Even though I am a personal injury trial lawyer based in Raleigh, North Carolina, I have been asked my opinion on the Casey Anthony murder trial in Florida at least a dozen times over the past month or so. I have done my best to deflect the question, as I have not followed this trial at all. But, to be polite, I always ask the individual for their opinion while trying to avoid giving mine. The opinions were almost always “She’s guilty,” and were said more as a factual statement than an opinion.
Try as I might to avoid caring about a trial over a thousand miles away that will not impact my life one bit, I could not help but care about the verdict today. Within minutes of the “Not guilty” being handed down, Facebook land and the Twitterverse exploded with Monday morning quarterback commentary. On Facebook, my friends agreed by a large margin that the jury screwed up, posting such things as:
- “this not guilty business is ridiculous! [sic] Then again, let’s all recall OJ was not guilty as well so how surprised can we be. [sic] Sigh…”
- “This is so ridiculous, exactly like oj [sic]. I dont understand how you are guilty of lying to the police but not guilty of murder…crazy!”
- “It’s amazing to me how our legal system has failed once again, and for an innocent little girl. Casey, just wait til [sic] your final judgment day [sic]”
- “So wish the prosecution had done a better job. So frustrating!”
- “Such a tragedy. The justice system failed today and let a murderer walk free.”
- “Holy crap. Cannot believe Casey Anthony was acquitted of Caylee’s death. May the death of her beautiful daughter haunt her for every fuggin’ second of her fuggin’ hot body, fugly life. And I wonder if she is going to move back in with that molesting father of hers. Wow. So sad that there is no justice for Caylee.”
- “Wtf!?!? Not guilty? Really???”
In the Twitterverse, my tweep Time Magazine listed the top ten tweets on the verdict. These 140 character musings included:
- @JoyVBehr: “I am shocked by the #caseyanthonyverdict. Though I can’t say this is the first time Florida screwed up on an important vote.”
- @KimKardashian: “WHAT!!!!???!!!! CASEY ANTHONY FOUND NOT GUILTY!!!! I am speechless!!!”
- @MunchieTheAgent: “Casey Anthony Trial. Worst. Season. Finale. Ever.”
But, not everyone it seems was upset by the verdict. Some friends, admittedly all of them criminal defense attorneys, posted these thoughts:
- “With no physical evidence or confession, why is everybody surprised at the Anthony verdict? Do we want juries to convict based in emotion or facts or lack thereof?”
- “Jose Baez is my hero for the day. Maybe for the month.”
- “wow. kind of wanting to go to nancy grace’s office and dance, just cause.”
A couple of friends got everything exactly right in my opinion, posting:
- “I am very happy with the verdict, independently of what “I” believe to be the truth. I know I am in the minority here, but I think this is how the justice system is supposed to work.”
- “Did everyone forget about that “innocent until PROVEN guilty” thing or is the American judicial system supposed to work like a national survey where we tweet our vote? Agree with the decision or not, the courts worked like they were supposed to.”
Throughout the day, I have been reading all these posts and tweets and getting more and more dismayed. It seems that the opinion of most people is the system failed today…again. The opinion is not unique to the Casey Anthony trial, and is not at all surprising. The failure of the system and “stupidity” of American juries is a prevalent theme in the recent history of our country. This is true not only for criminal verdicts like today’s, but also in the civil arena.
It is clear to this author that America has lost respect for its justice system. In the criminal context, we constantly complain and bemoan the not guilty verdicts and blame them on stupid juries, slick defense lawyers, and “technicalities.” In the civil context, we complain and bemoan the large monetary verdicts and blame them on stupid juries and slick personal injury attorneys. The common theme, of course, is that our justice system is threatened by unsophisticated juries and trial lawyers. In reality, this is false.
The true threat to today’s judicial system is a lack of respect for that judicial system. It amazes me that the very people who will search the depths of their creativity to find an excuse to get out of jury service will so quickly Monday morning quarterback a jury’s decision. It is doubtful that Joy Behr, Kim Kardashian, Munchie The Agent, or my Facebook friends mentioned above watched and listened to every second, of every minute, of every hour, of every day, of every week of that long trial like those twelve jury members did. What is more probable is that they learned about the evidence through 1,000 word news articles summarizing an entire day’s courtroom events, and 30 second rantings by “journalists” such as Nancy Grace. Who is in the better position to make an informed decision on the facts of the case and reach the just result based on the evidence?
