Saturday, July 9, 2011

Casey Anthony & The Burden of Proof

Rarely does a criminal case get the international recognition that the trial of Casey Anthony has garnered. From the moment that her 'Not Guilty' verdict was read on July 5, 2011, there have been nothing but threats of violence, hate speech, and calls for the woman's life.

There are phrases that talking legal heads - and folks with legal or criminal justice degrees - start using around this time in a trial that fall on deaf ears. "Burden of Proof," being chief among them. This is usually accompanied by the "Presumption of Innocence." In the United States the legal burden of proof - meaning the burden to prove someone's guilt or innocence - does not lie with the accused; it lies with the prosecution.

In a case such as this, as is with most criminal proceedings, they must prove something called 'Reasonable Doubt.' Reasonable Doubt is the highest legal standard of proof, and it means that the prosecution must prove the case in such a way that the opposite - the defendant's innocence - could not be reasonably believed.

So, without rehashing every bit of evidentiary support, we just need to understand that the prosecution presented a scenario: Casey Anthony killed her daughter and dumped her body in the woods after keeping it in her car. The defense presented a different scenario: Casey Anthony's daughter drowned in the family swimming pool, and Casey conspired to hide the body and lied to police as to the whereabouts of her daughter. Both presented evidence to support their claims.

Now, it is not about believing in one story or another. The verdict does not necessarily reflect that the jury believed the defense's story. It simply reflects that they felt there were enough holes in the prosecution's argument to cause reasonable doubt. They felt there were too many questions unanswered, chief among them was "How did Caylee Anthony die?" Again, this is what the jurors who are speaking to the media are saying. They believed too many questions left unanswered.


The CSI Effect: There's a problem unique to the new millennium called the CSI effect. Basically, it means that there is an over-saturation of forensic evidence based television shows that have warped the minds of the public into thinking the volume and type of forensic evidence done on television should be done with every case every time. Not only is this not possible due to extreme financial restrictions, it is also not feasible for most cases.

A quick example: At the time that I received my degree in Criminal Justice (2009), I was allowed to take a few courses in forensics and criminal profiling as an advanced degree credit. Now, by no means am I a criminal profiler or a forensic specialist, but I came to quickly realize a few things. Tire tread matching is often used in shows like CSI to rule out potential suspects and point a search in the right direction. It is used so often on these shows, that it is - many times - the first search that they run when tire tread is found. There's a bit of a problem with this...

There is only one facility in America (at the time of my instruction) that can process tire tread samples to get a match. And it's not in Las Vegas. Or New York. Or Miami. It's in Detroit, Michigan. (You know, where they make most of the cars and tires.) So, those folks on TV can't scan in tire tread and run a 5 minute search. In fact they can't scan it in at all. They have to make a mold of it and send it to Detroit and wait 6 months. Oh yeah, there are so many samples sent in - and it costs so much money - that you are looking at a minimum of 6 months to get back your results. 6 months is a long time in the life of a criminal trial.

The CSI Effect & Casey Anthony: Many articles have come out in the last couple of days attributing the verdict to the aforementioned CSI Effect. I have linked to a Washington Times article I found rather enlightening on the subject. The speed and volume at which we see forensic evidence piling up on television creates a burden of proof called 'Beyond the Shadow of Doubt.' This burden of proof is a non-legal standard that means the conviction is 100% beyond reproach. The reason this is a non-legal standard is because many philosophers and criminologists believe it is an impossible standard, something that cannot be reached simply due to what knowledge is. What a human can know beyond the shadow of a doubt.

Normally, I would summarize this all and attempt to make a point that challenges the comfortable mentality. The comfortable mentality here is to hate Casey Anthony. But, instead, I'd like to quote from the linked Washington Times article by Jim Picht:

The obvious reason is that being a juror entails more responsibility than being an observer. In the comfort of your living room, you can shout "guilty" in the knowledge that no one will die, hence you can be wrong without consequences. It's easy to make coaching decisions, investment decisions, and form opinions of guilt and innocence when nothing is at stake.

When we're more concerned about justice for the victim than justice for the accused, we tend to bias our interpretation of the evidence. Our desire to punish the criminal can completely dominate our search for the truth. The psychological literature indicates that this is precisely the case.

