Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Jury finds the state of Florida failed to prove its case against Casey Anthony. Wasn't she supposed to be "innocent until proven guilty" anyway?

There is a lesson we should all learn from the recent acquittal of Casey Anthony. The lesson is about the law and how it is more important than public opinion. None of us would ever want to be falsely accused of a crime and then subjected to a public opinion poll to decide our guilt or innocence.
A long time ago I learned how our great nation was so different from any other in the world. I learned about the difference between a Democracy and a Republic. I learned that our Founding Fathers held such contempt for the word Democracy that it was not used once in the Declaration of Independence or in the United States Constitution. What separates a Democracy from a Republic stems from the root meanings of these two words. Democracy comes from the Greek words “dêmos” which means “people” and “kratos” which means “power” and while some define the term as “Majority Rule” it is commonly seen as “mob rule”. On the other hand, the word Republic has its origin in two Latin words, “res” and “publica” and I was taught this means “the public thing” or “the law”.

How this affects us today can be seen right on our televisions when opinion polls are used to determine if someone is guilty or innocent. And at the same time we only hear the parts of the story someone wants us to hear, we all manage to form our opinions on it, incomplete as they may be. While we might all have differing opinions on any matter I strongly believe that none of us want to be part of a lynch mob that storms the local jail, drags out the accused and hangs them from a tree all because someone got our blood boiling with emotional rhetoric. Every mob has a few outspoken leaders that churn up the emotions of the people and on television we have Nancy Grace on CNN. Take the recent trial of Casey Anthony that has captured the attention of the world, and the “shocking” verdict of NOT GUILTY. The Associated Press has a story today that brings out that Nancy Grace, a former prosecutor, averages 1.5 million viewers a night and gained 49,000 new fans on her Facebook page since she started covering the Casey Anthony trial. AP says "Nancy Grace began covering the story in 2008 as a missing persons case and has made little secret of her belief in Casey Anthony's guilt." But the best quote from the AP story was “Michelle Zierler, director of the Project in Law and Journalism at the New York University School of Law, said she had essentially been convinced that Anthony was guilty from watching coverage of the trial. The jurors, however, weren't exposed to this coverage. (emphasis mine)

The most chilling words I ever heard in a courtroom was during the jury selection process when a prospective juror said, "Anyone arrested by the police has got to be guilty." That is the same bias heard today on the media channels that sensationalized the Casey Anthony trial. I wonder how many future prospective jurors will be affected by this? I wonder how many self-righteous people will sit on a jury and feel that cops don't make mistakes. After all, the CSI-type television dramas tell us how perfect they are. There were very few commentators that mentioned during or after this trial that our basic principle of American Justice says: We are all presumed innocent, until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Weren’t we also taught once that it is better for ten guilty people to go free than to convict one who is innocent? I am not saying that Casey Anthony is guilty or innocent but that she was presumed to be innocent until the state of Florida proved its case against her and the jury decided that the state failed to do so.


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