–Florida Rule of Criminal Procedure 3.360, Oath of the trial juror.
Above is the oath, taken in the eyes of the law and in the eyes of God, by every juror who sat on the Casey Anthony trial, which came to a conclusion yesterday. Each swore (or affirmed) that they would render a true verdict according to the law and the evidence.
There was much outrage against our criminal justice system and against juries because of the verdict rendered by those jurors. What surprised me most is that this outrage was coming from people whom I have known to speak out about how far this country has gone away from what our founders intended. Well, there’s one area where the founders’ intent is firmly, even if not popularly, upheld. That is the criminal trial procedure.
The fact is, the Constitution guarantees each accused a trial by jury of his or her peers, the right to confront the witnesses against him or her, the right to representation, and it requires that the elements of the crime be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
My opinion, based upon my study and my work, is that our criminal justice system is not designed to punish all wrongdoers. It is designed to be as sure as humanly possible that we do not punish someone who has not committed the wrong of which he or she is accused. It certainly is not perfect; people who “did it” go free sometimes, and people who didn’t “do it” are sometimes convicted. If you don’t think so, check out http://www.innocenceproject.org/know/Browse-Profiles.php. There are stories of wrongfully-convicted and jailed (and executed) individuals that will chill your spine.
What immediately comes to mind when I think of the outrage over the Casey Anthony trial is the Boston Massacre and my personal favorite of the founders, John Adams. Just as Casey Anthony was popularly convicted in the “court of public opinion” of a crime against humanity, so were the British soldiers who stood trial for their part in what was called the “Boston Massacre.” The public wanted blood for the crimes that the soldiers were accused of. John Adams courageously, and not popularly, represented the British soldiers, as he believed they, as all who are accused, deserved a fair trial. Adams said of his representation of the soldiers: “The part I took in defense of captain Preston and the soldiers, procured me anxiety, and obloquy enough. It was, however, one of the most gallant, generous, manly and disinterested actions of my whole life, and one of the best pieces of service I ever rendered my country. Judgment of death against those soldiers would have been as foul a stain upon this country as the executions of the Quakers or witches, anciently.”
I believe that our justice system, while not perfect in practice, is as close to perfect as we can get in design. Some people disagree with this, and often it is based upon the religious belief that it is unjust to let “evildoers” go free, that sinners must be punished. That seemed to be one theme that I noticed, that people were outraged at the jury verdict and believed that Casey Anthony would face true judgment later on. My response to that is simply that I believe it is hubris of worst kind to suggest that humans can exact God’s divine judgment. We do not have God’s wisdom to determine guilt or innocence. We do not have his capacity to discern whether to punish or to show mercy. All we have is the law.
Just as convicting the British soldiers would have stained this country, convicting Casey Anthony of First Degree Murder based upon the evidence that was presented against her would have stained our justice system. Simply put, there was no evidence linking Casey Anthony to her daughter’s death which was proven beyond a reasonable doubt, and there was certainly no evidence showing that Caylee Anthony’s death was premeditated. When I say “evidence,” I mean testimony and exhibits in court. I don’t mean the interpretation of the evidence spewed by talking heads in the media in an effort to get ratings for their television shows. Remember that jurors don’t get the benefit of Nancy Grace’s wisdom.
Now, we all know that a little girl lost her life. We all feel outraged that no one is “paying” for this crime. It is natural to want to place blame, but we have to be careful to put the blame where it belongs. You might consider blaming overzealous prosecutors that went after a very weak First Degree Murder charge instead of a lesser charge on which they could have probably gotten a conviction or a guilty plea. However, a guilty plea to negligent manslaughter wouldn’t have gotten nearly as much press (but Casey Anthony would be in jail for the death of Caylee Anthony right now). Now, Casey Anthony can never be prosecuted on a lesser charge for the death of her daughter because of the Double Jeopardy Clause. It’s easy to feel a sense of injustice about the outcome of this trial. But don’t blame the jurors. The jurors took an oath. The jurors applied the law the court gave them to the facts the prosecution gave them. The jurors did their job.
A wrongful conviction, especially one on a charge where a human being could be put to death in punishment, undermines our criminal justice system, our Constitution and our entire society.