Saturday, July 9, 2011

JUSTICE DONE

In the history of mass hysteria, the Casey Anthony trial may set some sort of record for triviality unless someone can identify underlying psychological disorders or social discontents joining mob folly and media frenzy.

I recognized such antics, I found them repugnant, so I did not follow her trial. From general news coverage and commentary, I saw and heard snatches from time to time. However, I paid close attention to a part of the prosecutor’s closing remarks. Her voice was loud and grating, her gestures stilted, and the manner of her presentation to the court irritating; I would have voted guilty if her rhetoric had been on trial. Worse, her argument was weak, less circumstantial than inferential. It boiled down to: defendant lied many times; ergo, defendant killed her daughter. I followed the fallacious inference but failed to see any relevant evidence. The Scot’s verdict of “not proven” would be a perfect verdict in this case, and, I think, the jury rendered it. So these twelve men and women did their job—which means that justice was done.

Yes, the death—the murder, if you will—of Caylee Anthony is terrible, and the loss of a young girl’s life is great and saddening. And, yes, the behavior of Casey Anthony is repugnant, if not downright psychopathic. But a guilty verdict is not indexed to some scale measuring emotional responses to the details of the crime, however gruesome or bizarre; the gravity of the allegation; or the character, mental condition, or conduct of the accused. Nor does a not-guilty verdict require the defendant to provide a plausible alternative to the allegation. It requires the state to prove, according to a standard of reasonableness, that the accused committed the alleged crime. So if, in this case, the jury did not believe that the state had met its burden of proof, then the jury did its duty, and, by definition, justice was done.

We may believe—I do—that Casey Anthony killed her daughter, but our belief is neither here nor there, no matter how strongly we hold it. What we should believe is that the state, after spending millions of dollars in three years of work, could not make a better, if not a convincing, case in support of its charges against the defendant.

Which makes me wonder about whether justice is done in most cases in America. How many court cases on less sensational accusations and with little or no media coverage proceed to guilty verdicts based on deficient evidence and flimsy arguments? I know of one minor case in which everyone in the legal system, from the arresting officer to the city attorney to the prosecuting attorney to trial judge to three appellate judges committed or abetted perjury to cover the misconduct of the state trooper. Indeed, from the bench, the trial judge testified against the defendant! Did I say Mansfield, Ohio, the notorious Black Hole of the state’s system of justice?

We often read about police “testilying” in cases. We often read about prosecutors withholding evidence—incriminatory evidence which the defense might rebut or exculpatory evidence which the prosecution cannot rebut. But we rarely read about judges who do not countenance such abuses of the judicial process and the miscarriages of justice which result. (We more rarely read about juries concurring in the malpractices of officers of the court on the one hand or indulging jury nullification on the other. But we more often read about them behaving badly in civil rights cases in the South in the 50s and 60s.) The system amounts to a mutual protection racket of police, lawyers, and judges. Thus, the Supreme Court declared that public law enforcement personnel are not liable to civil claims for damages from avoidable incompetence, even if it results in conviction of innocent people—justice most definitely not done.

So the larger questions are whether prosecutors and judges do justice, and how many unfortunate defendants are sentenced to long terms, life, or even death—all so that police can get credit for collars, prosecutors can win cases to advance their careers, judges can run on tough-on-criminals platforms, and all can work together to advance the others’ interests. The criminal justice system, now being widely supplemented by the privatization of prisons, has become an industry of injustice.

The Casey Anthony trial, even more than the O. J. Simpson trial, revealed deficiencies in the legal system, especially in police and prosecutorial work, not in the people sitting in the jury boxes. Thanks to them (and, in this trial, a no-nonsense judge), justice has been done, even if, in both trials, the defendants, the likely perpetrators of heinous crimes, went free. Better the freedom of the guilty than the loss of liberty of the innocent—a measure of respect for the individual in our society.

2 comments:

  1. Dr. Hays: This time I agree with you on the state of our justice system and the Casey/Caylee Anthony trial. It was a complete farce. The state did not prove its case, but relied on enundo and circumstantial evidence.

    I personally believe that Casey Anthony was involved in the death of her child, how, where and when is the question that only she can answer.

    The trial was actually conducted on cable TV with Nancy Grace as the lead prosecutor, judge and jury. It is sad that our justice system seems to have deterioated into "entertainment", are we getting ready to go back to the days of the gladiator when watching someone die in a gruesome manner was "fun"?

    Such a sad state of affairs.....

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  2. Thank you for this comment.

    I speculate that the intensity of feeling about this case has much to do with what we see of ourselves in it. Family and social ties are under great strain--electronic media to stay in contact are no substitute for real interactions--so the idea of a mother killing her child is the most disturbing and frightening of all.

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