America's Most Hated
America loves a villain and not since the trial of OJ Simpson has the nation's lust for blood more fervent than during the Casey Anthony trial. A Minnesota woman even drove to Orlando, Florida to witness the trial.
Our country was fed by reporters such as Nancy Grace, whose nightly indictments of "Tot Mom" created an image of an anonymous monster incapable of any human feeling. The press failed to objectively discuss the weight of the testimony and evidence and who instead made her conviction seem all but certain.
Since her acquittal on murder charges last week, Casey Anthony has quickly become one of the most despised women in America. A nation was convinced she was guilty of murdering her 2-year-old daughter, Caylee, and was ready to riot when she was acquitted. The court of public opinion may be against her, but they fail to understand the constitutional protections that lie beneath Anthony's acquittal.
The Burden of Proof - Guilt Beyond A Reasonable Doubt
The reality is that we don't convict people in this country simply because we do not like them. We can only convict a person if we can be certain beyond a shadow of a doubt that the individual is guilty of the crime charged. This means that if there is another plausible and reasonable explanation we must acquit the person.
The framers of our constitution understood that it is not possible to convict every guilty person without necessarily convicting innocent persons as well. To reduce the chance of convicting persons by mistakes they drafted the 5th Amendment which states, "No person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law." The 14th Amendment, incorporated over 75 years later, applied that same protection to the states.
In a concurring opinion of the famous United States Supreme Court case, In re Winship (1970), Justice Harlan recognized that there would always be a margin of error when applying this standard but reasoned that, "it is far worse to convict an innocent man than to let a guilty man go free."
Direct evidence points directly to the culpability of a suspect. It is the proverbial 'smoking gun' in the suspect's hands. Circumstantial evidence on the other hand, is evidence gathered from surrounding circumstances which could lead a reasonable person to believe that an individual is responsible for the crime.
The prosecution was hampered by not having any direct physical evidence implicating Casey Anthony with her daughter's death. The case against Casey Anthony was built entirely on circumstantial evidence such as her lies to friends and family and her failure to report her daughter missing for over 30 days which reflected an incredibly immature and self-centered young woman. They were forced to rely on testimony of George Anthony, who testified to the 'smell of death' found in the trunk of Casey Anthony's car. The jury found his testimony unreliable.
The state could not show that the duct tape found near the little girl's body had ever been affixed to her face and nor could they produce any evidence showing the little girl had been drugged.
Weight of Potential for Death Penalty Not Lost on Jurors
The death penalty is the most severe of consequences and jurors do not take the responsibility of deciding whether someone could potentially be executed lightly. Because the consequences of a conviction are so extreme, jurors are less likely to convict when only circumstantial evidence is presented. The most famous exception to this trend was conviction of Scott Peterson for the murder of his wife Laci.
Still, the verdict could not have been easy for Casey Anthony jurors. Even though they were sequestered during the entire trial, they must have known the public expected a conviction. In the end, after reviewing all of the evidence presented, they found the prosecution had not proved their case beyond a reasonable doubt.
Although Minnesota abolished the death penalty in 1911, the consequences for a person convicted of a violent crime are still severe. An experienced criminal defense attorney can advise you of your rights.