Casey’s Verdict

Casey’s verdict: how you and I won

JimCoffinBy James Coffin

After the Casey Anthony verdict, defense attorney Jose Baez said there were no winners. I disagree. “We the people” were the winners.

Contrary to the feelings of many–especially television’s most vociferous “talking heads”–the verdict was not an example of courts run amok. Rather, it was our nation’s jury system at peak performance. Why?

We asked 12 ordinary citizens to assess a body of facts concerning the death of a child and the role Casey Anthony might have played. We told the jury that if the facts presented didn’t convince them of her guilt “beyond reasonable doubt,” they must acquit. They assessed the facts. They deemed them to fall short of the prescribed standard. They obeyed the instructions.

They weren’t voting for Casey Anthony to be granted sainthood or declared citizen of the year. They weren’t saying they believed she bore no guilt. They weren’t even saying she wasn’t guilty of every charge against her. They simply said the facts presented weren’t adequate to establish guilt beyond reasonable doubt.

Their decision is a tribute to our jury system precisely because it so ignored human emotions. Precisely because it so overlooked the public’s understandable repugnance toward the accused. Precisely because they based their decision on something more fundamental than the fact that Casey Anthony makes Pinocchio seem honest.

Twelve people listened carefully to the judge’s instructions. They followed the law. They put aside personal feelings about all the negatives so evident in Casey Anthony and declared: In the absence of other essential facts, what we’ve been presented isn’t enough to establish beyond reasonable doubt that she murdered her daughter.

Our founding fathers would have been proud. They were champions of due process. They’d seen it denied too many times, whether by tyrannical rulers or mobs. They grasped the big picture. They’d bought into the idea that it’s better to set the standard so high that we risk letting a few of the guilty go free rather than to punish an innocent person.

As individuals, we understandably chafe because someone our gut tells us is guilty has avoided what we consider appropriate retribution. But the fact that 12 people went against their gut to ensure due process bodes well for all of us as a nation.

In the short term, we might not like the verdict. But were the tables turned, were we ever accused of a crime where the evidence makes us look guilty no matter how innocent we might be, we’d want to know that the 12 ordinary citizens deciding our fate would be as committed to the beyond-reasonable-doubt standard as Casey Anthony’s jury was.

James Coffin, currently director of the Interfaith Council of Central Florida, wrote this shortly after the Casey Anthony verdict in July 2011.