I consider trial by jury as the only anchor ever yet imagined by man, by which a government can be held to the principles of its constitution.” – Thomas Jefferson
Despite the public misperception, the Casey Anthony jury was not asked to determine if she was “innocent,” nor did they find Casey Anthony “innocent.” The jury was charged to determine if she was “guilty” or “not guilty” of the crimes for which she was accused. They were not asked to pass judgment on her parenting skills, her character, or the fact that “any real parent would have called the police.” In my estimation, people should not be outraged with the verdict, as it appears to have been fairly reached. They should, however, be outraged with the reaction to the verdict. In the days since the verdict, I have read and heard that the child’s body was found in Casey’s car, that body fluids were found in that car, and that the autopsy proved that the child did not drown…..wrong on ALL counts. None of that is true, and when Nancy Grace makes the comment that Caylee Anthony was being babysat in the trunk of “Tot Mom’s car” we need to ask what is going on here?
Let’s be clear, this case received unprecedented coverage because Nancy Grace chose to make this case the centerpiece of her show for nearly three years. Let’s face it, the defendant is young and attractive and the victim was a toddler whose photographs pull at the heartstrings of all of us. So the story was there and Nancy Grace worked tirelessly with panel discussions, reports as to what the evidence was or would be that were often wrong, and proclamations that Casey Anthony killed her daughter. So how could a jury have screwed this up? We need to understand what a jury does in order to answer that question.
The only legitimate question is whether the state proved that Anthony was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt to the twelve people who sat as deliberating jurors. Juries are carefully selected for their neutrality and willingness to listen to all of the evidence and to remain free from all outside influence. Despite what people have said, there is no way that anyone can say that this jury “got it wrong” because we were not in that jury box or the deliberations following the close of evidence. Perhaps the jury found that the questionable and highly speculative forensic evidence was not credible. Perhaps they did not believe key pieces of the state’s evidence. The point is: who knows what swayed them, but there is absolutely no way to say that they “got it wrong.” Sorry if the jury has shown you to be an overzealous fool Ms. Grace. Every one of us should be grateful that those twelve citizens sat in judgment of this case. We do not have to agree, we do not have to like the outcome, but their collective judgment should not receive our scorn and ridicule either as there is no basis upon which there verdict can be disputed.
So why is there so much anger? Do we only agree with the jury system when they do what we in the public think they should do? When the verdict was announced you could almost hear people gasp in national unison. We all, me included, wanted to know what Nancy Grace was going to do or say. Oh dear lord, what can be done, someone must pay for this!!!! Oh Nancy, latest oracle of all things just and right, please help us make some sense of this outrage. Didn’t you spend three years of nearly nonstop talk explaining why she was guilty? Didn’t you tell us on Monday that the verdict would provide justice for that child? Didn’t you sufficiently debunk all of that trickery by the defense attorneys? Come on Nancy, tell us how you could have been so wrong. People who took their information from television entertainers were misled. Juries do not get to hear Nancy and Dr. Drew’s views, jurors must make up their minds by listening to testimony and looking at evidentiary exhibits. No trickery, no conspiracies, nothing but the deliberate and careful sifting of evidence. Predictably, though, the talking heads now have to explain away the fact that they were dead wrong, so a national blame game commenced within five minutes of the verdict. It was those rotten defense lawyers who manipulated the jury; the jury was either collectively stupid or they “drank the Koolaid” and made a deal with the devil in the form of Mr. Baez. Nancy Grace was on the air shrieking that the defense lawyers were “down the street in a bar celebrating”….really, the fact that these people celebrated the fact that they were successful is what’s bothering Ms. Grace? Would she have been able to move on had the defense team jumped into oncoming traffic as a sign of ultimate remorse for daring to defend an obviously guilty defendant? What a crock of bull.
There is an interesting dichotomy in America when it comes to our constitutional protections. Most Americans say that they accept the presumption of innocence as well as all of the other Constitutional protections designed to ensure a fair trial. In twenty five years in practice, and scores of criminal jury trials, I cannot recall a single prospective juror who ever informed the Court that they took issue with any of the due process principles. The problems seem to arise if a defendant actually receives the benefit of those due process rights. “Oh sure, yeah, yeah, yeah…the defendant is presumed innocent, got it, now where can we find a tree to hang the sonofabitch after he gets his fair trial”. The striking aspect of this case is that people will say that they KNOW that Casey killed her daughter while simultaneously paying lip service to the correct rule of law which requires that they presume innocence. Why else would people today seem so resistant to accepting the possibility that the jury got it right? A jury is instructed that they, and they alone, determine what the facts are and that they must follow the Judge’s instructions in evaluating that evidence according to our Constitution and laws. I’m still waiting to hear exactly what this jury did that allows Nancy Grace to proclaim that “the jury got it wrong.” In every state in the nation, a person is presumed innocent and they retain that presumption unless and until the state proves guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. This legal presumption of the defendant’s innocence “is not an idle theory to be discarded or disposed of by the jury by caprice, passion or prejudice.”A defendant is not to be found guilty on the basis of suspicion or conjecture, but only on evidence produced and properly admitted before the jury. The defendant is presumed to be innocent until and unless the jury decides unanimously that the state has proved the defendant guilty of each and every element of each charged offense beyond a reasonable doubt. If the jury does not believe that the state has rebutted the presumption of innocence, they are legally obligated to acquit the defendant even if they suspect that the person committed the crime. Suspicion is not enough. The standard is “proof beyond a reasonable doubt,” In most states, the jury is instructed along the following lines: The evidence must establish the truth of the fact to a reasonable and moral certainty; a certainty that convinces and directs the understanding and satisfies the reason and judgment, of those who are bound to act conscientiously upon it. This we take to be proof beyond reasonable doubt. . . . Excerpt of a typical Jury Instruction on the role of a jury in evaluating whether a state has proved its case. The right to a trial by jury is a fundamental right, and it is alarming that entertainers like Nancy Grace have chosen to attack this fundamental right because a jury in a Florida murder trial followed its oath, and did what it was charged to do. Ms. Grace’s viewers have been barraged with a view of the law that vilifies the lawyer, judge and defendant. Nancy Grace is, or was, a lawyer so she knows the system and has chosen to play to the base emotions to bolster her television career. The defendant and the lawyer are constantly demonized, the prosecutor is usually portrayed as caring, compassionate, brilliant and, most importantly, nearly always right. Police and prosecution experts are seen as above reproach despite the fact that our criminal justice system is marred by countless incidents of police and prosecutorial misconduct. The story plays and sells better when the central characters are cast as hero and villain but that is an inaccurate and irresponsible portrayal of our criminal justice system. It is irresponsible because many people listen to Nancy Grace and accept her opinions as truthful: what kind of a juror would such a person make? It is not the case that the defense attorneys are immoral tricksters or that all prosecutors are wearing white hats and doing God’s work. That view of the world is oversimplified nonsense. You need look no further than the case of the Duke University lacrosse team for one recent example of what I’m referring to. The overwhelming majority of prosecutors and defense lawyers, police, judges and jurors are hardworking, ethical people, but that doesn’t play as well as “defense lawyer bad, prosecutor good”, especially if you’re hawking a book or a sponsor’s product. We need to be thankful that CNN personalities do not decide who is convicted, but do not underestimate the impact that this type of coverage has on future juries. The Casey Anthony trial was fairly tried and a jury of twelve Floridians simply did not believe that the case was sufficiently proved. They had reasonable doubt and if that was the case they were legally required to acquit that defendant. The fact that a jury was able to consider the evidence and not be swayed by public opinion is a very good thing for our democracy.