Friday, July 8, 2011

Calm Down for a Second: My $.02 on the Casey Anthony Verdict

Please allow me to go off topic for a minute. It’s Friday, after all.

This week, the jury in the Casey Anthony trial decided that the prosecution did not meet its burden in establishing, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Casey Anthony was responsible for the death of Caylee Anthony. I am not going to provide my own insights as to why the jury decided the way they did, or whether the prosecution or the defense presented their cases in an effective and appropriate manner. The jury has rendered its verdict, and the judicial system has functioned as designed.

The fallout of the jury’s verdict has been as varied as the issues raised at trial. Some have come out in support of the defense and Casey Anthony, others have criticized the prosecution for their inability to secure a guilty verdict on the murder and/or manslaughter charges. Cable news pundits will continue to discuss the implications of this case for days or weeks to come, and the ratings bare out the ongoing interest in this case. Whether you agree with the jury and the outcome, or believe you would have voted differently if you were one of the twelve, there is plenty of room for analysis and reflection. Discourse and discussion are healthy and should be encouraged.

However, I have heard and read growing criticism of “the legal system” from the many people that believe the jury “got it wrong”. Some of the more disturbing comments have been along the lines of death threats, calls for sterilization, or calls for others to kill or injure the accused. Some people are going so far as to levy threats and calls for harassment against the jurors themselves.

More unsettling are calls for a complete overhaul of the legal system to eliminate the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard required for criminal convictions on a case-by-case basis. Essentially, such calls would allow the government to arbitrarily reduce the standard required to convict someone accused of a particularly reprehensible crime.

I understand that people are angry, and these calls for reform will undoubtedly gather no legislative traction. However, I believe that we all need to take a step back and recognize that our system, although imperfect, is designed to place a burden on the government to prove their claims before we are stripped of any of our individual freedoms. Calling for a reduced standard, or advocating for the death or injury of the acquitted undermines the concept of “innocent until proven guilty” that has been the cornerstone of our criminal justice system since the Bill of Rights was ratified in 1791. In the words of one of our founding fathers:

They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety” – Benjamin Franklin

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