Peter Lemiska
Reasonable doubt and common sense
By Peter Lemiska
July 9, 2011

"It is better that ten guilty persons escape than one innocent suffer." So wrote Eighteenth Century legal scholar William Blackstone, whose writings helped form the basis of America's judicial system.

It's not a flawless system, and on those rare occasions when we learn of a wrongful conviction, it's splashed across the headlines, sparking public outrage and questions about the fairness of our courts.

But the fact is, countless guilty defendants escape justice every day because of the abundant protections offered by our judicial system. Many more criminals never even face charges because of the mountain of legal constraints under which investigators and prosecutors operate.

There was no lack of evidence in the Casey Anthony trial, so the nation was understandably shocked when the "not guilty" verdict was announced on Tuesday.

Yes, I know, only those present in the courtroom saw all the evidence, but we saw enough. We saw a woman who hid the disappearance of her daughter for 30 days, while she partied like there was no tomorrow. When confronted with that fact, she fabricated one lie after another, and ultimately refused to help investigators find her daughter. There were the computer searches for "chloroform" and "neck breaking" coupled with the chloroform residue, hair, and incontrovertible signs of human decomposition in the trunk of her car. There was the duct tape found on the victim's little face — tape that was directly tied to the Anthony residence.

Even without hard evidence, simple logic told us that Casey Anthony was somehow responsible for her daughter's death. Yet this jury acquitted her of virtually all charges, including the lesser charges of manslaughter and child abuse.

Some of the jurors are already exploiting their 15 minutes of fame, patiently explaining the intricacies of our legal system, and outlining the thoughtful reasoning leading to their tortured decision — reached after 11 long hours. "If there was a dead child in that trunk, does that prove how she died? "If you're going to charge someone with murder, don't you have to know how they killed someone or why they might have killed someone, or have something where, when, why, how?" "The prosecution failed to prove their case and there was reasonable doubt."

After hearing the post-trial comments from some of the jurors, it's clear that the acquittal came, not because of a failure by the prosecution, but because the jurors bought into the defense attorney's gambit.

Anthony's attorney did what defense lawyers do. He put aside the victim's rights, along with the guilt or innocence of his client, and set to work planting seeds of doubt in the minds of the jurors. He allowed Cindy Anthony to provide perjured testimony. He introduced unsubstantiated allegations and various scenarios, some outlandish, and some laughable. He did what he could to cloud the issue, confuse the jurors, and take away their basic common sense.

The issues raised by the defense team and parroted by the jurors were irrelevant to the guilt or innocence of Casey Anthony. The prosecutor is under no obligation to prove manner of death. Guilty verdicts can be reached, and are routinely reached in homicide cases based on circumstantial evidence, even without a body. If conviction in our court system required absolute proof of guilt, circumstantial cases would be non-existent. Such cases, by their nature, require jurors to evaluate and assemble the pieces of a puzzle using their common sense, while understanding that any conviction will necessarily come with some measure of doubt. In fact, unless jurors actually witnessed the crime, they have to accept some element of doubt in every case, because defense lawyers inevitably cast that doubt on testimony, police procedures, and evidence, physical or circumstantial, presented by the state. Fortunately, for the sake of justice, our system allows a guilty verdict if the case is proven "beyond a reasonable doubt" — not a shadow of doubt.

Because of the publicity of this trial and the shocking outcome, it has been compared to the O.J. Simpson debacle. But there was another trial more than 100 years ago that comes to mind. In 1893, a young, unmarried woman, was charged with an unspeakable murder. Like Anthony, she was also acquitted, despite significant circumstantial evidence against her. The verdict was extremely controversial, and Lizzie Borden went to her grave wearing the label of murderess. To this day, she is remembered as the monster who hacked her mother and father to death with a hatchet.

Casey Anthony will certainly capitalize on her notoriety and live a comfortable life. Like O.J. Simpson, she will likely find a few pathetic sycophants to surround her and support her with their unshakable belief in her innocence. But the cloud of suspicion will forever hang over her head, and when she's gone, if she is remembered at all, it will be as the mother who celebrated life while her young child's body rotted in a nearby swamp.

We can only shake our heads at the jury's decision to acquit this woman of all major charges. Yes, the system crafted by William Blackstone and other scholars offers unmatched protections for the accused. But another Eighteen Century writer may have a simpler explanation for Anthony's acquittal. It was Voltaire who wrote: "Common sense is not so common."

© Peter Lemiska


The views expressed by RenewAmerica columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of RenewAmerica or its affiliates.
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Peter Lemiska

Peter Lemiska served in the U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Secret Service. Following his retirement from the Secret Service, he spent several years as a volunteer for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Like most of his contemporaries, he's always loved his country, and is deeply dismayed by this new and insidious anti-American sentiment threatening to destroy it. He's a life-long conservative, and his opinion pieces have been published in various print media and on numerous internet sites.


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