Thursday, July 14, 2011

Dubious Things People Say About the Casey Anthony Verdict

This post isn't really about Casey Anthony's guilt or not-guilt, though it may come up incidentally it's not my focal point. No, this is about some of the things that I've seen pundits and random people say or write about the verdict. Things that are beginning to drive me nuts.

  • "We have to respect the verdict."  No, not really. The word people are looking for is "accept." We have to accept the verdict as the final word, but even the final word can be ridiculed, disrespected, second-guessed, etc. Court rulings, jury decisions, and legislative action all have to be accepted and, where applicable, followed, but there is nothing requiring any of us to respect something that we think is wrong. Which brings us to:
  • "We have to respect the jury."  Putting twelve people in a jury box does not bestow upon them unassailable wisdom. I understand that some pundits have to say this because they're officers of the court, but I'm not. Juries aren't magic and the scary thing none of those pundits want to admit about our system is that juries can be both shallow and ignorant. Think back to the jury selection for this trial. I heard multiple jurors say they had never considered the death penalty before. Really? Never? I can understand not having a position on it, but never considered it before? I have to truly question a person who can make it well into adulthood without giving any thought to a major, hot-button issue of our time. That tells me that there are parts of their brains still in the factory shrink wrap, complete with that new-brain smell. Which made what happened far from a big surprise:
  • "The jury did their job." I'm not so sure about that. Day after day we heard from people inside the courtroom who reported that the jury wasn't taking many notes, to the extent that a bunch of them just left their notebooks behind when they went to deliberate. I guess they all have some kind of super-memories or something, but if it were me deciding on a matter of life and death that was based in large part on technical testimony from expert witnesses, I might have jotted a couple things down. At other times they were reported to look bored and didn't look at the people speaking. But, hell, it's just evidence, right? What's coming out from the jurors who are speaking illustrates that they didn't need no stinkin' evidence, because they had suspicions, mostly about a guy with no evidence whatsoever against him. Again, new brain smell. They also didn't seem to do their jobs in the sense that they didn't heed court orders. It was about halfway through the trial that they asked to examine an item, which meant they were already discussing the case in clear violation of the admonitions they all swore to abide by (curiously, they didn't again ask to see any evidence...when they were actually supposed to, I mean). And several have apparently stated they didn't understand the lesser charges they had the option of going with, while others abandoned their initial votes that favored manslaughter. In short, it didn't seem like these people were terribly interested in being jurors ('can we wrap this up I have a cruise to catch!'), though a number of them seem pretty interested in the payoffs coming to them. So no, I don't have to respect them, at all. 
  • "The media convicted Casey." I think the people saying this had their arguments all ready to roll for a guilty verdict. They're the same people saying Casey couldn't get a fair trial. So how'd she get acquitted? There are legitimate points to make about media and court cases, but if anything this trial shows that even under intense media coverage that allegedly sways to one side, a defendant can indeed be found not guilty.
  • "I'd rather a (hundred/thousand) guilty people go free than one innocent person be falsely imprisoned!"  While that's a nice sentiment, meant to convey the idea that our system favors the defendant to the extent that sometimes one will slip through the cracks, it just doesn't translate to the real world at all. Our system can, and does, both, letting guilty people go free and falsely imprisoning innocent people. There is nothing about Casey Anthony being acquitted that will keep an innocent person from being found guilty. They are not causally related in any way. As I pointed out above, no one likes to admit it but juries act capriciously. Even if they didn't, reasonable doubt is not a concrete standard. And even if you had a perfect jury pool who understood reasonable doubt, there would still be overzealous prosecutors and incompetent defense lawyers. People may be right when they say that we have the best justice system in the world, but we also know for a fact that we have locked up lots of innocent people, and we rightly suspect that many of the not-at-all-innocent are released to walk the streets.
  • "Take THAT Nancy Grace!" Finally, there is an ill-defined but tangible sense in many comments about the verdict that make it sound like a victory over the forces of cable news media. Whatever you think about Nancy Grace or anyone else on television talking about this trial, they most certainly haven't lost anything here. Their ratings are probably bigger with a not-guilty verdict than they would have been with a guilty verdict. I've also seen it expressed in regards to Jeff Ashton for smiling behind his hand. The people who feel this misplaced vindication are usually the first ones to point out that this was a real trial and not a thing to be entertained by, complaining rightly or wrongly about the circus atmosphere surrounding it, yet they abandon that high ground to partake in schadenfreude at seeing a TV host they don't like reacting to the verdict. Go figure. I guess everyone finds something to like at a circus, don't they?

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