Americans are “shocked”and “outraged” at the verdict of Not Guilty rendered by the jury in the Casey Anthony trial. Nancy Grace is positively apoplectic on her “show”, and she and many of the “expert” commentators on the cable networks are speculating about just how stupid the jurors are.
You may be outraged, too. If you are watching Nancy Grace right now, you may be agreeing with her that the “story” told by the defense was not plausible. You may be wondering along with Grace, “where is the retribution for Little Caylee? Where is the justice?” You may have followed the trial on the cable networks, and listened to the myriad lawyers, jury consultants, psychologists, and former “law enforcement” personnel who shared their “expertise.”
You may agree with Casey Anthony’s former fiancee who is on TV right now saying that he is disgusted by the defense team in this case, because for them, “it was never about a search for the truth, it was about win at all costs.”
If you are doing any of these things, you are far from alone. Sadly, the one lesson we can take away from this trial, the verdict, and the reaction to the verdict, is this:
Americans have absolutely no idea how their justice system works, or why it works the way it does.
They have no idea what “burden of proof” means. They have no idea that the rules of evidence allow some evidence to be presented to the jury and prohibit other evidence from being presented. They have no idea what “beyond a reasonable doubt means.” They have no idea that a jury is given instructions by the judge, very explicit and binding instructions, that tell them what must be proved to them in order to find a defendant guilty, what they may consider as evidence, how they may consider it, what they may not consider, and under what circumstances they can not find a defendant guilty.
Americans have no idea about the duty of the defense lawyer. They have no idea that it is his or her professional responsibility to zealously defend the client, that his or her only job is to defend that client as vigorously and thoroughly as he or she can. And they have no idea how important that job is.
They have no idea that the purpose of a trial is not to avenge the death of a victim, but to determine whether the government has enough evidence to hold someone responsible for that death. So that if a defendant is found not guilty, it has nothing to do with dishonoring a victim, or a failure of retribution.
Americans think that, if they, sitting in their living rooms watching cable, believe that a defendant is guilty, then the only “just” outcome of a trial is a guilty verdict. They think that if the government “loses” and a defendant is found not guilty, then justice has been denied.
Americans think that if a prosecutor calls something “science”, then it must be science. They think that if “law enforcement” says that something happened a certain way, then it must have. They think that if someone on cable tv says something, then it must be so. Hell, they think that if someone is on cable tv, then he or she must know what they are talking about.
Americans are outraged by a not guilty verdict in a trial in which the prosecution couldn’t meet its burden of proof. Where is the outrage when a man is released from prison after serving 27 years for three rapes that dna testing has now proved he didn’t commit. How about for the hundreds of other people exonorated after serving unimaginable prison terms? We don’t even notice those cases.
You didn’t sit through every minute of every day of the trial. You didn’t listen to the all-important jury instructions. If you had, then you would be in a position to judge the verdict. But you didn’t, and neither did I. So we have to respect the verdict, and understand that our system is a product of our Constitution, of the freedoms and rights we celebrate so loudly in our politics. If you respect the Constitution, respect the verdict.