The Virginia Verdict Review

Comprehensive and Informative Commentary on State and Federal Legal Matters

Shades of Grey: Finding justice in the Casey Anthony verdict

Every so often, cases come up that capture the public interest, pull at our heartstrings, and then, once the verdict rolls in, cause us to question the efficiency and/or morality of our justice system.  Like the O.J. Simpson trial in the 90s, the Casey Anthony trial of this year has had exactly this effect on the millions of Americans who tuned in, if only briefly, to its details.  In days and weeks following the trial, news casts have become filled with heated discussions of the “injustice” of Casey Anthony’s acquittal, social media sites haven become laden with posts lamenting the verdict, and petitions have been circulated advocating changing the law to get prevent similar instances from occurring in the future.

The problem with these reactions is not that they are wrong or unfounded.  I think we can all agree that anytime a person loses their life, let alone an innocent child like Caylee, anyone who is complicit in their death should be held responsible to the full extent of the law.  What is problematic or concerning about these reactions is that they ignore the most important fact of all: Casey Anthony was acquitted by a jury of her peers in a fair and legal trial in a court of law.  This does not mean that she was not involved in some way with her daughter’s death.  There is, after all, a substantial, though often overlooked, difference between “not guilty” and “innocent”.  With this in mind, Anthony’s acquittal only means that the state did not provide suffiecent evidence to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that she was guilty of the specific charges levied against her.  The government failed to hold to the heavy burden which, for centuries, we have held it to.  As I posted on my Facebook page the day after the verdict was handed down:

“First degree murder requires a premeditated act in specific intent to kill. Second degree murder in Fla. is killing during the commission of another crime. Manslaughter can be the causing of the death of one under 18 by culpable negligence. Because the prosecutor sought the death penalty (my view largely to increase their own exposure), they over-charged and got the right verdict.”

Given an understanding of the specifications of the charges brought against Anthony, the real injustice surrounding the verdict becomes clear: the state of Florida sought the maximum punishment possible–the death penalty–rather than limit their charges those which they had sufficient evidence to prove.  Ultimately, it was this error in judgement, as well as what now appears to be potentially serious ethical lapses, not the actions of the defense attorney or the decision of the jury, that prevented those responsible for Caylee’s death from being held accountable for their crimes.

Lastly, before joining the bandwagon of those claiming outrage over Casey Athony’s release, consider this blunt, but true statement: while Casey Anthony’s acquittal did not provide accountability for her daughter’s death, as many hoped it would, the verdict insures that Justice (capital J intended) lives on for the rest of us.  We all cringe at the notion that a beautifully innocent child has lost her life and that no one will be held accountable for her death.  However, the alternative– a world in which someone can be found guilty and sentenced to death for a crime which specifications are not fully supported by the available evidence–is a far worse reality to imagine and is one that would hold much more serious consequences for all Americans.  So, while I join all those who mourn the death of Caylee Anthony and the thousands of others like her, I urge you to stand with me in applauding the fact that, thanks to a jury that remained focused on the facts despite media frenzy, the legal system operated as it was intended to in this case.  Though this may seem an insufficient victory to some, I at least rest more peacefully knowing that I can rely on a jury of my peers to save me from an over-zealous prosecutor.

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