A perfect example of this phenomenon is the McDonald’s coffee case. This case is the bane of my existence as a personal injury lawyer, because barely a jury selection goes by where we do not have to talk about it. Everybody is quick to criticize the $2.6 million verdict for the woman who spilled coffee in her lap. But when the true facts come to light, when people are educated on what really occurred and not just relying solely on what the news reports, they tend to take a different view. This case is highlighted in the recent documentary Hot Coffee. I remember sitting in a crowded auditorium when it came to a local film festival. We all watched as interviewees trashed the verdict, like most people do. Then the filmmaker, Susan Saladoff, showed the interviewees the actual pictures of Stella Liebeck’s burns. Everyone of the interviewees changed their opinions when they saw actual evidence from the trial. When Saladoff showed the audience the burns, a collective gasp went through the auditorium. What we hear in the news media is not always what the real evidence in a case tends to show.
It is ironic to me that so many of us are trashing the jury system of this country this day in particular. Yesterday, we celebrated the courage and bravery of our founding fathers to stand up to tyranny from the crown, yet today we appear content to question the wisdom of these founding fathers in bestowing upon us the very civil rights and liberties that make this country strong and set us apart from the rest of the world. As an officer of the court, but more so as a citizen, this makes me sad. There are flaws to the system surely, and the guilty do occasionally go free, just as the innocent are occasionally locked up for a crime they did not commit. But, a flawed system does not mean we should trash it. After all, just like the system, we all as individuals have flaws. I think everyone can agree that we as individuals deserve some respect, and so to does our justice system.
My uncle had this to say on Facebook recently about jury trials in murder cases: “I think laws have been revised to benefit long drawn out trials. If someone is caught…killing another human being then they should have their head removed during a live broadcast on CNN.” There are places in this world that do this. I can think of Iran, Syria, Libya and a few other countries off the top of my head. When we choose to let our emotional reflex rooted in very limited factual information control our perception of what is one of the best legal systems around, we undermine our system and threaten to turn it into a system resembling those of the very countries we have fought against and decry for their human rights violations. In short, if we undermine our justice system with a complete lack of respect, then the founding fathers may have well just submitted to the tyranny of the crown instead of standing up for individual liberties.
If Casey Anthony truly did murder her daughter, then this verdict is still the right decision. Jose Baez and the rest of the defense team zealously represented their client and checked the power of the government, forcing them to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt. The government failed to do so, according to twelve ordinary people who heard all the evidence and deliberated to reach a unanimous decision. This check on the government’s power protects all of us as citizens. The justice system is the only recourse we have to prevent abuses of power and is the only place where an ordinary citizen has a level playing field with a government or a large, wealthy corporation. Thus, it deserves a little more R-E-S-P-E-C-T and a little less Monday morning quarterbacking.
Disclaimer: This views of the author are his own. Nothing in this blog post should be construed to provide legal advice to any individual. The author did not follow the Casey Anthony trial because he followed news of greater import, such as our economic crisis, stories regarding potential presidential hopefuls, and movie reviews for Transformers: Dark Side of the Moon. Juries are not stupid. The author will only agree with this assertion when the one asserting it is called for jury duty. Your constitutional rights are not “technicalities.” They are inalienable and sacred rights. If you wish to spout off your mouth about how I am wrong, and how we need to reform our justice system to remove said “technicalities”, then allow the author to take away your First Amendment rights for a day and see how much of a “technicality” these constitutional rights are. You will be allowed only to call this day I Live In North Korea Day. The author is happy that Kim Kardashian is speechless. He believes it is about time, and he hopes she remains that way. Of note, Kardashian’s father was one of OJ Simpson’s attorneys in his murder trial. [Insert your witty, ironic and/or sarcastic comment here]. For those of you curious, [sic] used above indicates the passage appears exactly as in the original source. The usual purpose is to inform readers that any errors or apparent errors in the copied material are not from transcription; that they are reproduced exactly from the original writer. The author does not use this here to point out his friends’ failure at the English language. Rather, he uses it to lament the lack of spelling and grammar check on Facebook. Take. A. Hint. Zuckerberg. The author has become addicted to Twitter, after long resisting using it. Looking back on this post, the author is a little sad that the phrases “twitterverse” and “tweep” have entered his vernacular as a result.