Search This Blog

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

It’s Over, Finally Over In Florida

“No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.” — Fifth Amendment to the Constitution of The United States.

Reasonable Doubt – A standard of proof that must be surpassed to convict an accused in a criminal proceeding.”

According to the Free Law Dictionary “reasonable doubt” is:

“Reasonable doubt is a standard of proof used in criminal trials. When a criminal defendant is prosecuted, the prosecutor must prove the defendant's guilt Beyond a Reasonable Doubt. If the jury—or the judge in a bench trial—has a reasonable doubt as to the defendant's guilt, the jury or judge should pronounce the defendant not guilty. Conversely, if the jurors or judge have no doubt as to the defendant's guilt, or if their only doubts are unreasonable doubts, then the prosecutor has proven the defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt and the defendant should be pronounced guilty.

Reasonable doubt is the highest standard of proof used in court. In civil litigation the standard of proof is either proof by a preponderance of the evidence or proof by clear and convincing evidence. These are lower burdens of proof. A preponderance of the evidence simply means that one side has more evidence in its favor than the other, even by the smallest degree. Clear and convincing evidence is evidence that establishes a high probability that the fact sought to be proved is true. The main reason that the high proof standard of reasonable doubt is used in criminal trials is that criminal trials can result in the deprivation of a defendant's liberty or in the defendant's death, outcomes far more severe than occur in civil trials where money damages are the common remedy.

Reasonable doubt is required in criminal proceedings under the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. In in re Winship, 397 U.S. 358, 90 S. Ct. 1068, 25 L. Ed. 2d 368 (1970), the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the highest standard of proof is grounded on "a fundamental value determination of our society that it is far worse to convict an innocent man than to let a guilty man go free."

Today the three-year saga of little Caylee Marie Anthony came to an end in a Florida courtroom when a jury of 7 women and 5 men returned a not guilty verdict after 11 hours of deliberation. Fox News reported at soon after the verdict was in:

A Florida jury has cleared Casey Anthony of murdering her 2-year-old daughter, Caylee, bringing to a close a case that has captivated the American public for more than three years.

Anthony, 25, wept after the clerk read the verdict, which jurors reached after less than 11 hours of deliberation over two days.

She was charged with first-degree murder, which could brought the death penalty if she had been convicted, but the jury, after a trial lasting more than a month, found her not guilty on all charges related to Caylee's death, including aggravated child abuse and aggravated manslaughter. She was convicted of four counts of lying to investigators and could receive up to a year in jail for each count when Judge Belvin Perry sentences her Thursday.

She likely will get credit for spending much of the past three years in jail waiting for trial, so it's possible she could be released as soon as later this week.

After the verdict was read, Anthony hugged her attorney Jose Baez and later mouthed the words "thank you" to him.

Prosecutors sat solemnly in their seats, looking stunned. Prosecutor Jeff Ashton shook his head slightly from side to side in apparent disbelief. Across the room, Anthony's father wiped tears from his eyes. Without speaking to Casey, he and his wife left the courtroom escorted by police as the judge thanked the jury.

"We felt very strongly about our case. We always felt that (the prosecution's) case was built on nothing," defense attorney Jose Baez told Fox News' Geraldo Rivera. "The jury saw through all of the fantasy and forensics and saw through a lot of the lies presented before them."

"While we're happy for Casey, there are no winners in this case," Baez told reporters shortly after the verdict was read. "Caylee has passed on far, far too soon. And what my driving force has been for the last three years has been always to make sure that there has been justice for Caylee and Casey, because Casey did not murder Caylee. It's that simple."

"Our system of justice has not dishonored her memory by a false conviction," he said.

State Attorney Lamar Lawson, meanwhile, called the verdict disappointing.

"We’re disappointed with the verdict today and surprised because we know the facts," Lawson told reporters.

Lawson, who praised the prosecution's efforts, called the trial a "dry bones" case that was "very difficult to prove" because it relied largely on circumstantial evidence.

Caylee's remains were found six months after she was reported missing, and no cause of death was ever determined -- a fact Lawson said "worked to our considerable disadvantage."

