A Brief Defense of the US Justice System

I was tired of the Casey Anthony case two minutes after it started. Not because it’s not an interesting case – it is. More because it was getting SO MUCH hype. Like other high-profile cases before it, this trial had key ingredients that made it both interesting and morally questionable.

High-profile cases are our era’s version of a gladiator’s arena.

For the last 24 hours I’ve heard from nearly every aspect of my life, professional and personal, express disgust with the US justice system. And I think that’s just stupid. The fact that Casey Anthony was a bad mother and probably not innocent is uncontested. I’m not trying to argue against either one of those things. In fact, I don’t really care about Casey Anthony at all.

Which is where the stupidity comes in, I think. The people around me are replacing “not guilty beyond a reasonable doubt” with “innocent.” And then raging about the failure of juries and our legal system as a whole. But those two things are NOT the same, just like Casey Anthony and the legal system are not the same. Making value judgements about anything based on the premise that they are is what I find so dumb and infuriating. It’s lazy.

So, to be clear, this is not a defense of Casey Anthony. This is a defense of the US justice system which, despite current popular opinion, is working just fine.

Our prosecution in the US is based on a presumption of innocence. Realistically, it’s almost impossible to force people to presume innocence. Thus, there are all sorts of ways to account for the fact that human beings are designed to presume guilt. One of the simplest is in criminal trials, where a jury must unanimously find someone guilty beyond a reasonable doubt for conviction to take effect.

This requirement does several jobs at once. First, it takes guilt and innocence off the black/white, pass/fail system and puts it on a scale. Jurors do not ask “is she guilty?” Their question is closer to “how guilty is she?” Negligence? Manslaughter? First-degree?

Yes/no is easy to answer. “Are you sure?” is much harder, and requires a lot more consideration. And we want that.

Tooling our justice system this way makes jurors carefully consider all evidence. Thus, they end up having to carefully consider things that we don’t (when we’re watching on TV) such as motive, lack of evidence, and quality of evidence. This article, which features one of the jury alternates for the Anthony trial, delves into that.

Another thing this kind of setup does, which is easy to forget when a lazy mother “gets away with murder,” is that “guilty beyond reasonable doubt” protects innocent citizens from wrongful conviction. The implications of that one phrase are far-reaching – one of the cornerstones of our concept of individual freedom. It is, in fact, one of the most powerful phrases in the protection of our rights.

To be clear, I think Casey Anthony’s tubes should be tied. I agree with one of my coworkers that she should be left on an island, where birds should peck out her eyeballs.

But I’m glad the US justice system is not responsible for making that happen.




6 thoughts on “A Brief Defense of the US Justice System”

  1. I was a juror on a murder trial…and for 24 hours I was convinced that someone I believed in my heart was guilty, was going to get off…because of the words…without a reasonable doubt. Later, enough information allowed for a conviction. in spite of how sick I felt that a murderer might have gone free, I completely get, and agree with your post…including the eyeballs part.

  2. Well there's a subject and a half. I'll not be so brave (or foolish) as to comment on your legal system but what appears from the outside is that the media in the US seem to have a freedom to try and influence trials in a way which would be unthinkable in many countries.

  3. Liked your comparison to the gladiator's arena. I felt the same disgust watching people fight over a place in line in order to watch the performance with glee.

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