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Casey Anthony And Some Thoughts On The Criminal Justice System

The big news of the day is a subject that we haven’t talked about here at all at OTB, the not guilty verdict rendered today by a jury in Florida in the murder trial of Casey Anthony:

Casey Anthony was acquitted Tuesday of first-degree murder and the other most serious charges against her in the 2008 death of her 2-year-old daughter.

But the jury convicted her on four misdemeanor counts of providing false information to law enforcement officers.

As the verdict was read, Casey Anthony cried from her seat in the courtroom, breathing deeply as she looked forward. She then hugged her defense attorney Jose Baez and other members of her defense team.

Her father, George Anthony, meanwhile, showed no visible reaction from his seat in the back of the courtroom.

Orange County Chief Judge Belvin Perry Jr. set sentencing at 9 a.m. Thursday for Casey Anthony. She faces up to a year in jail on each of the charges she lied to police.

The verdict was reached by the seven-woman, five-man jury after deliberating for less than 11 hours in a trial that stretched to more than six weeks and featured allegations of sexual abuse, questions regarding Casey Anthony’s competence and various theories on what happened to 2-year-old Caylee.

Casey Anthony, 25, was charged with seven counts — first-degree murder, aggravated child abuse, aggravated manslaughter of a child and four counts of providing false information to a law-enforcement officer in Caylee’s 2008 disappearance and death.

Caylee was last seen June 16, 2008, but was not reported missing until July 15, 2008, when Casey Anthony’s mother, Cindy Anthony, tracked her daughter down and demanded answers regarding Caylee’s whereabouts.

The maximum penalty on the four charges that Anthony was convicted on is one year each. She could be sentenced to serve that time concurrently, or consecutively. However, given the fact that she has spent nearly three years in jail awaiting trial and was acquitted of the major charges against her, it’s quite probable that she will be given credit for time served and released, either on parole or having served all the time the judge would sentence to her. Meaning that Casey Anthony will likely walk out the courthouse door on Thursday.

Since I didn’t really follow the trial outside of catching bits and pieces over the past six weeks, and portions of the closing statements over the weekend, I’m not going to comment on the facts of the case or why this happened. All that matters is that the State of Florida failed to meet its burden that she killed her child beyond a reasonable doubt, so Casey Anthony is not guilty. I will say, though, that it seems hard to feel this same way about this case that many people did about the O.J. Simpson. In that case, the evidence of Simpson’s guilt was clear, and the jury’s malfeasance was apparent. In this case, the State was apparently unable to prove how, where or when Caylee Anthony died, and unable to tie Casey Anthony to the remains that were ultimately found with any forensic evidence whatsoever. Given that, the verdict seems both unsurprising and correct.

Immediately after the verdict, though, and even in  the days leading up to it, I noticed that there were many people who reacted to the verdict about the way you’d expect them to react to any criminal trial that’s been part of the cable news cycle for three years. Casey Anthony has gotten away with murder, they say. There’s no “justice for Caylee.” Or, just the general reaction that there’s something wrong with the justice system because of this verdict.

Instead, I would submit that this case is evidence that, when allowed to operate properly, the criminal justice system works pretty well.

First of all, it’s worth reminding everyone that the standard here is that it’s the state’s obligation to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. That is an incredibly high standard. It means that someone who actually committed a crime could go free if the evidence presented to the jury suggests that there’s another reasonable interpretation of what happened, or if the state isn’t able to produce sufficient evidence to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. So, being found “not guilty” doesn’t mean the Defendant didn’t do it, but it does mean it couldn’t be proven within the bounds of the law, and it reflects the value that we’ve placed on ensuring that only someone who is assuredly guilty goes to prison (or gets executed).  As the old saying goes, it’s better that ten guilty men go free than one innocent man goes to prison.

Second, the criminal justice system is about a quest for the truth within the bounds of the law, not a quest for “justice” for the victim. That means, for example, that evidence that doesn’t meet the applicable evidentiary standard won’t get before the jury, that statements the Defendant made to the police while in custody but without being advised of their rights will be excluded, and that protection of the Defendants constitutional rights will bar the introduction of illegally seized or unreliable evidence. Some of that evidence might arguably to a quest for “justice,” but it’s not relevant to a quest for truth within the bounds of the law. If you’re looking for “justice” for the victim, you’ll have to search somewhere else because it won’t come from a courtroom.

