Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Casey Anthony

So just a quick word about the Casey Anthony acquittal. I'm not going to go one in much depth here because I didn't follow every detail of the case with the sort of rapt attention that others brought to it. Also, I acknowledge that there's already a ridiculous amount of analysis, speculation, and pontificating that's been associated with this case. Mostly I just want to jot down my thoughts because this seems like one of those big, famous cases that everyone will be talking about for years to come, so I kinda just want to record my thoughts as a matter of what I was thinking "at the time".
First of all, I think that the woman was guilty. I think that almost everyone out there feels like she killed her kid. I even read today that most of the jurors thought that she was guilty, but that the state had not "proven their case" beyond a reasonable doubt.
To be honest, I think that this sort of thinking- the sort of "scorecard" version of justice in which juries try to sort of grade the performances of prosecutors instead of just focusing on whether or not they've been convinced beyond a reasonable doubt of a defendant's guilt- has become more and more of an obstacle in terms of achieving justice in the courtroom in recent years. Reasonable doubt is a standard which is sort of purposefully left vague, and, in my opinion, has for some reason been raised to a strangely unrealistic level in recent years.
Undoubtedly, jurors should be very confident in their decision when finding someone guilty of something like capital murder. I understand, of course, that people want to be confident in what they're doing before they make that kind of crucial decision.On the other hand, I feel like people have begun to hold prosecutors and law enforcement to an unrealistic standard. As I remind my own potential jurors when I do jury selection, reasonable doubt is a standard which should be taken seriously, but it's also a standard under which people are convicted for countless crimes across this country every single day. But it feels as if, lately, many jurors take the concept of "beyond a reasonable doubt" to mean some a level of certainty that would be hard for a person to ever feel unless they had witnessed the crime themself.
Also, people spend a lot of time consuming fictional television programs, movies, and books where every loose end of every case is explained away in excruciating detail, and where forensic science magically and irrefutably provides ironclad, conclusive evidence which is almost always 1000% rock solid. Fictional detectives always get the bad guys to crack during interrogations, and, perhaps most tellingly, fictional criminals always end up leaving some sort of critically damning clue which proves to ultimately be their undoing.
I've been working in the criminal justice for about 12 years now, and I'm here to say that the real world typically isn't like that. In the real world, cases are often circumstantial, and eyewitness accounts, when available, may or may not actually be more unreliable than scientific evidence. In the real world, prosecutors are often required to go forward with the best evidence that they have, but without a smoking gun, and then rely on intelligent jurors to make logically sound inferences that lead them to derive a reasonable conclusion from a sufficient amount of available evidence. The justice system, in short, sort of needs jurors who can take two and two and put them together to come up with four. If you have a halfway intelligent criminal, they're often going to escape prosecution if you can't put these sorts of logical jurors in the box.
I think the jurors on this Anthony case just sort of outsmarted themselves. They got hung up on the exact specifics of how this child died and on other details, and they lost site of the fact that many of the details, including the exact manner of death, weren't really relevant. You don't really need to know exactly how a murder victim died in order to prove a murder. In fact, a fair number of murder convictions have been obtained over the years without the bodies of the victim having ever been found. Mafia prosecutions, for instance, have been filled with trials with missing bodies.
So, I don't know... this verdict bothers me. Like everyone else, it bothers me because a murderous mother will go unpunished, but it also bothers me because I think this verdict is sort of indicative of some recent "forest for the trees" problems that I've seen both personally and in the media with criminal juries.
If anyone reading this ever gets called for a jury on any sort of legal case, please just do me the favor of trying not to check your common sense at the door. Don't expect CSI or Bones or any of the other fictional shows that magically draw a picture right before your eyes of the minutia of how every tiny detail unfolded in a crime. Instead, expect to see hard working law enforcement personnel who are putting the best evidence that they have before you and then asking you to be reasonable as you make a decision. this is the relaity of actualy jury service.
The law doesn't require you to overlook the obvious when you're serving on a jury. In fact, the legal system just doesn't really work if jurors aren't capable of drawing obvious conclusions.

Oooookay. I just had to get that out of my sytem.


Barb Smith said...

I have been watching for your comments on this daily. I too, feel she got away with murder -- kind of like O.J.. After reading your blog I feel a lot better. You made me see how this could happen with a jury. Your blog made more sense to me than any of the "talking heads" I have been listening to on the television. Keep up the good work. I really enjoy reading your blog. Hope we get to meet Amy someday!

Anonymous said...

I didn't follow the case in detail either, but I agree that it doesn't feel like justice was served. Your points ring true, technical legalities are more frequently winning out over common sense or logic - and people have come to believe that what they see on television is the real world.


Jean said...

Thanks for posting on this subject. Your insight into the workings of the jury system help to bring sense into what seemed like a nonsensical verdict to many of us.

J.S. said...

Glad that some of you found my post interesting! I appreciate the comments!