After 33 days of trial, the Pinellas County jury in the Casey Anthony case found her guilty of four misdemeanors after only approximately 11 hours of deliberation.
We will likely find out why the jury did not convict Anthony of the only real charge the world really cared about at a later time: first-degree murder. I am certain there will be book sales and media appearances that will shed light on the jury’s thought process. However, I believe ultimately this case comes down to a simple and classic phrase in the criminal law system:
Better to let a guilty woman free than to convict an innocent woman.
When we move past public outrage and the pretrial conviction by major media, this case is really a positive testament to the criminal justice system.
I think of the burden this way: Anthony started the trial with the presumption of innocence despite public opinion. The state had the burden of taking the jury from presuming Anthony was innocent to believing, beyond moral certainty, that she was guilty. Anthony only had to keep the state from reaching the “beyond” moral certainty point.
Although it's an unfair analogy, the guilty temperature started at zero degrees, the state had to get the temperature to boiling, and the defense simply had to keep the water from reaching the boiling point.
The jury never said Anthony was innocent. They simply said that they could not find her guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. They may still believe she is guilty, just not boiling with guilt.
Let us take a journey down the trial court system’s burdens of proof.
First, there is the “preponderance of the evidence” standard that is used most often in the noncriminal courts. A plaintiff wins if she can prove that the alleged act by the defendant occurred “more likely than not.”
My favorite phrase is that the plaintiff must prove that the event happened by “50 percent plus a feather.” Imagine Lady Justice holding her scales just slightly offset. This is the preponderance of evidence standard. This is the standard that we contract attorneys are used to.
The second-most common standard of proof is “clear and convincing evidence.”
I am still uncertain how to articulate this standard into a catchy phrase (other attorneys, please chime in). Some have said that in order to prevail, the plaintiff must prove her case by approximately 75 percent.
At any rate, this standard is clearly between the contract “preponderance of the evidence” standard and the criminal “beyond a reasonable doubt standard,” which applied in Anthony's case.
Beyond a reasonable doubt is a very, very tough standard for the state’s criminal prosecution attorneys to meet.
One must start with what is reasonable doubt as to a defendant’s guilt. If a juror cannot with moral certainty believe that the defendant committed the crime, then there is reasonable doubt. What becomes obvious is that what is reasonable and moral certainty for one juror may not be reasonable and moral certainty for another juror.
When I was in law school, I translated “beyond a reasonable doubt” in many different ways to pass my criminal-law classes (cringe now, criminal defense attorneys). Reasonable doubt was not beyond any doubt at all. Reasonable doubt was not if I could speculate or imagine other ways the crime happened or other people that committed the crime. Reasonable doubt was if I could reasonably justify in my own mind that the evidence before me allowed for an alternative to the way the state attorney said the crime was committed by the person who was on trial.
I was guided by the principal that I would rather let a guilty person walk free than convict a free person.
With this in mind, it is not too shocking that the jury found Anthony not guilty. The state attorney had the burden (not Anthony and her defense team) to prove beyond the jurors’ reasonable doubts that she committed the capital crime.
Simply stated, the jury could not find that Anthony committed a capital crime beyond their moral certainty. They were not willing to put a woman in jail for life, or perhaps give her the death penalty, without more. They never said, and probably never will say, that she is innocent.
Perhaps their thought is, “I am almost absolutely sure she is guilty, but almost is not good enough under our justice system.”
If you believe Casey Anthony is guilty, you may be right, or probably right, or most certainly right, but it takes more than that. I still would rather have Anthony walk free if the jury cannot beyond their moral certainty find her guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, even if I were to believe that she more likely than not committed the crime.