When Princeton historian D. Graham Burnett answered his jury duty summons, he expected to spend a few days catching up on his reading in the court waiting room. Instead, he finds himself thrust into a high-pressure role as the jury foreman in a Manhattan trial. There he comes face to face with a stunning act of violence, a maze of conflicting evidence, and a parade of bizarre witnesses. But it is later, behind the closed door of the jury room, that he encounters the essence of the jury experience — he and eleven citizens from radically different backgrounds must hammer consensus out of confusion and strong disagreement. By the time he hands over the jury’s verdict, Burnett has undergone real transformation, not just in his attitude toward the legal system, but in his understanding of himself and his peers.Offering a compelling courtroom drama and an intimate and sometimes humorous portrait of a fractious jury, A Trial by Jury is also a finely nuanced examination of law and justice, personal responsibility and civic duty, and the dynamics of power and authority between twelve equal people.From the Trade Paperback edition.
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A nonfiction account of Burnett's own experience serving in the jury of a murder trial, this book brings up some interesting ideas- a nice read if you're interested in matters of law and the justice system. The idea that merely and incredibly being citizens and alive as people somehow makes us necessary and qualified to judge someone's guilt or innocence is a cornerstone of the criminal justice system in the US, and yet makes one wonder how that comes about. Here, Burnet presents that the experience itself shapes you itself into what it needs you to be. Before, the jury members didn't really understand justice and law and how they intersect in the human world. By participating, by not allowing themselves to cow in the face of burden of justice, they began to understand.Style-wise, I think Burnett is accurate in calling himself an academe (alright, he's a snobby, unrealistic, romantic and verbose), and he often falls into the mistake of waxing poetic about the situations and shaping them mentally into tableuxs of meaning instead of letting events speak for themselves to the audience. But he doesn't make the mistake of trying to make it much more than his personal subjective interpretation and memory of his time on the jury, and for that I am glad.He himself compares it to 12 Angry Men (great movie). And while it is certainly more realistic (it is after all, reality) in its turns, it suffers in comparison, in that Burnett neglects to really flesh out the 'characters' of his fellow jurors. A verdict, after all, is not one journey, but the segment of momentary convergence of many journeys- and by neglecting to interview his fellow jurors post-trial, Burnett fails to explain the jury's reasoning. I think if he actually made more of an effort into understanding other people, this book could've been better.more