Justice for all

Lady Justice Lady Justice

The reason judges are not surprised by the Casey Anthony verdict

By A.J. Wagner

Lady Justice

Members of the jury: You have heard the evidence and the arguments of counsel. The court and the jury have separate functions: you decide the disputed facts and the court provides the instructions of law. It is your sworn duty to accept these instructions and to apply the law as it is given to you. You are not permitted to change the law, or to apply your own conception of what you think the law should be.

Thus opens a judge’s instructions to a jury at the conclusion of a trial.

Many were amazed at the verdict a few weeks ago in the case of Casey Anthony. After extensive media coverage about her failure to report her daughter Caylee missing, her partying and her changing stories, some were shocked at the “not guilty” verdict. Most judges weren’t.

Judges know that juries are entirely unpredictable. They know that a jury is asked to make a very subjective judgment about some very objective standards we call the law. They know that another jury may hear the same case and come to a different conclusion.

They also know this is the best system man has ever devised for determining criminal responsibility.

The Sixth Amendment states, “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury …”

Jury service is a sacrifice. Nobody comes to the courtroom without inconvenience. But thousands have died defending our Constitution and to ditch jury duty is to dishonor those who have made that ultimate sacrifice. To make excuses so you can get out of doing this duty is to allow those brave men and women to have died in vain. The Constitution comes alive only when the jury seats are filled with “We, the people.” The Constitution means without jurors.

In this country we don’t rely on the mind of one person to make the important determination of criminal fault. We don’t rely on an elected official answerable at the ballot box. We don’t rely on appointed individuals responsible to some political or other elite body. We rely on folks with everyday experiences and everyday wisdom. We rely on folks who, collectively, understand life better than any one individual. We rely on folks who are accountable only to themselves and their consciences.

In his book, “The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools, and Societies,” Professor Scott Page at the University of Michigan, concludes that groups made up of intelligent people who are inwardly diverse can solve problems more effectively than groups of “experts.” Dr. Page’s research upholds the premise made by our founding fathers when they completed the Constitution’s Bill of Rights. In short: Juries are better than judges, lawyers, police officers or politicians at deciding legal cases.

As for the Casey Anthony jury, they were asked to sort through the confusing and contradictory evidence presented to them and decide if Casey was guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Not beyond a shadow of a doubt, or beyond any doubt, but beyond a reasonable doubt.

Ohio defines reasonable doubt like this:

Reasonable doubt is present when, after you have carefully considered and compared all the evidence, you cannot say you are firmly convinced of the truth of the charge. Reasonable doubt is a doubt based on reason and common sense. Reasonable doubt is not mere possible doubt, because everything relating to human affairs or depending on moral evidence is open to some possible or imaginary doubt. Proof beyond a reasonable doubt is proof of such character that an ordinary person would be willing to rely and act upon it in the most important of his or her own affairs.

In other words: Pretty darn sure.

They were told not to speculate, not to read or watch media reports and not to talk to others about what they were thinking. They were told the definition of murder and had to decide that each part of that definition was proved beyond a reasonable doubt.

In the end, the jurors followed their individual consciences and their collective wisdom to determine that there was some doubt, some uncertainty and some hesitancy. So, they said, “Not guilty.”

It was the patriotic thing to do.

(If you would like to read a complete set of jury instructions, go to my blog at www.daytoncitypaper.com/topics/blogs/aj-wagner. Let’s talk about it.)


Disclaimer: The content herein is for entertainment and information only. Do not use this as a legal consultation. Every situation has different nuances that can affect the outcome and laws change without notice. If you’re in a situation that calls for legal advice, get a lawyer. You represent yourself at your own risk. The author, the Dayton City Paper and its affiliates shall have no liability stemming from your use of the information contained herein.

A.J. Wagner is an attorney with the law firm of Flanagan, Lieberman, Hoffman and Swaim at 15 W. Fourth Street in Dayton. A.J. and his firm would be glad to help you with all of your legal needs. You can reach A.J. at (937) 223-5200 or at AJWagner@DaytonCityPaper.com.

A.J. Wagner is an attorney with the law firm of Flanagan, Lieberman, Hoffman and Swaim at 15 W. Fourth Street in Dayton. A.J. and his firm would be glad to help you with all of your legal needs. You can reach A.J. at (937) 223-5200 or at AJWagner@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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