In a similar report from Reuters the not guilty verdict for Casey Anthony on Tuesday also can be seen as a victory for the U.S. justice system, despite strong public opinion that she killed her 2 year-old daughter:

“A Florida jury cleared Anthony of the murder charge she faced in the 2008 death of her daughter, Caylee, but found her guilty of lying to police about the incident.

A number of media commentators had expected Anthony to be found guilty of murder in the case, even though prosecutors were forced to rely largely on circumstantial evidence.

Doug Berman, a criminal law professor at Ohio State University, said popular opinion came to the conclusion the 25 year-old Anthony was guilty, but that jurors must hold to a higher standard than the average citizen watching on TV.

That standard is guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

"In some sense, it's a sign that the system worked well," Berman said. "The job of the system is not to turn this into a Hollywood ending, but to have all the actors in the system do the job to the best of their ability."

Josh Niewoehner, a Chicago attorney who worked on the successful defense of R&B singer R. Kelly against charges of child pornography, said he welcomed the Anthony verdict.

"It's a good day for justice in the sense that you have to prove every element of every crime beyond a reasonable doubt," he added.

The case against Anthony, who had faced the possibility of the death penalty if found guilty of murdering her daughter, was short on forensic evidence, such as Caylee's time or manner of death, Berman said.

Berman said popular television show "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" has influenced jurors in recent years, by giving them the false impression every case has the same clear-cut forensic evidence featured in that fictional series.

"There's been a lot of speculation that lay jurors have now gotten even less likely to convict, because they're under the false impression that every case is going to have some sort of forensic smoking gun," he said.

Because of the tragic nature of 2 year-old Caylee Anthony's death, many in the public felt someone must be held responsible and they saw Casey Anthony as that person, experts said.

"Popular opinion did find her guilty, which is why we have so many people right now in shock," said psychologist Gregory Jantz, author of "Overcoming Anxiety, Worry and Fear" and founder of counseling and treatment center A Place of Hope.”

Many Americans are stunned today that Casey Anthony has been found not guilty by a Florida jury for the murder or manslaughter of her 2-year old daughter, Caylee Marie. Not only that but critics are already taking to the media and speaking out, suggesting that the Florida jury rendered the wrong verdict.

After all, how could a jury acquit such a person when it’s so apparent that the defendant lied?

But the jury didn’t totally acquit Ms. Anthony. They found her guilty of lying to law enforcement because that’s the charge the prosecution was able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt.

Proving anything ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ is the highest standard under the law. It is much more severe than the civil standard of proving a case ‘by a preponderance’ of the evidence, or the evidentiary standard of ‘clear and convincing.’

Florida criminal case jury instructions say that, “a reasonable doubt is not a mere possible doubt, a speculative imaginary or forced doubt on the other hand, if after carefully considering, comparing and weighing all the evidence there is not an abiding conviction of guilt, or, if having a conviction, it is one which is not stable but which waivers and vacillates, then the charge is not proved beyond every reasonable doubt and you must find the defendant not guilty because the doubt is reasonable. It is to the evidence introduced in this trial, and to it alone, that you are to look to that proof.”

In layman's terms, jurors must render their verdict only on the evidence presented to them in court and they cannot to let their imagination or speculation guide their decisions. In this case the jurors honored those instructions. They complied with the law.

Perhaps one of the most compelling pieces of circumstantial evidence in this case was the fact that someone did an Internet search for the word “chloroform,” on Ms. Anthony’s computer 84 times in March 2008, only a couple months before Caylee went missing that summer. That is undeniably very suspicious. But is it proof beyond a reasonable doubt that Ms. Anthony murdered her daughter? It may not even be evidence by a preponderance of the evidence, which is significantly lower.

Many Americans are frequently confused by the verdict in many high profile criminal cases, the O.J. Simpson case probably being the most memorable. There was initially a great deal of compelling circumstantial evidence that suggested that Mr. Simpson killed his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman in Brentwood, California. However, Simpson was found responsible for the deaths of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman in a civil suit where the “preponderance of evidence” was the guiding legal principle to the jurors.

I am a person who believes the victim is often overlooked in criminal trials. I am pro death penalty and I believe that society and the victims deserve retribution for crimes against them.

