Burden Of Proof

Theodore Perlick Molinari comments on the Casey Anthony Verdict for the Wisconsin Law Journal

Guilty of Something

There is a saying about the American justice system that we would rather let 100 guilty men go free than convict an innocent man.  America is a special place where a person charged with a crime is innocent until proven guilty.  Too often we take that for granted.  As a judge put it quite well to a jury in a recent trial of mine, the defendant is wrapped in the cloak of innocense and that cloak is only removed if the state presents evidence which satisfies the fact finder beyond a reasonable doubt to remove it.

Every couple of years there is a case in the national spotlight that makes us question whether we really do want this presumption of innocense to carry the day.  Take Casey Anthony, our case du jour.  Whatever happened to her daughter had to have been awful.  What we do know is the little girl is dead and Casey most certainly had something to do with it.  What exactly she did is still the mystery.

The Anthony matter is one of many examples in the criminal justice system of cases where we think we have a pretty good idea of what happened, we really want to see the person who did the act get punished, but we just do not have the facts to prove it was the person who we think it is.  Despite our inclinations to convict, hunches and gut feelings should not take the place of what we know, and what we can prove beyond a reasonable doubt.

We are a nation that has prided itself on fundamental fairness to all people.  The rules of evidence are rife with procedural protections for all sides to make it so only evidence which is reliable and relevant is admitted to the trier of fact for consideration.

So many people say the justice system failed the little girl.  I beg to differ.  The justice system did its job.  It took a weak case and returned the appropriate verdict.

Caylee Anthony certainly did not deserve to die at either the homicidal hands of her mother, by an awful accident in the pool, or whatever way she actually did die.  Too often when something devastating happens, we look for someone to blame.  It appeals to our sense of justice.

People wanted Casey Anthony to be found guilty because she was stupid and made mistakes that probably led to her daughter’s untimely demise.  She looked bad and acted irresponsibly in the aftermath of the death.  Clearly she is a very immature young woman, who has at this point learned the very hard way, that she is living in the adult world where the stakes are raised and the consequences for mistakes are severe.

Despite her acquittal, she has already suffered for her stupidity in ways most of us never will.  Her life will never be the same.

So did she kill her daughter?  Was she guilty?  We will never know.  Was she stupid? Unquestionably, yes.  As another good old saying goes, if being stupid were a crime, we would all be in prison.