GASP!!!! How could she get off? What happened? The system is a failure!!! What do we need, video of a person committing a crime in order to get a conviction in this country? All of these comments or questions have been asked of me personally by friends and family or by people interviewed by the media. Everyone wants to know, how did Casey get acquitted of murder?
I’ve been a prosecutor. I now defend those accused of crime. Looking at this case from both sides of the fence, it likely could have gone either way. Granted, when Casey didn’t take the stand and the jury came back with a verdict after a five minute potty break I thought her goose was cooked. The State was faced with an uphill battle, especially with a capital murder charge in gaining a conviction. Simply put, with no cause of death, no eyewitnesses, no smoking gun, and plausible deniability, that’s a tough case for any prosecutor. With respect to the defense, they don’t have to do anything. They could have literally sat on their asses for three weeks and read the fine content in The Mayberry Law Firm Blog. Obviously any defense attorney would want to show that there is a reasonable possibility that the defendant didn’t commit the crime they’re accused of, but within our system of justice there is no burden on the defense aside from the assertion of an affirmative defense (think self defense).
So what happened in the Anthony case? We have a beautiful little girl whose life was tragically taken much too soon. If not the mother, then who did it? GET READY TO GET PISSED… WAIT FOR IT… It doesn’t matter who. Take my blog for what you will as I was wrong on predicting a conviction. However, in my mind there is only one possibility. The jury didn’t believe a damn thing the Anthony defense team asserted, they simply didn’t believe the State proved this case BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT. In other words, there was some form of doubt in the mind of the jury that affected it to the point that they just weren’t SURE that Casey Anthony murdered or was responsible for the death of her little girl. Put another way, because no cause of death was proven, the jury was likely UNSURE that Casey Anthony murdered Caylee and the death was not in fact accidental. Because they weren’t sure Casey Anthony was guilty based on inadequate proof and she’s the one accused, any other possibilities in the “who dun it” mystery are irrelevant for purposes of Anthony’s guilt or innocence.
Beyond a reasonable doubt is the highest standard under the law. Most have heard the term a million times, seen it on Law and Order, and laughed at its application in Boston Legal. Yet few really understand just how hard it is for the State to prove someone guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. This is not and cannot be a, “where there’s smoke, there’s fire” legal system. If that’s the case, why did we waste our time back in the 1700’s with that whole revolutionary war thing? In nearly every jury selection I’ve performed, I’ve posed this question to the jury panel, “Sir/Maam, what is the higher burden placed upon the state, the burden they must meet to take your child for being an unfit parent, or the burden they must meet to prove you committed a crime?” In the 30-40 juries I’ve picked for my cases or my colleagues’ cases, I have yet to hear someone say the burden to prove a person committed a crime is higher than the burden to take a child from one accused of being an unfit parent. Yes, the burden to prove someone guilty of committing a crime is higher than the “clear and convincing” evidence standard to remove a child from their parents.
Beyond a reasonable doubt is an incredibly high standard. It should be. When a jury panel takes their role seriously, follows the law, and holds the State’s feet to the fire on the burden they must prove, only then can one get a fair trial. I won’t give my opinion on the guilt or innocence of Casey Anthony. That’s not my job. However, I do feel this Pinellas County jury did their job, regardless of deliberation time, and rendered a verdict based only on the evidence presented. Even though they may have felt Casey Anthony committed the crimes accused of her, if there was a reasonable doubt in their mind that she didn’t, they must acquit. That seemed to be the case here, and for that they’ve done their job despite popular opinion.