June 16th, 2014
Wheeling Jury Returns Not Guilty Verdict in the Craig Peacock Trial
On Friday afternoon, a Wheeling jury returned a verdict of Not Guilty in the much anticipated Craig Peacock Trial. The trial, which focused on the death of Wheeling Jesuit student, Kevin Figaniak, who died after a fight with the defendant, was widely publicized. Within minutes of the jury returning a verdict, social media began to explode with posts and comments. Many of the local news outlets posted BREAKING:NEWS updates informing the public of the recent findings. People were quick to chime in with their opinions on the merits of the case and the decision of the jury. Many were stereotyping pipeliners, some poking fun at the justice system, yet others gently reminded the public that they were not part of the jury, and therefore, did not hear the facts of the case as presented.
I, like everyone, was deeply saddened by this story. After all, I am a mother, and the thought of a phone call telling me that my college student child had gotten into a street fight and subsequently died, makes me sick to my stomach. I am also young enough to remember college and nights of drinking and partying and just how horribly alcohol can affect people- their minds, their judgment, their memory, their impulses. Nothing about the story of a young person losing their life is justifiable or excusable. Losing a child is one of the most heart wrenching things I can fathom. And when alcohol is involved, sadly, it is also the most preventable. All of these emotions- shock, sadness, confusion, got me thinking about the significant right and responsibility that we all hold as citizens of the United States.
Most of the people commenting on the not guilty verdict shared their shock and disbelief that a jury could actually have come to such a conclusion. They were irritated that a life had been lost, and yet, the jury could not find fault in the defendant. It is actually quite amazing how powerful jurors are. Jurors are essential to our existence! They determine the outcome of every jury trial that takes place in our country. They have the power to determine a person's guilt or innocence. The have the authority to set someone free or take away their freedom. The 7th Amendment of the United States Constitution grants us the right to a jury trial. Just as surely as we have the Freedom of Speech granted to us by the 1st Amendment, we have a right to a trial by jury granted to us by the 7th Amendment. This is so very important for many reasons...
Whether you are granted a jury trial with a jury of your peers in a criminal case as Peacock was, or whether you are granted a jury trial to determine the negligence and damages caused to you by a civil defendant, the stakes are often very high to both yourself and your family members. What this means is that your future, sometimes your freedom, depends on the 6-12 people that are chosen to act as your jury. These jurors often spend several days away from their jobs, lives, and families to sit and listen to the facts of your case and deliberate to render a decision that ultimately affects your life. Conversely, you hold the power to make decisions that ultimately affect the lives of others as well.
It is really quite fascinating to think about... the same people that you pass on the street, the people who share the check-out aisle with you at Walmart or the drive thru line at McDonalds - these are the people that determine your future should you be involved in a lawsuit someday. The 7th Amendment gives you this wonderful right to a jury trial. It gives jurors this incredible power to decide someone's fate. It gives US amazing influence over the lives of others. And it gives YOU immense and unbelievably important authority to make such important decisions. After all, we are all potential jurors. We never know when we may be called to exercise our civic duty and sit through a trial of facts, deliberate and decide. We aren't sure when we will be called for jury duty, report and make it through jury selection, but one thing is for sure, we are extremely important. When you act as a juror, YOU are vital the person whose case you are hearing. You have an integral and paramount job when you sit on a jury. A job that none of us should take lightly. A job that we understand to be so critically important, and one that we are all grateful that you undertake. Jurors are powerful people, therefore, we are powerful people! Famous philosopher Voltaire once said, "With great power, comes great responsibility." How true are those words!