I have always found that mercy bears richer fruits than swift justice.
I was a spectator at a jury trial this week. It was my first chance to watch my lawyer son trying a case. He was prosecuting a 26-year old woman for a hit and run offense.
The accident happened last January on a busy road at about 7 p.m. The woman was driving to a friend's house, not impaired in anyway, when her car struck something. She claimed that she didn’t know she had hit a person.
The pedestrian had just left a bar intoxicated when he walked onto the dark road and was hit by her vehicle. Allegedly in shock, she drove almost two miles away, talked to three people who urged her to call 911, processed what had happened and waited for someone to accompany her back to the scene. Other drivers stopped to help the man. Rescuers arrived within minutes but they could not save him.
She was not charged with vehicular homicide, only with leaving the scene of an accident Her lawyer contended that the young woman acted out of confusion and hysteria. (She has an anxiety condition.) She explained that the 2-hour time lapse in returning to the scene was because her friend was an hour away.
In closing, my son the prosecutor showed the jury a photo of her damaged car. It looked as if something had rolled over the passenger side of the hood and into the windshield. He described the 255-pound victim who was wearing a bright red Phillies cap. How could she not have known that it was a person? Why couldn’t she stop and see what had happened?
As I watched him argue the case, I was proud of his talent as a litigator; I was rooting for him to win. But I found myself sympathetic to the plight of the accused too. Yes, she left the accident scene, most likely to save herself. I wish that the victim who walked onto the road had not suffered death, the ultimate penalty, but I struggled that she had become a victim of his bad judgment.
I was disappointed to learn that it only took the jury an hour to decide her fate. I had hoped that people would take more time to send a young woman to jail for a bad decision made in a moment of fear. She will serve 1-2 years in a state penitentiary; let's hope it will not turn out to be a life sentence of more bad choices.
Understand that I have greatly summarized this story. I agree that the jury had to find her guilty. But a lawyer friend told me that the state could have decided not to charge her in the first place. Makes you wonder what it would take for the state to take a pass on a case like this? If she had returned in 60 minutes would it have been a different story?
In a few months, my son will leave his job as a prosecutor and will begin representing the accused as a defense attorney. I will remember this trial, his righteousness in defending the expectations of society. I know he will bring the same passion to the other side of the courtroom. I hope that he doesn’t represent really evil people. I hope they will be more like this woman: flawed characters just like most of us, depending on understanding and compassion from the jury when we inevitably fail.