Wednesday, July 06, 2011

People Have Been Convicted Of Murder On Far Less Evidence

Everyone seems to be reacting fairly badly against the jury that found Casey Anthony not guilty of murdering her 2-year-old daughter Caylee. There's a media frenzy to boot, which borders on the insane.

I haven't written about the case because I didn't find it particularly fascinating or interesting - parents are charged with the murder of their children all too frequently and this seemed like a pretty cut and dry case. There appeared to be enough circumstantial evidence to find her guilty.

It's entirely understandable that there's so much anger against the jury and Anthony. She might actually go free despite being found guilty on the lesser charges of lying to law enforcement (a judge may find that she should be released on time served from the point of arrest until the verdict yesterday is more than sufficient to cover the sentence for those charges).

Apparently some in the jury wanted to know how Caylee died. It's a natural question, but one that the prosecutors couldn't answer because the medical examiners and investigators couldn't pin down a cause of death.

That shouldn't have stopped a jury from reaching that decision. After all, there are people convicted of murder all the time and no one has recovered a body. In those cases, prosecutors have the task of first proving that the victim is in fact dead, before they can go ahead and prove that the defendant was responsible for the victim's death.

So, this wasn't a case where the jury simply decided that they couldn't find that Casey killed Caylee because she would have faced the death penalty. That calculus doesn't come up in this portion of the trial - the jury considers the punishment separate from the conviction. Had the jury found her guilty of murder, they would have then had to separately decide whether to sentence her to life in prison or the death penalty.

No, I think the real reason that the jury found as it did is the CSI/NCIS/Law and Order'ing of the American jury pool. People have come to expect so much from crime investigation services that they can pinpoint every last detail. This is a case where the jury thought that they should have had more information than they were provided.

This isn't always a bad thing - juries should be discriminating and demanding the burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt that individuals are guilty of the crimes charged. But it also seems that this particular jury was substituting a burden far higher than even that in demanding more proof that Anthony killed her daughter.

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