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Don’t Indict Juries Over The Casey Anthony Verdict

Filed by KOSU News in US News.
July 9, 2011

There were shocked and angry outcries this week after an Orange County, Florida jury acquitted Casey Anthony of murdering her 2-year-old daughter, Caylee Anthony, in 2008.

Caylee Anthony had been missing for a month before police arrested her mother, Casey, for obstructing the investigation into her daughter’s disappearance. It was about six months before the little girls’ remains were found in woods near her home.

Casey Anthony was convicted of four counts of lying to police. But with time served, she will be free next weekend.

I may be that rare person who doesn’t have strong feelings about the verdict. I didn’t really follow the trial, mostly because I have two young children and couldn’t bear to hear so much about the death of a little girl. But millions of people followed the Anthony trial more closely than any election campaign. Everybody in America is entitled to an opinion on anything. But I’ve covered a lot of criminal trials and served on several juries. I have seen a jury convict a member of my immediate family. And all of that has made me reluctant to criticize a jury’s work.

Juries don’t see the same court case that we think we do. The cameras keep burning, and digital media sites keep chattering while judges send juries out of the courtroom during lawyerly arguments. Juries miss the cavalcade of courtside courtroom pundits. And, juries have sober, even sacred responsibilities. They can’t just say, “I’m sure what happened.” They take an oath to apply the law. They have the fate of human beings in their hands.

When courts began to televise cases in the 1980′s, many worried that attorneys, judges, and witnesses would try to entertain a television audience, not engage juries with rational arguments. I’m not sure how often that’s happened.

But the millions of Americans who now follow major cases like sports hi-lights can remind me of the kinds of people who think they can perform a thoracic aortic endovascular stent graft because they saw one on Grey’s Anatomy.

The jury system was created so that ordinary citizens can judge people accused of a crime: not officials, politicians, academic experts or pundits. There is something noble about putting such absolute power in the hands of normal people.

Juries can reach wrong verdicts. But justice will succeed when juries know that if they take their responsibilities seriously—and most juries I have seen close-up have—they are free to reach decisions they know may be unpopular.

After this week’s verdict in the Casey Anthony trial, Lawson Lamar, Orange County’s chief prosecutor, told reporters, “We are disappointed with the verdict today. (But) we did our job. The jury did their job. This is justice in America.” [Copyright 2011 National Public Radio]

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