Finally, I’ll just add that this case struck me as yet another example of how the media can pervert the public perception of the justice system. For three years, the cable networks, especially people like Nancy Grace, covered this case like it was the biggest story ever and had essentially already tried and convicted Casey Anthony even before the trial started. It wouldn’t surprise me if people who spent their time watching such stuff are now sitting around wondering what the heck happened and how this jury could let the “Tot Mom” go free when it’s so clear that she killed her baby.  Of course, people don’t get tried and convicted in on Headline News, they get tried in a Court of Law, where they have rights and where the state has to prove their guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The people who have spent the last three years thinking they “know” Casey Anthony is guilty, don’t really know anything.

I don’t know what really happened in June of 2008 with Caylee Anthony. It’s possible it was cold blooded murder, it’s possible it was an accident, it’s possible that entire Anthony family is so messed up that they’ve been engaged in a three year long cover-up. We’ll probably never know the truth. As far as the law is concerned, though, Casey Anthony is not guilty of killing her daughter, and we should all be thankful that the process works most of the time because as Cory Maye or Cameron Todd Willingham can tell you, when it doesn’t work things can really go badly for you.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Herb says:

    This highlights why I would prefer we followed the old Scottish model and labeled verdicts ‘Proven’ or ‘Not Proven’ instead of the misleading ‘Guilty’ and ‘Not Guilty,’

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 0

  2. PJ says:

    As far as the law is concerned, though, Casey Anthony is not guilty of killing her daughter, and we should all be thankful that the process works most of the time because as Cory Maye or Cameron Todd Willingham can tell you, when it doesn’t work things can really go badly for you.

    Cameron Todd Willingham can’t really tell anyone anything.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  3. Steve Verdon says:

    Instead, I would submit that this case is evidence that, when allowed to operate properly, the criminal justice system works pretty well.

    I’m sorry, was that supposed to be sarcastic?

    Have you not read about Stephen Hayne and his buddy Michael West?

    Have you not seen the information coming from the Institute for Justice?

    How about all the forensics scandals that have been coming to light lately?

    Yeah, in theory it might work great, but that theory should be tossed in the rubbish bin when you look at the empirical evidence.

    And good point PJ about Cameron Todd Willingham, that our criminal justice system still has the death penalty makes the quoted statement above almost grotesque.

    Sorry to be so harsh Doug.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  4. Wayne says:

    I didn’t follow the case much. I wonder how many base their assumption of guilt on what they “feel”. One of the legal analyst who was upset about the verdict was ask what the most compelling fact that pointed to “Casey’s” being guilty of murder. She replied “well there was tape on her jaw”. That “may” have indicated some foul play but I’m not sure how that implicated Casey. If that was the strongest piece of information they had against her then the case was weak.

    Also many of those interview talk about how a young child died and that justice needs to be served by convicting Casey. That may or may not be true but insisting that someone is found guilty otherwise justice is not served is an emotional response. One needs to find the guilty party guilty while protecting the not guilty. They just seem more emotional than rational to me.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

  5. MBunge says:

    “it’s the state’s obligation to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. That is an incredibly high standard.”

    It’s only an incredible high standard for unreasonable people. I haven’t heard anyone propose this yet, but I wonder if this isn’t evidence of the CSI effect where a decade or so of forensic crime shows that are practically science fiction has caused people to expect 100% undeniable proof in these sorts of cases.

    Mike

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 1

  6. PD Shaw says:

    I’m generally not in favor of prosecuting lies to the government. But here, where the child was still missing and the mother blamed some made-up nanny for kidnapping her child, she should serve real time. I’m surprised those findings of guilt didn’t amount to at least convictions on aggravated child abuse.

    There is clearly something wrong with this woman, but one must always be careful that the actual murderer isn’t hiding behind the psychotic or mentally deficient antics of another.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  7. ponce says:

    But here, where the child was still missing and the mother blamed some made-up nanny for kidnapping her child, she should serve real time.

    If she supposedly didn’t report her child missing for a month, isn’t that a crime, too?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  8. Drew says:

    On balance a fair treatment, IMHO, Doug. All except, “it works,”

    Here in IL we had a corrupt governor who in round one went relatively unscathed. In round two he got creamed. Whatup with that?

