Reasonable Doubt

Reasonable Doubt
September 21, 2008

I don’t remember
of what he stood accused —
only that I sat in judgment,
declared him guilty
beyond reasonable doubt,
sent him to serve time
for an infraction of which
I had no conclusive proof,
just the word of others
hardly above reproach themselves,
of whim I had
plenty of doubt.

We asked just one question,
my eleven colleagues and I:
What constitutes reasonable doubt?
How much doubt, exactly,
is reasonable, your honor?
His honor declined to answer —
insisted, in fact, that his refusal
to answer was, itself,
a fundamental pillar of the phrase
“A Jury Of Your Peers.”

We were not his peers.

He, poor and dark,
trouble-stained and life-weary.

We, privileged and pale,
inclined to have unreasonable doubts,
based more in the fact that
we were not his peers
than in any facts presented
by those more his peers
than we.

So we determined,
the twelve of us,
that our doubt was reasonable,
and stripped this young man
of his youth and manhood.

One of us said
what the rest of us thought:
If he hadn’t done this,
surely he had done something.

I have no doubt
that given more opportunity
and less doubt
this young man would have given
us more opportunity to doubt.

I have no doubt
that that’s not reasonable.