It is obvious from the jury’s verdict on Tuesday that the prosecution failed to prove its case against Casey Anthony beyond a reasonable doubt. As much of the country is expressing outrage over the verdict, we should remember one thing: Jurors make a determination, not pundits and talking heads. Our right to a jury trial is so central to our American justice system that it is embodied in the Bill of Rights – in the Sixth Amendment for criminal prosecution and in the Seventh Amendment for civil lawsuits. It is, as many have observed in the past three days, better than any alternative we know of.
According to the jurors in the Anthony trial, there simply were not enough facts to convict the accused of the murder of Caylee Anthony. Entitled, as all criminal defendants are, to a presumption of innocence, it was the prosecution’s burden to prove its version of the facts beyond a reasonable doubt. Jurors are in the best position to view all of the evidence, hear all the testimony, and perceive facts pertaining to the credibility of the witnesses. This makes them uniquely qualified to determine factual matters in criminal and civil cases, unlike the “armchair jurors” who listen to a few sound bites on the nightly news and jump to their conclusions. And after both the prosecution and the defense had their opportunity to present their cases and arguments, the jury, unswayed by the media circus, discharged its duty faithfully.
In Michigan, jurors in criminal cases are generally given some form of the following instruction:
(1) A person accused of a crime is presumed to be innocent. This means that you start with the presumption that the defendant is innocent. This presumption continues throughout the trial and entitles the defendant to a verdict of not guilty unless you are satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that [he/she] is guilty. (2) Every crime is made up of parts called elements. The prosecutor must prove each element of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. The defendant is not required to prove [his/her] innocence or to do anything. If you find that the prosecutor has not proven every element beyond a reasonable doubt, then you must find the defendant not guilty. (3) A reasonable doubt is a fair, honest doubt growing out of the evidence or lack of evidence. It is not merely an imaginary or possible doubt, but a doubt based on reason and common sense. A reasonable doubt is just that-a doubt that is reasonable, after a careful and considered examination of the facts and circumstances of this case.
While the State made an impassioned and emotional plea, too many questions remained. How did Caylee die? What was the cause of death? What was the motive? At the end of the trial, jurors were left with “a fair, honest doubt growing out of. . . the lack of evidence.”
I, for one, am thankful for our justice system and our Bill of Rights. I would rather 1,000 guilty people go free than one innocent person be wrongly convicted – especially in a capital murder case. How about you?
recently named in the 2009 edition of Best Lawyer's In America, David Mittleman has been representing seriously injured people since 1985. A partner with Church Wyble PC—a division of Grewal Law PLLC—Mr. Mittleman and his partners focus on medical malpractice, wrongful death, car accidents, slip and falls, nursing home injury, pharmacy/pharmacist negligence and disability claims.