The public wants justice, and it perceives justice to have been delivered when someone has been convicted of a crime. An acquittal isn't a resolution at all. Either the guilty party was acquitted, or there's still a guilty person out there somewhere. Neither outcome is satisfactory. Given a choice of trusting the public jury or the actual trial jury, my vote is with the trial jury.

Anger makes for bad law. Passion is the driving force for mobs, not justice. It's right to feel anger for the death of Caylee Anthony, and it's right to want justice for her. It's wrong to want that anger to guide the law. Casey Anthony might be guilty, but it's entirely appropriate that the jury, to their dismay, didn't find her so.

Love and Lyte,

Fire Lyte

7 comments:

  1. Excellent article about something people seem to forget about.

    I'm apparently the only one who wasn't paying the slightest bit of attention to the Casey Anthony case. In fact, I didn't even know what the case was about until the verdict came out. All the hatred from people in comments on news articles & Twitter was horrifying.

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  2. "Anger makes for bad law. Passion is the driving force for mobs, not justice."

    These words can not be said often or loudly enough. As soon as someone turns 18 and is legal to vote, they should be required to watch and discuss "To Kill a Mockingbird".

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  3. Anent the alleged "CSI effect"--it appears to be a myth. Empirical research has failed to demonstrate any negative effect of CSI-type programs (in terms of inappropriate acquittals). Indeed, evidence tends to indicate, if anything, the presence of what might be called a "reverse CSI effect" that imbues the prosecution's forensic evidence with an unjustified aura of infallibility.

    Here's a link to some research, FYI.

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  4. You might want to read the research that you post as counter-evidence. If anything, the researcher points out that there is an increased disposition to obtain a guilty verdict by the juror and a placing of undue infallibility on what forensic evidence is supplied. Also, again, the researcher claims to find that juries immediately favor the prosecution, which she says is believed by jurors to be operating under an incorrect amount of certainty of guilt.

    So, while she dispels the CSI effect as myth in accordance with the idea that juries find defendants not guilty barring massive forensic evidence to the contrary, she does uphold that there has been a permutation of the culture due to programs such as these.

    Thanks for the additional research, though, and I'm glad to see you took the time to do it!

    FL

    PS. Just for fun... Did you know the word 'anent' - synonymous with the word 'about' - is considered largely an unused, archaic term from the 13th century? Isn't it funny how word usage can rise and fall over time?

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  5. Constance Reader, we were required To Kill a Mockingbird in high school. One of my favorites.

    This whole situation has been blown out of control, and in the meantime hundreds of other children have been killed by their parents and not even made regional news, let alone international. People found entertainment in this case, they found a wonderful villian they could hate. It's not better than the media frenzy around OJ or Clinton. It's all about getting people to turn on your channel, subscribe to your version of the news.

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  6. I only paid half-attention to the entire trial until the verdict came and everyone completely lost their minds. Thank you for this article. You totally have this covered! I hope people read and learn.

    I think the jurors did their constitutional duty and it could not have been easy.

    Public behavior about this case makes me very uncomfortable. It's a little too reminiscent of a mob hanging around the guillotine shouting "off with her head!" (Or perhaps a witch trial?) As a citizen, I want my due process rights intact. I don't ever want to be convicted of anything by emotion, drama, the media or a mass of screaming and chanting people with protest signs.

    I think that pagan people in particular ought to self-examine on this one a little bit, especially since some of them still accept the "burning times" mythology.

    When people say they want "justice" for the child, what they mean is: they want vengeance for the child.

    It also concerned me to see postings during the trial on FB with things like "I think we're winning!" Why did it become a "we"? People made it very personal. Creepy.

    Justice is not a reality TV show where someone gets to win a big prize or a cute new boyfriend at the end. Real people's lives can be destroyed or terminated in the course, along with our constitutional rights.

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  7. If I had a choice I wouldn't participate in jury duty for I know that the person put in court knows their story. Just as we are animals of reason we are also animals of emotion.So, at some point there might have been people casting their vote with a biased opinion. I think voting and all that jury business should be granted to 21 year-olds and above. I honestly don't think she is innocent for the mere reason of her behavior and analyzing her facial expressions and mannerisms in court. But that is my opinion at the end of the day the jury has the upper hand not me

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