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Twelve Angry Men leads to one conflicted law student

In a past life–before I started working in Annapolis, before I passed the bar exam, before I even entered law school, I had a fairly prolific “career” acting in plays and musicals at various schools and community theaters. And if there’s one regret I have right now, it’s that the career choices I’ve made have forced me (for the time being, at least) to stop acting. Fortunately, though, as I wait to progress enough from a professional standpoint to be able to get back into acting in my spare time, I have some great theatrical memories that I can look back on and enjoy.

One of the most interesting of which was when I acted in a staged radio drama version of Twelve Angry Men at the University of Baltimore in the middle of my second year of law school there.

While it was a fun and novel experience learning the technical aspects of working with the stage microphones, watching the foley artists make all the sound effects, and sharing the space with eleven other actors, that’s not why it was particularly interesting to me. No, what intrigued me as a law student during the production of the show was the dawning realization that, not only are some of the tactics of the protagonist in flagrant violation of the law, but as has been argued by various students of the law over the years, the defendant he helps acquit is almost certainly guilty of murder.

Since they have been expounded upon throughout the Internet in greater detail and much better than I could hope to communicate in this space, I won’t go into all the specifics here. Suffice it to say, though, that these critiques center around Juror #8 performing his own independent investigation of the crime and around him nitpicking every little detail in witness testimony to find the most minute piece of reasonable doubt while ignoring the enormity of the odds against all of those coincidences happening to an innocent man.

I felt conflicted pondering these details as a second-year law student. I had learned enough about criminal law and juries to think that something seemed off about the actions that Juror #8 takes during the play. However, I also knew that there was plenty more about the law that I still had to learn, so I wasn’t comfortable making a call one way or the other on the propriety of those actions quite yet.

So, while everyone else was concerned with remembering not to pop their P’s into the microphones, there was always a part of me that was thinking, “I know this play is supposed to be one of the great testaments to the American legal system, but I can’t kick the feeling that I’m helping somebody get away with murder.” And it was only because of my legal training that I even considered that possibility in the first place. I had nothing to draw from when I played a gang member in West Side Story or a composer in Amadeus, but Twelve Angry Men was different.

This play dealt directly with my choice of profession, and Juror #8 kept pleading with me to get angry. For the sake of the craft, I put on a good show of it, but I’ll let you in on a little secret: when the curtain fell at the end, the lawyer in me was actually quite disappointed.