(Blogger’s Note: I am reticent to write a blog about the same subject two weeks in a row. However, an event like the Casey Anthony acquittal is an extraordinary occurrence. It has garnered a sustained media frenzy that can only be likened to lowering an elephant into a piranha tank. Moreover, rarely have we seen an episode that seemingly shakes the American public’s faith in the jury system. As a result, I am centering on Ms. Anthony’s case again in this blog. Next week: YouTube’s most popular furry animal video.)
Watching cable news, the closest comparison to this trial (by consensus) is the acquittal of O.J. Simpson. However, imagine explaining this analogy to a man who had been trapped on a desert island for the last 10 years (let’s call him Mr. Robinson). Mr. Robinson clearly remembers the O.J. trial. It was the public downfall of an American hero. A Hall of Fame football star who was building an acting career was accused of a gruesome double-murder in the middle of one of Los Angeles’s wealthiest neighborhoods. Complete with an on-air Ford Bronco chase and an all-star legal team, this trial (and acquittal) was hard for anyone to forget.
“Tell me about Casey Anthony!” Mr. Robinson asks you with great anticipation. “She must be a celebrity who did something really bad to merit ‘O.J. level’ attention.” Then (almost embarrassedly so), you must explain to Mr. Robinson that Casey Anthony was simply an unemployed woman living part-time with her parents who was accused of killing her young child in a middle-class Orlando suburb and not reporting it for a month. She was not famous and in the terrible annals of child murders, this was not a remarkable cause of death. “Oh.” Mr. Robinson replies quizzically. You add enthusiastically, “There were photos of her dancing in a night club!” Mr. Robinson thinks for a moment and then adds, “Times have certainly changed since I have been away.” You have no retort.
On the afternoon of July 5, 2011 a metaphorical nuclear bomb exploded in the State of Florida. Hyperbole, you say? Probably. However, it’s difficult to describe the massive reaction to such an unexpected verdict in the Anthony case. The vitriolic fallout from the public that has arisen from this verdict has been something that caused massive damage to the public’s faith in the justice system and will likely linger for years.
In fact, it could be argued that the greatest victim of the Casey Anthony trial (obviously second to Caylee Anthony) has been the reputation of the American jury system. Public outrage (fueled by a litany of former-prosecutor TV talking heads) has declared jurors too stupid to be trusted with important decisions. Debates have raged on the need for more judiciary discretion or “professional jurors.” If mental deficiency was not the cause, many media experts have suggested that the dreaded “CSI Effect” blinded the jurors (see here for my blog obliterating the CSI Effect). Without doubt, the sales of pitchforks and torches have skyrocketed this July.
It is here that we come to a crossroads between our legal code and one’s moral code. The legal code is a set of rules that we live by. The legal code says that the prosecution must prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt, and Casey Anthony has no requirement to even put up a defense. One’s moral code says that any mother who doesn’t report a missing child is lacking and likely guilty of wrongdoing. One’s moral code may wish to punish aberrant behavior (like nightclub dancing) or perpetual lying and assume that these are symptoms of murder.
History has shown us the hazards of blending one’s morality with a justice system. Examples include: feudalism (land owner morality), monarchy (the king's morality), the inquisition (the church’s morality), fascism (the dictator's morality) and McCarthyism (the witch hunter’s or lynch mob's morality).
Our system is not perfect, but we tie a blindfold around Justice’s eyes for a reason. It helps us to find a result determined by law, not morality. In fact, a rising number of countries are actually turning to the jury system in criminal matters because of rampant judicial corruption. Hopefully, one murder trial in Florida will not be enough for others to rethink a system that the rest of the world is learning from.
Blogger: Matt McCusker