper relationship.

Scot noted that part of being a good homilist is being able to tell a good story. Fr. Mark said he can see the people when he preaches and the key is not just to tell a story, but to relate it in some way to every person in the church. It’s not about what the priest says, but what about the person hears and that’s up to God.

3rd segment: Now as we do every week at this time, we will consider the Mass readings for this Sunday, specifically the Gospel reading.

Thus says the LORD:
Say to those whose hearts are frightened:
Be strong, fear not!
Here is your God,
he comes with vindication;
with divine recompense
he comes to save you.
Then will the eyes of the blind be opened,
the ears of the deaf be cleared;
then will the lame leap like a stag,
then the tongue of the mute will sing.
Streams will burst forth in the desert,
and rivers in the steppe.
The burning sands will become pools,
and the thirsty ground, springs of water.

  • Gospel for the Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time, September 9, 2012 (Mark 7:31–37)

Again Jesus left the district of Tyre
and went by way of Sidon to the Sea of Galilee,
into the district of the Decapolis.
And people brought to him a deaf man who had a speech impediment
and begged him to lay his hand on him.
He took him off by himself away from the crowd.
He put his finger into the man’s ears
and, spitting, touched his tongue;
then he looked up to heaven and groaned, and said to him,
“Ephphatha!”– that is, “Be opened!” –
And immediately the man’s ears were opened,
his speech impediment was removed,
and he spoke plainly.
He ordered them not to tell anyone.
But the more he ordered them not to,
the more they proclaimed it.
They were exceedingly astonished and they said,
“He has done all things well.
He makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”

Scot said we are not called to be mute about God in our life. Jaymie said the people around this man knew him as someone who was mute, but he experienced life as someone who couldn’t hear. Jesus cures what the community sees about this man, but what they don’t see about him.

Fr. Mark noted how Jesus’ care is not generic, but it’s very personal. In other cases, Jesus just says be healed and the man is healed. Another man is only healed gradually. But in this case, the man needed to be touched by Jesus. Jesus brings people along individually. Jaymie notes how the man himself doesn’t ask because he can’t ask. He is brought to Jesus by other people.

Jaymie said Jesus might have groaned because what he saw wasn’t right, it was not in accord with the way God wanted things to be.

They discussed why Jesus might have told them not to tell anyone. Fr. Mark said elsewhere Jesus adds, “until I am risen”. Scot noted that this passage is not an excuse not to witness to God in our lives.

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