The most anxious-filled moments of my life occurred when a jury returned from its deliberation room and awaited the judge to ask for a verdict.
The jurist would look directly toward the defense table, eye my client, and then say in a booming voice “Will the Defendant Please Rise.”
I would automatically stand with the suspect — usually a male facing trial for the first time in his life. I tried over a hundred jury trials but I could never get used to that heart-stopping moment when a jury culminated its deliberation following days of testimony by witnesses, arguments by attorneys, and instructions by the judge.
I’d get butterflies in my stomach and my hands would begin to sweat. Fear would strike me as much as it did years earlier when I’d face gunfire in Vietnam and have little or no idea where the enemy was at when first shooting at me.
Nothing physical could hurt me or the defendant while standing next to him, but I knew the words about to be rendered would have a lasting effect on him as much as any bullet could upon striking him.
There was no rule or law that required a lawyer to stand when the defendant was ordered to face the jury. I did it out of reflex. Hell, I had defended the poor fellow for days on end and fought off assaults from some of the best prosecutors Philadelphia could bring against someone accused of a crime. Why should I not stand and face this final onslaught? Who knew whether it would deeply hurt or greatly help the accused?
The jury never indicated how it might vote when you faced each member seated in front of you as you argued your case. Some would fall asleep. I’d bang the wooden gate separating the jury from the rest of the courtroom to wake them. I’d nod to one or two jurors I thought were leaning toward the defense and would get a nod or two in return, but you never knew how deep such a non-verbal cue would eventually turn out.
And so, it all came down to that brief moment in time. Nothing else mattered except for that precious moment . . . and everything else in the universe got frozen until hearing the jury foreman or forewoman say with all certainty:
“We find the defendant . . .”
No words could ever feel so free!