Beyond a Reasonable Doubt

by kittisak freedigitalphotos.net

by kittisak freedigitalphotos.net

Well, I had an interesting week. I was impaneled on a jury for a criminal case, and was also selected as the forewoman for that jury. (Before you get too impressed, I was chosen at random).

Each of us on the jury listened intently, not only to all of the evidence presented in the case, but also to the words of the judge, who continually stressed to us that in order to arrive at a guilty verdict, we had to be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant did  indeed commit the crime for which he was accused. The judge went on to say that while most people know what beyond a reasonable doubt means, it is a difficult concept to actually explain.

Not surprisingly, my thoughts turned to obsessive-compulsive disorder. As we know, doubt is what fuels the fire of OCD, so much so that it is often known as the doubting disease.  OCD sufferers need that certainty; they need to know they locked the door, or didn’t run someone over, or didn’t say the wrong thing. And if they’re not sure? Well, they’ll just check again. And so the vicious cycle begins. I don’t have OCD, so this is not typically an issue for me. Sitting on that jury, however, with someone’s fate in my hands, I felt my palms start to sweat, and the weight of the world on my shoulders. How can I be sure?

Then it hit me. I can’t be sure. That’s why the judge didn’t say, You have to be sure. Instead he said we had to be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt. There is very little we can be sure of in this world. Everything can be questioned. I assume the sun will rise tomorrow morning, but I don’t know that for sure.

In the end, our verdict was not guilty. While we each had a gut feeling the defendant committed the crime, there was just not enough evidence that allowed any of us to be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt.

I left the courthouse feeling uneasy, and only later realized why. Uncertainty. Did we make the right decision? How will I ever know….for sure?

I won’t.

And so, just as those with OCD need to do, I consciously chose to feel the anxiety, accept the uncertainty of the situation, and go on with my life.

Isn’t that all any of us can, and should, do?

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14 Responses to Beyond a Reasonable Doubt

  1. What an interesting experience and an unexpected way to gain an insight into how the anxiety of OCD feels. I’m sure I would find being on a jury pure torture!

    • It was interesting, Helen, and was actually my second time chosen for a jury. When they were choosing jurors, I did think how difficult it might be for someone with OCD, and also wondered if any OCD sufferers have ever asked to be excused (the judge talks to everyone privately and asks if there is any reason they feel they should not be on the jury). I also thought what a great exposure exercise it could be! Thanks for your comment.

  2. My partner committed a crime and he is guilty but like your experience the evidence isn’t adding up because proper policy was not followed by the police and prosecuting lawyer so his case was dismissed. It throws off my sense of right and wrong.

    It sounds like you had some unique insight into OCD. It makes me think that some of us probably have a few experiences that can match up with certain disorder experiences. I know I’ve often told people to think of their worst emotional day and then imagine feeling that every day to try and understand what chronic depression was like for me.

    Thanks for sharing!

    • Hi Kristen, Yes! That’s exactly what happened with this case. If the prosecutor had done even a half-decent job, we would have been able to convict the defendant. But we had to deal with the evidence we were presented with.
      I also agree that almost all of us have experiences similar to those with certain “disorders.” It’s the frequency and intensity that differ. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Sounds like an intense experience, but a valuable one, Janet. I can imagine how difficult that would be to make decisions like that. I cover the courts for the newspaper, so I’ve attend multiple jury trials. I remember the commonwealth’s attorney telling the jury that “beyond a reasonable doubt” is not the same as “beyond all doubt.” You’re right–how can anything be truly beyond all doubt, for sure?

    I’ve never served on a jury. Even though I’ve been a registered voter since I was 18, I have only been called once, to serve on the grand jury on the federal court in Lynchburg. I wrote a letter to the judge asking to be excused, not for OCD, but because I do cover the courts and neither the prosecution nor the defense would want me on a jury, most likely. I got excused. But I wonder how my OCD would have affected me if I had been on a jury?

  4. Wiggle Worm says:

    This is an interesting perspective…and I think it also shines light on the differences between different people with the same disease…When I was deep into OCD (as in sometimes struggling to eat and drink or really do anything that didn’t involve soap and standing at the sink), I might have struggled with being on a jury, but it would have been for a totally different reason (besides the fact that being around strangers could turn into a huge germ nightmare). I have always had a very deep sense of right and wrong from looking at evidence…Especially then when so much else was out of control, given even a minute amount of evidence I was very quick to place my opinion on if someone was in the wrong or who was in the wrong…but actually telling anyone I thought that the person was guilty would have been the hard part for me, because my sense of responsibility and taking care of people would make it extremely difficult for me to express anything that would cause the guilty party to suffer…No matter how badly I or someone else is hurt, my instinct is to protect everyone rather than to punish for wrongs…and that sense was especially strong when I was fighting to get through the day, because it was so evident how hard even little changes could make someone’s life and I didn’t want to make anyone else suffer…So yeah, all that to say, I really liked reading your perspective.

    • Thanks for sharing your perspective, Wiggle Worm, and as you say, it’s really interesting how OCD can attack different areas in different people. Being on a jury and having a heightened sense of responsibility would not be an easy mix!

  5. 71 & Sunny says:

    So this is ironic, Janet, because when discussing my fears with my psychologist, she would only accept proof that would be strong enough to stand up in a court of law. She would use those specific words all the time. If I couldn’t prove it, then I was not allowed to accept the fear as an absolute truth.

  6. Nancy N. Palmquist says:

    We’ve just had an unpleasant afternoon based on this very problem. Our daughter needed to rent a car because hers needs to go to the shop, but her OCD tells her the rental car is DIRTY (because who knows what has gone on in the car!). She wanted to borrow her dad’s car and I was put in the very uncomfortable spot of pointing out that if we accommodated her that we would be feeding her OCD. She even has rental car insurance, so money was not the issue here. She agreed that it was her OCD talking. (and let me say OCD will try all sorts of arguments when thwarted). She went through an intensive out patient program last year but didn’t really embrace it completely (and didn’t mesh with the therapist) and hasn’t practiced in an organized way since. The uncertainty about how clean the car would be and even how clean her dad’s car or her husband’s car would be made her a very angry person today when we wouldn’t acquiesce. This is the very crux of the whole thing.

    • Hi Nancy, Thanks for sharing and I’m so sorry you’re daughter (and you) are having a tough time dealing with her OCD. Kudos to you for not enabling her! I know it can be so difficult; you are obviously committed to helping her fight her OCD. I wish you both all the best.

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