The case of State of Florida vs. Casey Marie Anthony was called “the social media trial of the century.” For those oblivious to current events, the showcase began when toddler Caylee Marie Anthony was reported missing on July 15, 2008. Her skeletal remains were found in a wooded area near her home five months later. Caylee’s mother, Casey Anthony, was indicted on charges of first degree murder, aggravated child abuse, aggravated manslaughter and found “not guilty” after a six week trial.
The verdicts sparked outrage and harsh criticism across the country. Followers of the case decried the acquittals and proclaimed “Justice for Caylee” was not served. The likes of Nancy Grace “knew” Anthony was guilty and were in awe that the dimwitted and moronic jury got it wrong. Alternatively, had the jurors convicted Anthony, they would have been exalted for their keen sense of right.
Despite all the controversy surrounding the verdict, the American Justice System prevailed. This position was clearly the minority viewpoint and will probably stay that way for a long while. But the public failed to understand the fundamental notion that this trial was not intended to seek justice for Caylee.
“A criminal trial is never about seeking justice for the victim. If it were, there could be only one verdict: guilty. That’s because only one person is on trial in a criminal case, and if that one person is acquitted, then by definition there can be no justice for the victim in that trial.” Harvard Law Professor Alan M. Dershowitz
The public erroneously substituted the principles of a civil trial to the Anthony case. In a civil suit, the plaintiff seeks justice for the victim – who is often the defendant. The burden of proof in a civil case – preponderance of the evidence – is a much lower standard than proof beyond a reasonable doubt in a criminal case. If a defendant in a civil case is believed to be “probably” or “likely” at fault, s/he can be found liable. This same reasoning does not translate in a criminal trial because the purpose of criminal trials is not to seek victim justice. To parallel the Anthony case, OJ Simpson was found not guilty of murdering his wife but was found civilly liable for her death.
If a jury believes it is probable or likely that a criminal defendant is guilty, they must acquit. Any entertainment of reasonable explanation or hesitation warrants an acquittal. We often forget that “not guilty” does not mean “innocent.” Our system of justice does not adjudicate moral guilt – it judges legal culpability. Here the State failed to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt using the evidence available. The prosecution heavily relied on circumstantial evidence and a reasonable jury could have concluded – as this jury did – that explanations other than murder existed. Casey Anthony was not found to be “innocent.” The jury simply could not rule out the possibility that Caylee Anthony was not murdered given the prosecution’s lack of direct evidence.
“It seems obvious that the evidence presented to the public by the media was ‘select’ and transparency was at a minimum. The trial involved over 100 witnesses and over 400 pieces of evidence, which the jury saw but the public didn’t,” says Minneapolis defense attorney Christopher Keyser. “People may think they know what happened in this case but the State failed to establish an actual cause and time of death, and the circumstances surrounding the actual death and disappearance carried little evidence for a reasonable jury to find Anthony guilty. To do so would have required the jurors to ‘fill in the blanks’ with evidence they wish they had. Our justice system simply doesn’t allow jurors that level of carte blanche.”
The simple truth is that amid the onslaught of “expert” media opinion, the anti-Anthony crusade blatantly disregarded the fundamental principles of our criminal trial system. Their emotions and preconceived judgments clouded any ability to remain impartial – a prerequisite of our jurors. The outcome may be unpopular but it proves that our justice system works.
Christopher Keyser is a criminal defense attorney in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He can be reached at (612) 338-5007 or through his firm’s website at Keyser Law Firm.