I believe here were three reasons Casey Anthony got off scott-free with the murder of her two-year old daughter; over-charging by the prosecution, contradictions in the forensic evidence and a jury that was tired and wanted to go home.

Over Charging by the Prosecution

The prosecution decided to charge Casey Anthony with first degree murder, a capital offense in the state of Florida. Yes, there were lesser charges the jury could have fallen back on, but they decided that she was also not guilty of those charges.

The State had a weak first degree case based on circumstantial evidence with little solid forensic evidence and most of all they lack a definite cause of death. While circumstantial evidence has brought in guilty verdicts in death penalty cases such as Scott Peterson. In this case, with the weak forensics and lack of any DNA the prosecution was walking on his ice by going for the death penalty. Even though this jury was “death penalty qualified” there were several jurors who had reservations against the death penalty but said they would “try” to base their decision on the evidence even if that decision would result in the death penalty. I seriously doubt if someone against the death penalty will change their minds when push comes to shove. It’s just not human nature. This jury was predominately anti-death penalty, especially for a 25-year old woman who they saw as a victim of a dysfunctional family. After three years of pretrial waiting and the arguments of her defense attorney Casey Anthony became the victim.

Contradictions in the Forensic Evidence

Casey Anthony’s attorney, Jose Baez, did a brilliant job of pushing his “fantasy forensics” argument into the heads of the jurors. While most of the legal pundits were quick to criticize his attack of the forensics like the duct tape and search for chloroform I felt he was effectively planting the “shadow of doubt” in the minds of the jurors, and that’s all this jury needed.

I watched most of the defense’s closing arguments on Sunday and I must confess, that as a lay person as the jurors were, I was becoming convinced and developing a doubt as o the prosecution’s case. However, all of the other circumstantial evidence would have led me to a guilty verdict on one of the lesser charges. Something this jury decided against.

The Jury was Tired and Wanted to go Home,

After almost a month of being sequestered without access to family and friends, no TV, no phone call, no newspapers and no internet these 17 jurors (12 jurors and 5 alternates) were tired of the trial and wanted to go home. The 11 hours of deliberation bears a great deal of evidence to my statement. they did not want the death penalty and did not want to convict on the lesser charges. They wanted it done so they could go home. I do not believe, no matter what future interviews with jurors will show, they based their decision on reasonable doubt but on the shadow of doubt. We, as a society, have become so accustomed to TV trials lasting 15 minutes on the crime scene shows like CSI and reality shows that we expect definite forensic evidence to convict a criminal. These are TV shows that have forensic labs that no city, county or state has. Even the FBI does not have the magical technology that is shown on TV.

This trial will make it more possible for criminals to walk who can hire lawyers that are clever enough to obfuscate the evidence with their alternative tales and arguments of fantasy forensics. We do not live in a perfect TV world where we know who the criminal is from the beginning of the show and where science wins out in the end. We live in a world where, without a confession, we rely to a great degree on circumstantial evidence to convict a criminal.

Jurors are not supposed to base their decision on what may see obvious to the average person watching the news. They are supposed to base their verdict on the evidence, nothing more. That’s the law.

Shortly after the verdict was read in Florida, Anthony’s attorney, Jose Baez told the press, “We have the greatest constitutional system in the world, and if the media and other members of the public do not respect it, it will become meaningless.”

What many people often think is the product of a flawed justice system that allows the guilty to walk free is actually the finest example of our judicial process and the constitutional framework that designed it.

Casey Anthony’s verdict should remind us of the sanctity of civil liberties and due process rights, and how fortunate we are to live in a country where those constitutional principles are honored.

Those civil liberty protections, the ‘little things’ that that we take for granted are precisely what we will depend on most if we are the ones who are falsely accused. It is what reminds us that we live in America, and that despite its occasional miscarriages of justice we wouldn’t – or shouldn’t have it any other way.

No matter what is said there is a little girl who was murdered and thrown into a swamp to rot away. Will justice ever be found for Caylee Anthony? There’s an old saying that goes; “If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck it must be a duck,”

No comments:

Post a Comment