Casey Anthony was found not guilty on July 5th in connection with the death of her daughter, Caylee Anthony. She was acquitted on charges including first degree murder, aggravated manslaughter, and aggravated child abuse. The only crimes of which she was found guilty included four misdemeanor counts of providing false information to a law enforcement officer. Although she was sentenced to four years incarceration (the maximum one year penalty per count to run consecutively – one after the other), Anthony received three years credit for time served and credit for good behavior. She was released from custody on July 17th.
Many people followed the Casey Anthony trial, some in great detail, some in bits and spurts they caught in passing. And a large number of these spectators were not pleased with the verdict. However, in the criminal justice system, a person is afforded a trial by jury and in order to convict a person, a jury must find that the prosecution has proven the case beyond and to the exclusion of every reasonable doubt. Since the verdict was pronounced, a few of the Casey Anthony jurors have spoken out on their results. While they weren’t convinced Casey Anthony wasn’t to blame for Caylee’s death, they just simply did not believe that the State proved the case beyond a reasonable doubt. They still had doubts in their minds and when it comes to criminal law that spells a not guilty verdict. As a criminal defense attorney, I have often explained to jurors that “not guilty” doesn’t necessarily mean “innocent.” It merely means that the prosecution didn’t meet their burden of proof. Because of the harsh penalty involved in the criminal system – incarceration and deprivation of liberty – the burden of proof is higher than in any other area of the law. For instance, in a lawsuit dealing with money damages, the plaintiff must only prove the case by a preponderance of the evidence, essentially 51%. So if the scale tips in the favor of the plaintiff, the jury can award him damages. But because the stakes are so much higher in the criminal system, the burden of proof is much higher as well.
Particularly interesting in the Casey Anthony trial is the fact that she had a “death qualified jury.” In order to prosecute a person where the State is seeking the death penalty, the prospective jurors are typically questioned extensively on their opinions and views of the death penalty. If a juror isn’t comfortable with the death penalty, he is automatically removed from the jury panel. So what a defendant is left with are a group of generally conservative people to serve as his jury, only those who are proponents of the death penalty. While many would expect that such a conservative bunch would be more inclined to convict a person, that didn’t happen in the Casey Anthony case. One important reason is that when the lawyers spend so much time talking to jurors about the death penalty, the jurors tend to realize the grave consequences of the outcome of the case. Jurors who are aware of the possible penalty of death are perhaps more conscious of ensuring that the State has actually met their burden of proving the case beyond every reasonable doubt. In any other type of case, where the death penalty is not on the table, jurors are never informed of what the possible outcome or sentence would be if the person is convicted. In fact, jurors are specifically told that during the trial, they aren’t to consider any possible penalty as a factor in their verdict. Clearly, the Casey Anthony jurors did take the potential penalties into consideration, if only in ensuring that the burden of proof had been met, which they decidedly agreed, it had not.