Tuesday, July 5, 2011
Angry About Casey Anthony? This Might Explain Why Some Juries Do What They Do.
This particular post isn’t really directly about, but has been triggered by the Casey Anthony trial. There has been a lot of response, which has varied, but a lot of it has teetered on wide open furiousness...of...anger...ocity. People are genuinely mad because Casey Anthony was found Not Guilty of Murder or Manslaughter (or whatever they call the equivalent in Florida. I’m too tired to look it up right now because it is 9 o friggin clock and I’ve been working all day). If you are angry about the outcome, hopefully this might make you feel a little better.
I just want to touch on a few things.
1) “You’re only as good as your verdict.”
This is something that lawyers say to each other when they want to talk like hot shots. It basically means that the public perception of a lawyer’s legal prowess is based purely on whether you win or lose. It holds a lot of weight. I’ve already heard people talking wide open about how good the Defense attorneys from the Anthony trial must be phenomenal, and about how the Prosecutors must have “totally screwed the case up.”
The truth is that lawyers win and lawyers lose. It happens. My philosophy is to work extremely hard and be as prepared as possible, and hopefully I’ll win more than most. It has worked out pretty well so far.
It might be true that public perception of a lawyer’s worth is substantially based on winning or losing, but it shouldn’t be assumed that a a lawyer’s performance is THE factor that wins cases. Contrary to what most of us trial lawyers want to believe, we aren't the single deciding factor. The truth is that there are a whole lot of factors that go into a trial - one important factor that happens to be significant to this post is the background and experiences of each juror. Which brings me to my next point.
2) “Your jurors are the first 12 people out of Wal-Mart.”
There are a lot of sayings about juries. I don’t particularly like the derogatory phrases about juries like, “the jury is made up of 12 people who aren’t smart enough to get out of jury duty.” These sayings don’t take into account the fact that a lot of people actually give a damn about doing their civic duty and/or being a huge part of our judicial system. Personally, I think serving on a jury is the second most important civic duty a person in America can perform - second to serving in the armed forces. The “Wal-Mart” saying I don’t mind, because pretty much everybody goes to Wal-Mart. I’ve seen people from all walks of life there, and the first 12 people out of Wal-Mart could very well be on your jury. If the person uttering it means that your jury will be made up of a random cross section of the community, they are absolutely right.
Regardless, you have to understand that when jurors come into a trial they all have different experiences and opinions. What one thinks is “reasonable” may not be what another person believes is also reasonable.
Which brings me to my next point.
3) Beyond a reasonable doubt.
There are a lot of different burdens of proof or standards of evidentiary proof that have to be presented in legal settings. Feel free to sit down in a little orange plastic chair while I blather on about them and write on a chalk board.
Scintilla (pronounced SIN-tila) of Evidence - this means any little speck of evidence. Anything at all that might tend to prove any fact would be considered a scintilla of evidence.
Reasonable Suspicion - This is what officers need to pull you over in your car or effectuate a “Terry Stop” (named after the case which established the standard of proof).
Probable Cause - This is the level of evidence that is required for an officer to arrest you. This is not really that high of a burden, but is higher than reasonable suspicion.
Preponderance of the Evidence - This is the standard for winning a civil jury trial. If the Plaintiff in the case proves from the evidence at trial that it is even the slightest bit more probable that their side is correct, they win. If they can’t, the defendant wins. The Plaintiff has the “burden of proof” which means that it is their duty to produce the evidence in front of the jury, and if they cannot, they lose.
Clear and Convincing Evidence - This is pretty self explanatory. It is a higher burden than a preponderance, and the evidence must be clear and convincing in order for the party with the burden of proof to prevail.
Beyond a Reasonable Doubt - BARD is the highest standard of evidence that exists. It is a great burden. It means that if a juror thinks that someone is probably guilty, but they are not sure, and they have any doubt which they consider reasonable, they must vote to find the Defendant Not Guilty. If they think someone is most likely guilty and they are almost completely positive, but there is one single solitary fact that causes a doubt, and they think it is a reasonable doubt, they MUST find the Defendant Not Guilty. It is huge. It is a huge burden for the prosecution.
The reason we have this massive burden for the prosecution is that, as a country, we tend to give a damn about freedom. We think it’s pretty awesome that liberty is valued, and that some of our citizens are willing to go to some God forsaken desert and get shot at to protect it. So we stack the odds against the house because it is better to allow 10 guilty people to walk free than it is to allow 1 innocent person to be imprisoned.*
As attorneys, we are not even allowed to explain what “reasonable doubt” is to juries. The reason for this is, as explained supra**, everyone has different opinions and what may be reasonable for some may not be reasonable for others.
Which does NOT bring me to my next point, but again, it’s late. So I don’t care.
4) A jury doesn’t get to hear everything.
Everyone else was privy to the media coverage, for better or worse, concerning the Casey Anthony trial. The jury was not. So they didn’t hear everything that we did. There are very good reasons for this. Without insulting any member of the press, I have had several experiences where I gave statements to the press and they totally screwed it up. They aren’t perfect and they don’t report...perfect...ly. Also, I hope this doesn’t shock anyone, but the media is SELLING something. They sell time and space. Advertisers buy that time and space. That is how the media stays alive. Sex sells and violence sells but explaining both sides of a story and trying to remain unbiased does NOT sell.
In order to peddle their wares, the media can tend to exaggerate and sensationalize to sell time and space to advertisers. They start with some facts and then they throw some sparkle and glitter on it. So it is a good thing that juries don’t get to hear all of that. They are supposed to decide a case based on facts. Not sparkle. Nor glitter.
Also, evidentiary rules keep certain bits of evidence out that you might get to hear from the media. Again, there are very good reasons for that. But again, it's late. And I have droned on for long enough. Even Greg Simms gets tired of listening to Greg Simms after a while.
Looking back, I don’t know if this will make you feel better or not. Maybe it has less to do with Casey Anthony and more to do with my rants and/or the fact that it is now 9:46pm. Either way, I hope you got something out of it.
Murder is a very serious crime. If you have been charged with Murder, you are facing 20 years to life in prison - or in some cases, the death penalty. Do not trust your case to a lawyer who has never tried a homicide case. Call an experienced Louisville Murder attorney at Gruner & Simms, PLLC. You can contact us at 502.618.4949 or visit www.grunersimms.com. Results. As fast as the law will allow.
*Don’t blame me. Freedom rules.
**Fancy Lawyer Talk