Regardless of how you feel about the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman verdict, the racial issues pervading the case, the right to use deadly force to defend yourself, the requirement that guilt be proven beyond a reasonable doubt…a seventeen year old kid is dead for no good reason, and that is a tragedy. The legal system is imperfect in countless ways — but even if it wasn’t, it would still be incapable of turning a tragedy into a happy, fairy-tale ending.
The verdict didn’t surprise me, and I doubt it would surprise most other lawyers. As Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. allegedly said, it’s a court of law, not a court of justice.
Now admittedly, I am not a criminal lawyer. I did, however, intern in a public defender’s office (in Florida!) and I’ve spent a number of years working in a quasi-prosecutorial role, just on the civil side of things. I know a thing or two about litigation, trial law, and juries. And I also know that it’s a lot harder — and a lot less glamorous — than it looks like on tv, even the news. Plus — unlike most other people opining on the case, I am licensed to practice law in the state of Florida and I even have an (admittedly antiquated, 1998) copy of West’s Florida Criminal Laws and Rules within reach of my desk.
With that disclaimer, in my opinion, the problem with the Casey Anthony case wasn’t the jury. It was, plain and simply, that the prosecutors didn’t — or couldn’t — entirely prove their case.
According to my law dictionary, “reasonable doubt” in a criminal trial is “that doubt which is direct and reasonable in light of all the evidence presented at the trial, which would justify the jury in reaching a verdict of ‘not guilty.’ Where the evidence presents a case of guilt beyond all reasonable doubt, the evidence justifies the jury in reaching a verdict of ‘guilty.’ A reasonable doubt is more than a mere skepticism but does not need to be represented by clear evidence; it need only be that doubt which reasonable people would consider.”
The prosecution showed that Casey was likely responsible for Caylee’s death, but they never showed anything concrete about how or when or even really why. So the only thing that they really managed to prove (without a reasonable doubt) was that she was an unfit parent. The prosecution didn’t tie everything together quite enough, and left the jury with a lot of unanswered questions. In other words, reasonable doubt.
And the defense — as horrible as they might have been — somehow — perhaps by accident — managed to poke just enough holes in the prosecution’s theory of the case. More doubt, although most of their version of the case strained credulity. In short, Baez lucked into a poor case by the prosecution, and then seemingly tried really hard to make the jury change their mind.
So yeah, the verdict was disappointing, in terms of justice for Caylee, and perhaps the search for truth. But it was right in terms of law.
Bob Jarvis, a law professor at Nova Southeastern University, as quoted in the Orlando Sentinel’s story on the Casey Anthony verdict.