    File this under the things you don’t want to see being made: sausage, credit decisions and jury decisions.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  9. In that case, the evidence of Simpson’s guilt was clear, and the jury’s malfeasance was apparent.

    I disagree here. I think OJ did it, but had I been on the jury, I would have voted to acquit as well. It comes down to two questions asked Mark Furman when he was on the stand:

    Have you ever fabricated evidence or a police report during an investigation? He pled the fifth.
    Did you fabricate evidence or a police report during THIS investigation? He pled the fifth.

    At that point, you pretty much have to throw out the prosecution’s entire case, because you can’t really trust any of their evidence or testimony beyond a reasonable doubt.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  10. Steve Verdon says:

    ….Casey Anthony is not guilty of killing her daughter, and we should all be thankful that the process works most of the time because as Cory Maye or Cameron Todd Willingham can tell you, when it doesn’t work things can really go badly for you.

    I haven’t followed this case at all. However, lets look at this part.

    Assume Anthony is guilty, we have 3 examples of failure of the system. Not good.

    Assume Anthony is not guilty, we have 2 out of 3 examples where the system failed. Not good.

    So, with your, admittedly selected, sample Doug you really are painting of a system that is fundamentally broken.

    This suggests to me that our system is all too often not allowed to operate properly. In fact, based on some things I’d say it is fundamentally flawed. For example, I think all people on death row who want DNA tested should be allowed such a test. After all, it is going to work for those who have been wrongfully convicted. But we have seen it up and down the system that this should never ever be allowed.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  11. Joe R. says:

    Doug says:

    Second, the criminal justice system is about a quest for the truth within the bounds of the law, not a quest for “justice” for the victim.

    Unfortunately, the state attorney does not agree.

    For us the case has never been about the defendant in particular, it’s always about, it has always been, about seeking justice for Caylee and speaking on her behalf.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  12. @Joe R.:

    Then I would say that the prosecutor has a fundamental misunderstanding of his role in the legal system, and that concerns me greatly as an attorney.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  13. Bill Jempty says:

    The media coverage of this case and its participants was beyond absurd. One time the Orlando Sentinel had big news- Anthony’s lawyer had a stomach ache.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  14. PD Shaw says:

    Steve Verdon, no system, whether it be a power plant or a judicial system ensure 100% accuracy in the initial screening of issues. That’s why there are checks in the event mistakes occur. You seem to be assuming that a “not guilty” verdict on the major charges means a failure. The failure may be how the prosecution handled the case, including overcharging in seeking the death penalty. When you let a jury know that their decision might have more permanence than normal, some will get cold feat while they weigh the evidence.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  15. PD Shaw says:

    Also, as I belatedly commented in the Cory Maye thread, a good portion of the problem there was legislative. It appears that when he killed the cop, Mississippi had not yet enacted the Castle Doctrine, which I assume is the issue that got Balko interested in the first place — to him Maye was representative of a legisltive failure that has since been addressed.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  16. Joe R. says:

    Doug: I should clarify, I agree with you, and his comments disturbed me greatly. He was out for vengeance, not justice.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 2

  17. John Cain says:

    @MBunge:

    The CSI effect doesn’t exist to the extent that prosecutors claim, if at all. If anything, we have the opposite problem: juries will believe an expert regardless of whether said expert is full of shit or not. See: Dr. Stephen Hayne.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  18. PD Shaw says:

    To follow-up on the “screening” metaphor. She was indicted by a grand jury. They would have had to find that for each charge “a reasonable ground of suspicion supported by circumstances strong enough in themselves to warrant a cautious person in the belief that the named suspect is guilty of the offense charged.” That is not guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, and it’s not considering the evidence the defense might introduce (though often in practice the defense introduces nothing). The case was screened as having merit for trial, but the evidence ultimately did not meet the ultimate standard.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  19. Steve Verdon says:

    PD Shaw,

    You seem to be assuming that a “not guilty” verdict on the major charges means a failure.

    If she is indeed guilty then yes, that is a failure. Admittedly noting that it is better to have those kinds of failures than to convict, let alone execute, an innocent is probably a feature not a bug….until we get to Cameron Todd Willingham whom Doug seems to think was innocent and was executed.

