RANCHO SANTA FE, CA., July 6, 2011 – As the Casey Anthony murder trial comes to its conclusion, the Roger Clemens perjury trial gets ready to throw out its first pitch. Meanwhile, the attorneys involved in the Dominique Strauss-Kahn (a.k.a. “DSK”) contemplate when a rape is not a rape. Has there ever been a better time for criminal justice voyeurism?
We seem preoccupied with high-profile trials while our Nation is spiraling toward bankruptcy. Perhaps it’s the allure of distraction that commands our attention. Then again, it may just be the sensationalism that surrounds the alleged horrific crimes of average people, inconsequential crimes of celebrities, and salacious crimes of the powerful.
The media is quick to capitalize upon these opportunities. After all, scandalous storylines command attention, which in turn drives advertising dollars.
“Experts” are brought in to tell us what’s going to happen and why. Then, when their speculation fails to match the reality of the courtroom, they return to reshape their original theories to conform to the results.
Do juries always “get it right?” No. Does it matter? No. Why? Because there is a presumption of innocence that mandates that it is better to allow a guilty party to go free than to wrongfully imprison an innocent person. That is the premise upon which our criminal justice system is predicated.
Let’s look at the Casey Anthony trial as an example. We have a dead child … thrown into a swamp … in a garbage bag. Due to an investigative error, the body isn’t recovered in time to provide sufficient forensic evidence to establish a clear cause of death. Apparently, the jury reached the conclusion that this, coupled with the lack of DNA or other direct evidence connecting Casey Anthony to the purported crime, created reasonable doubt as to her guilt.
The circumstantial evidence in the case is quite interesting. Caylee Anthony goes missing and her mother parties for 31 days, gets a tattoo, and repeatedly lies to family members and law enforcement officers about her daughter’s whereabouts, which further impedes the ability to investigate Caylee’s disappearance. DNA evidence linked to Caylee (the single decomposing hair) is found in her mother’s abandoned car. The disposal of the body appears to parallel a family ritual for burying pets. An unusual type of duct tape that the Anthony family is known to possess mysteriously seems to have been used to cover the mouth and nose area of Caylee’s decomposed body. Then, there are the Internet searches for neck-breaking techniques and how to make chloroform.
Of course, Casey’s mother readily explained the “how to make chloroform” search stating that she had made it while looking up chlorophyll … even though she seemed to have been at work at the time. Thank goodness she didn’t research the “nuclear family.” Who knows what weapon of mass destruction might have arisen as a result?
While circumstantial evidence used to be sufficient to lead to a conviction, in this case, the jury apparently believed that Casey’s death could have been “an accident that snowballed out of control.” The Defense proffered that Caylee accidentally drowned in her grandparents’ pool and that a decision was made by one or more family members to dispose of her body in an Orlando swamp. We were somehow spared an alien abduction scenario or a theory that Caylee committed suicide, but it didn’t matter; the jury found there to be reasonable doubt that Caylee was murdered.
“Reasonable doubt” is an interesting phrase. It is not the equivalent of “absolutely no possible doubt.” It is meant to allow common sense to enter into the equation.
However, in today’s world of CSI Name-the-City-of-Your-Choice, perhaps we have become jaded. It is possible that we now subliminally need to be absolutely sure. How many times have we seen an innocent person released from prison after serving a long term because exculpatory evidence has recently become available through DNA, etc.?
As lead Defense counsel Jose Baez stated after the case, “We need to stop killing our own people.” Maybe that is the issue that the jury in the Casey Anthony murder trial was really adjudicating.
Of course, this ignores the fact that lesser charges associated with Caylee Anthony’s death were also available for consideration and summarily dismissed by the jury. Instead, Casey Anthony was only found guilty of four counts of lying to law enforcement officers.
Interestingly enough, no one in the general media seems to have challenged the logic of that conclusion. Specifically: if Casey Anthony was lying to law enforcement officials about Caylee’s disappearance for months, why was she doing it? If the death was accidental, why wait to disclose it? Why make up stories, invent non-existent people, or blame family members; all with far less circumstantial evidence to support her claims?
Luckily, the Defense doesn’t have a burden of proof in our criminal justice system. What we did observe is a dramatic application of the Fifth Amendment.
No one shall be “compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself.” Casey Anthony wasn’t.
No one shall be “subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb.” Casey Anthony won’t be.
No one shall be “deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” Again, Casey Anthony wasn’t. It’s just unfortunate that Caylee didn’t enjoy the benefit of this same protection.
In any event, the jury has spoken and Casey Anthony shall forever remain “not guilty.” Of course, this is not to suggest that life will be easy for her. Dating could become problematic and finding a job might be difficult. Still, bottom-feeders are almost sure to surface with book deals and movie offers.
In the Casey Anthony case, the only issue that remains is whether Judge Belvin Perry will sentence her to an additional time in prison that exceeds the time for contempt that he gave to the young man who made an inappropriate hand gesture in court. Defense co-counsel Cheney Mason may want to pay particular attention given his demonstrated propensity for making similar non-verbal displays in public.
So, the media will have to move on to “the next big thing.” What will it be: the enormous waste of taxpayer dollars on deciding whether Roger Clemens perjured himself before Congress (a group within which misrepresentation seems to have been elevated to an art form); or deciding whether the prosecution of an alleged rape should be dismissed because of post-act declarations … or the time-honored defense that the Defendant is an important person? The only thing of which we can be assured is that common sense won’t be involved.
T.J. O’Hara is an internationally recognized author, speaker, and strategic consultant in the private and public sectors. In 2012, he emerged as the leading independent candidate for the Office of President of the United States and the first nominee of the Whig Party in over 150 years.
This article first appeared in T.J. O’Hara’s recurring column, The Common Sense Czar, in the Communities Section of The Washington Times.