ONE of my lifetime aspirations is to be on a jury. Someday I'd like to perform my civic duty, instead of simply reading about the outcome of a trial in the newspaper. Yet for some reason, I've never been asked to serve. Go figure.
Jurors need to
dig deep for the truth
Perhaps it's just bad luck or my naive belief that if the police and prosecutor actually charge someone with a crime, there must be good reason. Defense attorneys seem to have a problem with that philosophy.
Nevertheless, I think I'd make a fine juror. As a journalist, I am a born skeptic. If somebody tells me something, I wonder what that person has to gain or lose. Credibility is key but it's not always apparent. Getting at the truth is like peeling an onion -- many layers have to be stripped away.
Take the case of Alexander "Boy" Carvalho Jr., who on Monday was found not guilty by a Circuit Court jury of sexually assaulting and kidnapping his former girlfriend, Nora Castro, earlier this year.
During the three-week trial, Carvalho cried on the witness stand as he denied committing any crimes. He said his girlfriend was the aggressor and the dominant one in their relationship, not he. During testimony, he admitted he once gave Castro a black eye but said he was only defending himself when she tried to hit him.
Gosh, how I wish I had been on that jury. Here are some of the questions that I'd have raised in the deliberations:
Does Carvalho -- a man who beat his wife, Cathie to death with a two-by-four just 11 years ago -- have a believable track record when it comes to abusing women? Is it credible that a guy who is about 6 feet tall and 200 pounds would be scared of a gal a whole foot shorter and many pounds lighter? Even if Castro did hit Carvalho as he claims, is the punishment she, a small woman, inflicted on him, a large male, comparable to what he did to her?
Do we really understand the definition of the word "kidnapping?" Maybe Carvalho didn't drive up and abduct Castro from a public place, as people usually think of the term. Still, isn't the fear of retribution -- such as being killed, as Cathie Carvalho was -- a good reason for Castro to be intimidated, to once recant and to stay with him?
As for the charge of rape, does it matter if the victim "likes sex" if she was forced to have sex when she didn't want to? Why do cases of rape inevitably lead to the assassination of a woman's character and questions about her behavior outside the incident?
If we don't believe Castro, could it be because she is poor, uneducated and inarticulate? Are those judgments fair to her and other have-nots? Do juries tend to scrutinize the complainant more than the accused?
WHO knows, maybe these questions came up during deliberations in this case. However, the jury certainly didn't take very long -- one day -- to find Carvalho not guilty of 14 counts of felony sexual assault and one count of kidnapping.
That says to me: 1) Carvalho and his family members (who also had a vested interest in his release) were convincing; 2) Castro was unconvincing and/or 3) the jury came to a decision too quickly. Perhaps we're all too predisposed to accept the word of an accused intent on saving his okole.
Since I'll probably never be picked to serve on a jury, here's my plea to those who will: When a case looks clear-cut, it probably isn't. Two words: heightened scrutiny.
Diane Yukihiro Chang's column runs Monday and Friday.
She can be reached by phone at 525-8607, via e-mail at
DianeChang@aol.com, or by fax at 523-7863.