    We have a broken system. That was my point. Which you completely ignore.

    The CSI effect doesn’t exist to the extent that prosecutors claim, if at all. If anything, we have the opposite problem: juries will believe an expert regardless of whether said expert is full of shit or not. See: Dr. Stephen Hayne.

    Exactly. Add to that Dr. Michael West, and other forensics scandals and anyone who talks about the CSI effect harming the prosecution should be horse whipped.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  20. Steve Verdon says:

    U.S. Army forensics scandal. A nice graph,

    Investigators discovered that Mills had cut corners and even falsified reports in one case. He found DNA where it didn’t exist, and failed to find it where it did. His mistakes may have let the guilty go free while the innocent, such as House, were convicted…

    A scandal from Seattle.

    Greenberg had proved such a toxic force — a poison coursing through the state’s court system — that it took more than three years for lawyers and judges to sift through his victims and account for the damage done.

    New York.

    According to the Post’s scoop, “maybe thousands” of criminal convictions could be thrown into question by allegations of falsification of drug-test results by a technician in the NYPD’s forensics laboratory.

    North Carolina.

    North Carolina’s criminal justice system remains beset by scandal almost a year after an independent audit revealed that state crime lab technicians provided false or misleading test results in 190 cases of murder and other major crimes.

    And that is from just a few minutes of googling.

    Yeah, we have a great criminal justice system.

    Pardon me, I have to go fall down laughing now.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  21. Ben Wolf says:

    @PD Shaw: Balko was concerned by the railroading and blatant racism. The Castle Doctrine doesn’t address that.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  22. PD Shaw says:

    Steve Verdon, I usually like looking at an episode that catches people’s attention and trying to figure out what there is to learn. I don’t have the time to look at every p.o.v. thrown out there. You don’t either when the accusation is made about capitalism.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  23. Pug says:

    Instead, I would submit that this case is evidence that, when allowed to operate properly, the criminal justice system works pretty well.

    I’m also sorry to be harsh, Doug, but my reaction to a statement like that, and we are hearing lawyer after lawyer on TV repeating it, is very simple: bullshit.

    Every day prosecutors ram one after another indigent defendant with a hopelessly incompetent public defender into prison on plea bargains after theatening to overcharge them and give them the max if they don’t cop a plea. The better off with private lawyers also walk every day after copping to a reduced charge with a fine and, at worst, a suspended sentence.

    One little lying high-publicity murderer getting off doesn’t change the ludicrous injustice of our justice system.

    Yes, It’s possible it was cold blooded murder, it’s possible it was an accident…. And it’s possible the little girl really pissed off the Tooth Fairy and ended up dumped in the swamp with duct tape over her mouth. Who knows?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  24. OzarkHillbilly says:

    The problem with forensic labs is they all work for the police. If your boss wants something, don’t you tend to give it to him? So do they.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  25. Ben says:

    @PD Shaw:

    She’s already done 3 years PD. By the way, how is this a “speedy trial”?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  26. Steve Verdon says:

    Steve Verdon, I usually like looking at an episode that catches people’s attention and trying to figure out what there is to learn. I don’t have the time to look at every p.o.v. thrown out there. You don’t either when the accusation is made about capitalism.

    True enough, but we have hundreds if not thousands of cases that have been tainted by forensics scandals across the country. All too often forensics experts see themselves as part of law enforcement vs. being scientists presenting the evidence that was found in an as objective manner as possible. Instead they see their job as helping to catch criminals and right there that biases their results.

    When it comes to things like DNA testing and the death penalty we have a system focused entirely on procedure vs. actually determining the truth. In other words, it is okay if we end up executing an innocent person so long as procedures are observed.

    Those are two glaring problems with our criminal/legal system.

    Every day prosecutors ram one after another indigent defendant with a hopelessly incompetent public defender into prison on plea bargains after theatening to overcharge them and give them the max if they don’t cop a plea.

    Hell this can happen even to someone who is not indigent, but can’t go toe-to-toe with the state. Another example of how our system is broken. Overcharge somebody so that they plea down, prosecutor gets to mark it as a win, and who cares about justice and the truth.

    So it is a little disappointing when I see someone who’s opinion I respect say, “See, working as intended.”

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