Friday, August 5, 2011

On the Sixth Amendment: Casey Anthony

Well, hopefully everyone already knows the background to this little essay. Casey Anthony was, at the very least, a very negligent parent whose actions eventually led to the death of her child. She was subject to a very public trial a la OJ Simpson where the prosecutors attempted to prove that she had murdered her child. After a very long media circus, the world was shocked when the jury found her not guilty.

The trial itself I won't get into, because I honestly didn't care enough to pay attention. The jury's decision was based on a lack of evidence presented by the prosecution, and while they might have convicted her of negligence, that wasn't the crime she was put on trial for. What bothered me was that in the aftermath, several people began to say that the trial was evidence that trial by jury was no longer called for, especially if it yielded such unjust results.

I think most people would hesitate to go that far, but there is a growing sentiment that juries are no longer the best way to give justice her due. Many people tend to think that juries are easily swayed to let murderers go free, or that they too often get hung up on technicalities, or that they are simply inconvenient for the rest of the populace to deal with. Many people seem to prefer the kind of justice you find on Judge Judy, where a single authority figure simple decides who was right and who was wrong without consulting a jury.

There are a lot of problems with that kind of a viewpoint. First off, trial by media is much, much worse than trial by jury at finding the truth, and for every sensational murderer that would be convicted rightly by a media circus, twenty innocent people would be convicted as well just to maintain ratings. The fact is, the jury had access to all the evidence, they had instructions to find her not guilty if there was a reasonable doubt, and there was a reasonable doubt that she did it. That meant that in spite of all the moral outrage that Fox, NBC or all the other networks could muster, the lady was found innocent. Whether that's the popular decision or not, that decision was a good one in the eyes of the law.

Second, trial by jury is by no means perfect. We all know that. The system has flaws, and occasionally a person will be wrongly convicted or unfairly escape punishment. The difference is that the jury is one of the few instances where the democratic whole of the United States makes its impact on the judicial process. Its the part of the court system that keeps the judge from being an autocratic tyrant, the lawyers from becoming wheedling lobbyists and the innocence of the defendent from being treated with arbitrary disregard. For example, as I understand it custody of children after a divorce is decided without a jury. It is also one of the more arbitrary judicial cases in our civil law today, where custody is determined almost on a whim.

Thirdly, the people who make up a jury are the same people who vote to elect the officials who run our government. If they cannot be trusted to use good judgment in court, then how can they be trusted to vote wisely? If they are not ready to participate in a jury for the good of a society, how can they still be considered ripe for a draft in time of war to defend that society? To abandon this part of the Constitution would be to abandon our trust in our populace to rule and judge themselves. To lose that trust would condemn any society to tyranny.

At least, that's my take on it anyway...

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