The criminal trial of the decade – at least so far – is now over. When I heard that the jury had reached a verdict so quickly, I knew (well … I was pretty sure …) what was coming.
It seems like a solid majority of the rest of the world wasn’t ready for it. They had formed their own (media-influenced?) opinion, instinct, gut feeling, intuition – call it what you will – and it didn’t match the jury’s verdict. People were furious, and not just with the defendant – but with the defense lawyers and even the jury.
That is scary.
Verdict aside, there are two things we ought all be able to agree upon:
1. Jury service is a critically important and honorable duty. Personally, I’ve yet to be selected to serve on a jury, let alone one that required being sequestered for more than a month. (Last time I was called I got tossed during voir dire.) One potential good consequence of the trial seems to be an increased interest in jury service.
2. The louder, more angry and more one-sided that public opinion against a jury verdict becomes, the more we should appreciate the system we have. I thought that this generally unpopular verdict would’ve triggered a whole bunch of articles vouching not for any particular verdict or outcome, but for the integrity of the process in general. Instead, I’ve seen the opposite. And that’s disappointing.
In the Anthony trial we saw a skilled and experienced Judge watching over two groups of passionate attorneys orderly arguing evidence to a jury of the defendant’s peers in a public forum. It’s exactly how a fair criminal trial should work. We take it for granted. Some are even criticizing it.
But while the widespread public dissatisfaction with the Anthony verdict was fairly predictable based upon the massive amount of media positioning that preceded it, the subsequent ill-will directed at the defense lawyers and the jury is wrong.
Prosecution-oriented commentators like Nancy Grace have a huge forum within which to offer views, and knowledgeable “insider” perspectives like hers are important. She knows the process, she knows the rules, and presumably she carefully watched the actual testimony in the case. At the same time, she has a responsibility to the public, to steer disagreements and analysis toward the evidence presented and the conduct of the trial and away from the parties who ensured the trial’s orderly administration.
Fueling or even allowing vitriol against the defense team and the jury is out of bounds. Whether people call Nancy Grace and criticize the defense team directly (by attacking Baez or Mason for offering defense arguments) or slyly (by attacking the defense lawyers personally for toasting their work at a bar a few hours after the verdit), she needs to shut those callers down.
The kind of mob mentality that is chastisizing the defense lawyers and the jury at the conclusion of a fair, public trial – should scare us and offend us. However, its existence does help to definitively answer the question: Was “justice” done in the Anthony trial?
Yes, thankfully, it was.
Was the jury correct? Was all the truth surfaced and revealed? These are different questions, complicated ones that can even involve philosophical or religious angles. We, the public, certainly don’t definitively know those answers. Neither did the jury. Actually, from the limited comments we’ve heard from the jury, it sounds as though they may have elected to reach the Scottish verdict of “not proven” had it been available. Regardless, the jury clearly answered the questions that were put to them, and concluded that they didn’t think the State proved their case.
So, instead of focusing on a particular outcome, this trial can stand for a very reassuring principle: being summarily convicted by media and public innuendo isn’t enough, the State still needs to prove it. And thank heaven for that. One peek at the rage in eyes of some of those folks standing outside the courtroom helps us think for a second about what it might be like if the State, or “the majority” could independently convict.
The State must still prove its case, even when everyone clearly knows (?!) that the accused is 100% guilty of murd …
… well, maybe not murder, but maybe manslaughter or abuse, because … well …
… someone killed that little girl, right? it sure didn’t seem like an accident …
…. and she partied, and she was a horrible mother … even if people said she wasn’t …
…. and she lied so much … and she doesn’t even cry!!!! If I was her I’d be crying!!!!
…. and none of it really makes any sense otherwise, and besides …
…. she just looks so guilty!
To be sure, Ms. Anthony was an unsympathetic defendant. We’d all like to naively believe that if it were us in the crosshairs, things would be different. If it were us accused of something we claimed we didn’t do, the media would be kinder to us, the police and the prosecution would believe us. We’d like to think that our assertions of innocence would be believed and trumpeted as loudly as any potentially incriminating facts, that the media would take up our cause, being very careful to respect our guaranteed presumption of innocence. Good luck with that.
So, as this debate continues, we should make certain that we keep the focus on the evidence and the process. Debating a verdict based on the evidence presented is almost always fair, but attacking the defense or the jury almost always isn’t.
By making sure our debates stick to these ideas, it does a small part to help ensure that the same process remains available to us and those we care about if – heaven forbid – one of us gets the tag of “accused” for something we deny.