Another View of the Casey Anthony Verdict

While many in the media are expressing outrage over the verdict in the Casey Anthony trial, here are a few reasons to keep things in perspective:

  • It's hard to second-guess a jury verdict unless you sat through the entire trial.  There is a reason that jurors have to be present for every second of testimony.  Every trial lawyer knows that trials -- particularly long ones -- take many twists and turns, and it is impossible to neatly and succinctly summarize a complex case in a couple of paragraphs.  You have to be there.  
  • Media accounts cannot accurately capture a trial.  News accounts typically offer a couple of minutes or a couple of paragraphs that are intended to summarize 6-8 hours of testimony each day.  Regardless of whether you think the media sensationalize the case or do an outstanding job, news accounts simply cannot accurately convey the whole trial any more than an arbitrary focus on ten sensational days of your life can accurately represent you.  
  • Prosecutors try the case they have, not the one they wish to have.  Blaming the prosecution because they didn't win is often unfair.  It appears that there was no smoking gun evidence in the Anthony case, and while circumstantial evidence can be enough to convict the defendant, the lack of direct evidence clearly helps the defense create reasonable doubt in the minds of the jurors.  While they would have liked to have better evidence, prosecutors obviously believed Anthony was guilty, so they did the best they could with what they had.  
  • It's a lot easier to render a verdict outside the jury box.  Jurors don't have the luxury of making casual decisions, and they feel more responsibility to get it right than most casual observers give them credit for.  These jurors were required to immerse themselves in this case for over a month, and, at the end, were required to follow detailed court instructions to determine whether the prosecution proved each element of each crime alleged beyond a reasonable doubt.  Those who have never sat on a jury may not realize that this is a very different and much more intense experience than casually concluding guilt from afar because the defendant looks or acts guilty.    
  • The speed of the verdict reinforces all of the above.  Trial lawyers know that getting 12 random people to agree on anything, especially in a complex case like this, is pretty rare.  The fact that the jury came back so quickly suggests that there was an unusual amount of agreement among them about what they saw and heard.  So, despite what the rest of us think we know, we ought to have some respect for their superior knowledge of the facts of the case.  
  • Beyond a reasonable doubt is a very high standard.  Any reasonable doubt that things happened the way the prosecution alleges opens the door to acquittal.  And it should: the right to a trial by jury is one of our fundamental rights under the Constitution, designed to prevent the government from taking our liberty without meeting a high burden.  Those who have been wrongfully accused of a crime have a much deeper appreciation of how fundamental this right really is. 

Do guilty people sometimes go free?  Yes, they do.  The Founding Fathers believed that it was better to err on the side of letting guilty people go free than mistakenly convicting a single innocent individual, as is and was all too common in other places and times.   Most of the judges, lawyers and jurors who work in our legal system today still strive to achieve that ideal.  And that's a good thing.    

Posted: 7/6/2011 7:55:17 AM by On the Merits Editor | with 5 comments

Elizabeth King
Thank you for an intellectually honest assessment of the case. I read a day or two ago that despite the fact that probation officers conducted her probationary meetings for check fraud while she was incarcerated awaiting trial on the murder case, she has been ordered to report for probation again for the same case on the grounds that the order stated probation was to begin after her release from prison. Would a less infamous defendant be subject to this level of judicial attention? It seems like the more famous/infamous the defendant the more the system falls apart. The jury was excoriated by looky-loos in the public who pretended to have a vested interest in her conviction. The fact is that the jury saw all the testimony live, saw all of the evidence presented in court, and thankfully were shielded from the public hyperbole of media talking heads. I think their verdict was very understandable from a legal standpoint.
8/14/2011 11:28:47 AM

Richard Pena
Great site. Thanks for doing this. I wish more people could see this, and others you will post....
7/31/2011 12:48:37 PM

Bob Hall
Congratulations for this statement and for this blog. The current assault on our government and the rights protected by the Bill of Rights is immoral and dangerous. It is a cherished right of Americans to criticize their government. Simply identifying the government as the enemy, however, is a different matter.
7/29/2011 10:31:02 AM

David Smith
I will always believe Casey Anthony killed Caylee Anthony but even after watching the trial on In Session I can not tell you beyond a shadow of doubt HOW? She beat our system but she will not beat GOD. As for her Beautiful Life I will be watching from the sidelines just like I did after the O.J. trial. We will all see hows it working for you Casey?
7/8/2011 7:25:46 PM

al ellis
This is outstanding work. Our profession is getting crucified by the Nancy Grace's and other hypocrite pundits who should but don't respect the jury verdict and the important right to trial by jury in this country. Please give this as large a distribution as you can.
7/7/2011 12:33:33 PM

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About This Blog

Thanks for stopping by On the Merits, the first blog from the Texas Center for Legal Ethics. On the Merits will take a close look at significant legal stories with an eye toward addressing the legal myths and misconceptions that turn up in news stories, movies, TV programs, websites, anonymous emails and other forms of mass communications. Our goal at On the Merits is to provide readers with a thoughtful examination of what the media and others are saying about the legal profession and to apply the frequently-absent context of how the legal system actually works.

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