“If there was any justice in this world…” People usually say that when they believe they’ve witnessed a miscarriage of justice in either the legal or cosmic sense. Someone walks away scott free, though common sense and everything but concrete evidence says they’re guilty. Someone with little to recommend them in the way of talent, intelligence or ambition falls ass-first into good fortune, while others more talented and deserving toil in obscurity. Someone gets way more than their 15 minutes in the spotlight, while others get no time at all.
We’ve probably all said it, after witnessing things like those described above. “If there was any justice in this world,” somebody would be getting what we think they deserve. Of course, we don’t stop to think that “If there was any justice…” is just the flip side of saying, “There but for the grace of God go I.”
And so, we’ve finally come to the end of the Casey Anthony trial…
On the one hand, this doesn’t feel like justice.
A judge has sentenced Casey Anthony to four years in prison for lying to investigators but says she can go free in late July or early August because she has already served nearly three years in jail and has had good behavior.
The judge sentenced Anthony on Thursday, two days after she was acquitted of first-degree murder in the death of her 2-year-old daughter Caylee.
On the other hand it is justice.
The immediate response is to criticize our justice system as being faulty and in need of reform, but if anything, it shows that our justice system really is grounded in the concept of “innocent until proven guilty.”
All the pundits in the world can say and think and believe that DSK and Casey Anthony are guilty as sin, but in our courts you still have to prove it. In Casey’s case, the jurors told the prosecutors that they did not prove it, and who are we to say they’re wrong? No one was able to say how Caylee died, and there was no direct proof that Casey killed her.
The prosecutors had a theory that Casey suffocated her 2-year-old daughter to death with duct tape, but there was zero proof of that. (And as much as people compare this to the O. J. case, there was a lot more evidence against O. J. than there was against Casey.)
We may hate the outcome of the Anthony case and feel the same way about the likely collapse of the DSK case, but think about it: do we really pay more than just lip service to the bedrock concept of our justice system that everyone is presumed innocent unless proven guilty?
Like I said just before the verdict, there just wasn’t any concrete evidence of how Caylee Anthony died, let alone that she died by her mother’s hand. And with the prosecutin pursuing the death penalty, I guess the circumstantial case wasn’t enough for the jury to send Casey Anthony to the death chamber.
Being opposed to the death penalty myself, I wouldn’t have been on the jury. I’d have been asked, and would have answered honestly whether I could vote for the death penalty in the event of a guilty verdict, and the prosecution would have sent me home. But if I were on the jury, I couldn’t have voted to convict on first degree murder. Not based on the evidence presented at trial.
In other words, I’d have voted with my head and not my heart. If, as the prosecution asked the jury to do, you pull back and look at the “big picture,” at the very least it seems very likley that Casey Anthony probably killed her daughter or was responsible for it through neglect. But in our justice system, we don’t convict people based on what we believe in our hearts they very likely did or probably did. The magnitude of the decision to take away someone’s freedom — and in some cases, someone’s life — requires proof beyond a reasonable doubt.
And the evidence presented at trial was limited by six months that passed between the child’s disappearance and the discovery of her remains. In that sense, if she did indeed murder her daughter, perhaps Casey Anthony was saved by a combination of lies and luck. She lied long to stymie the investiation; and got lucky when time, the elements, etc., erased evidence of how Caylee Anthony died, and perhaps also who killed her.
If you ask me, Athony probably did kill her daughter, or directly contributed to her daughter’s death. So, she also got lucky in the sense that the same limitations of forensic evidence that resulted in her freedom can send innocent people to prison.
Earlier today, an Orlando, Fla., jury found Casey Anthony not guilty of killing her 2-year-old daughter, Caylee, bringing to a stunning end a trial that had fixated the nation for weeks.
The case turned on similar questions of forensic expertise and evidence as those featured in The Child Cases, a joint reporting effort by ProPublica, PBS “Frontline” and NPR.
In stories published last week, we found that child deaths pose special technical challenges for forensic pathologists; in cases involving children, prosecutors and police often rely heavily on autopsy findings.
Our reporting showed that these cases have been repeatedly mishandled by medical examiners and coroners, sometimes resulting in innocent people being wrongly accused. In the Anthony case, it’s unknown if flawed forensic evidence led to a false accusation or made it impossible to convict a guilty person of a horrible crime.
You can watch the entire Frontline episode of “The Child Cases” online. It’s a reminder that there are plenty of cases similar to Casey Athony’s that don’t get nearly the same amount of media attention. That probably says some very depressing things about race, class and gender in America. But it’s also a reminder that cases with the evidence-related problems as the case against Casey Anthony end very differently than the Antony case, probably because the rest of the world isn’t watching.
Does it bother me, trouble me that someone I strongly believe probably committed a crime will walk away scott free? You bet. But if I ever found myself wrongly accused and sitting at the defendant’s table, with a similar paucity of evidence against me (assuming, of course, that I’m innocent of the crime in question), I’d hope the jury would remember that we don’t convict people — and send them to prison or death row — based on what we strongly believe they probably did.
That would feel like justice. And if the evidence wasn’t there it would be justice. It’s just that sometimes justice doesn’t feel like justice. I think the Anthony case is one of those times.