Thursday, July 7, 2011

Testing the presumption of innocence

Why is that whenever someone discusses the verdict in the Casey Anthony case they must preface their comments by stating that they think she was guilty? I was in the elevator at the Criminal (In)justice Center this morning and one of my fellow attorneys said, in reference to the verdict, that you should never allow the facts (or the law) to get in the way of a good case. He thought Ms. Anthony did it.

My colleague Murray Newman posted on his blawg that he disagreed with the jury. He said he thought the jury was "gutsy" in acquitting Ms. Anthony. In his other blawg (for Houston's leading source of misinformation), Mr. Newman noted that even though he hadn't sat through the trial, he felt Ms. Anthony was guilty. 

I didn’t watch a single minute of the Casey Anthony trial.
I didn’t watch any of the testimony live.  I didn’t watch a nightly recap.  I certainly didn’t listen to Nancy Grace prattling on as if she were God’s chosen mouthpiece to all things related to criminal justice.
My knowledge of the trial was nothing more than what I heard in passing.  I had only a thumbnail sketch of the accusations and the evidence.  Maybe I’m crazy, but I don’t like going over the details of a child’s death unless I absolutely must.
But based on what little I knew of the case, Casey Anthony sure sounded pretty guilty to me, though.  Where there is smoke there surely must be fire and circumstantial evidence is still evidence at the end of the day, right?

I didn't watch any of the trial either. I didn't watch any of the nightly prattle that passed as "analysis." Hell, I didn't even know who Casey Anthony was until Brian Tannebaum, Scott Greenfield and Mark Bennett wrote about attorneys who were either commenting on the case or paying a p.r. flack to get themselves on television as commentators.

I don't know how Caylee died. I don't know if Ms. Anthony had anything to do with it. I don't know if her father had anything to do with it. And neither does anyone else who didn't sit on that jury and listen to the evidence that was placed before them.

The public made up its mind based on the mindless blabbering of Nancy Grace and her minions. If you weren't on the jury then you got to hear all sorts of stuff that wasn't allowed in the courtroom. You heard "evidence" that wasn't relevant or was deemed too prejudicial.

Ms. Anthony was innocent the day she was arrested. She was innocent the day she was arraigned. She was innocent the day the jury was sworn in. And because the government's lawyer couldn't prove his case beyond all reasonable doubt -- she is still innocent.

That's what the presumption of innocence is all about.

It's not about whether she got away with something or whether someone thinks she did it. The state failed to prove she had anything to do with the death of her daughter.

I am very happy today that there were twelve men and women who understood the concept and the idea of the presumption of innocence. I am happy that there were twelve men and women who held the government's feet to the fire and forced them to prove up the elements of their case. I am happy that there were twelve men and women who didn't just "add up" the evidence and decide Ms. Anthony was guilty. I am happy that there were twelve men and women who understood just what it means to presume another person is innocent unless prove guilty beyond all reasonable doubt.

No one criticizes juries who convict innocent people. No one criticizes juries who find people guilty despite a paucity of evidence. No one criticizes juries who ignore the presumption of innocence or who hold a defendant's silence against him.

But heaven forbid a jury do its duty.


Murray Newman said...

The reason I mentioned that I thought she was guilty was to underscore the fact that I was probably equally guilty of basing what I thought on information I saw on TV. I was admitting to falling victim to the "guilty" mentality and applauding the jury (and the jury system) for cutting through all of the B.S. that Nancy Grace-types spewed and making a decision regardless of how unpopular it was.

Paul B. Kennedy said...

I'm just picking on you, Murray.

Murray Newman said...

Yes, I know. And I think we should go to counseling.

Paul B. Kennedy said...

How much do you suppose Fickman would charge an hour?