Now here I go gettin’ all ranty…
I have refrained from commenting on the Casey Anthony verdict announced yesterday because I don’t think I know enough about the case. I was not a juror, and I was not privy to the evidence and testimony presented in court throughout the duration of Anthony’s trial. But here’s some news: neither were you. Sure, you read some articles in the news, and heard other opinions presented by the mass media, but what do you really know?
I’m sick of hearing people everywhere I go talk about how the jury was wrong, how they would have convicted her on the charge of first-degree murder and how they hope some vigilante gives Anthony “what she deserves”.
For the 25-year old woman accused of killing her 2-year old daughter, justice was served. Because in my mind, one of the cornerstones of the North American justice systems is the right to a fair trial.
Look how quick we are to point to a “flawed” justice system for “failing” us. Believe it or not, the justice system usually works. With hundreds of years of precedents in common law, we have narrowed down the room for error in trials as best we can and have developed a system that the majority of people are happy with, for the most part.
We would all like to think that if we had sat on the jury at the Anthony trial that the verdict would have been different. It’s easy to dismiss the twelve jury members as brain-dead idiots who all came to the wrong conclusion after hearing the evidence. Unfortunately, being a juror isn’t about deciding right and wrong. There are far more complex legal rules that led to Casey Anthony being found not guilty of first-degree murder, aggravated manslaughter and aggravated child abuse.
One thing people always forget about the law is that you need to prove someone did what you have accused them of. In order to convict someone of a crime they are accused of you must prove actus reus (the criminal act) and the mens rea (the intention to carry out the criminal act).
In the Anthony case, it is clear that 2-year-old Caylee died, but it is not clear how. The prosecution was unable to prove how Caylee died. It was suggested during the trial that Caylee may have drowned and her mother hid her body, but it was also suggested that Casey suffocated her using chloroform and duct tape. So which one are we convicting her of then? The prosecution was unable to prove the actus reus – the main element! – of the case.
In terms of the mens rea, we can all come up with various reasons as to why Casey may have wanted to rid herself of the responsibilities of being a single mother (allegedly so she could have the party-life she had always wanted and be with her boyfriend or because she suffered from ptsd from years of alleged sexual abuse by her father) but the prosecution was not able to prove that Casey intended to kill her daughter in order to achieve this.
The other important thing to remember is that one of the safeguards of the justice system in both Canada and the U.S. is the need to prove these elements beyond a reasonable doubt. If you have any tiny smidgen of doubt the facts that the prosecution has presented you cannot convict the accused. The facts (as presented by the prosecution) must be so convincing and obvious that you have no doubt as to their truth. If the defence is able to make you doubt the truth of the charges against the accused, you cannot convict. Seeing as the prosecution was not even able to prove how Caylee died, how can they expect to convince the jury that Casey was responsible for it?
Not only does this safeguard exist, but the judge spends the entire trial charging the jury. In plainspeak, this means that the judge spends his time explaining complex legal concepts such as guilty beyond a reasonable doubt and actus reus and mens rea so that the jury is fully capable of making these life-altering decisions on our behalf.
Imagine if it were the other way around – if it were so easy to take away someone’s right to freedom and liberty. Wouldn’t we all be up in arms about that? If it were at all possible that Anthony had killed her daughter, or had negligently let her drown, we should put her in jail right away despite a total lack of evidence. In Florida, hastily convicting Casey Anthony of first-degree murder would be sentencing her to execution based on the (lack of) evidence available.
We also forget that motive does not prove someone committed a crime. Just because Casey may have wanted to have less responsibility and party more, we can’t assume that she would kill her own daughter in order to do so. Lots of mothers may feel like that every once in awhile. Do you think your own mother didn’t wish she could go out for dinner without you every once in a while? Sure! But she didn’t kill you. And why can’t we extend the same consideration towards Casey Anthony?
Everyone is quick to assume that justice for little Caylee was not served in the courtroom on July 5, but I argue that it was because justice for Caylee includes a fair trial for her killer, not a potential wrongful conviction to satisfy the public’s need for a Hollywood ending to a sensationalized case.
Until the prosecution can get a case together, with actual evidence, justice for Caylee will have to wait. Instead of calling for vigilante justice and a reformed justice system, let us maintain our trust and faith in the justice system and hope they find Caylee’s real killer, or that new evidence implicating Casey Anthony in the murder of her daughter comes to light.