Thursday, July 7, 2011

The verdict is in...

via his barely functioning website
Ohhh that guy. Let's start out on a light note. Here are some fun facts about Jose Baez for you:
  • This guy asked for many a mistrial in the Casey Anthony case. Common, yes. His reasoning? Not so common - he claimed the state's witnesses disparaged his character and reputation as an attorney. Right.
  • This guy has only practiced law for 3 years, although he graduated from law school in 1997. Why? He was denied admission to the Florida Bar for eight years on character and fitness (Praise God I'm past that hurdle) because he failed to pay his ex-wife child support and provide insurance for his teenage daughter.
  • In the meantime, this guy ran two bikini selling businesses. Bon Bon Bikinis and I cannot make this up. 

But you know what? None of that matters today, does it? Because now everyone knows who Jose Baez is. But I mean, I wouldn't hire him to be my defense attorney, just saying. 

The last time you heard from me was right after opening statements, and I was convinced that Casey Anthony would be found guilty by the jury. This trial was the first large trial I've witnessed since starting law school and finishing Trial Advocacy, so I suppose I was a bit more interested than normal, especially in terms of technique and admission of evidence. As the trial progressed, I talked my husband's ear off pondered to myself whether I really felt like the state was proving its case beyond a reasonable doubt with each piece of evidence presented. When they rested their case, I really didn't think they had. The scientific evidence was too new and unreliable, they had witnesses from the same laboratories who contradicted each other,and the only thing I knew for certain was that Casey Anthony lied. She lied a lot. Above all, we knew Caylee died, but the prosecution had yet to reliably establish when, or how, or why, or where. Too many unanswered questions.  But I still thought the jury would find her guilty because Casey was just so "hateable."

We all know, Mr. Baez was less than impressive when presenting the defense's case.  He made all sorts of promises and claims in his opening, but presented absolutely no evidence whatsoever to prove them.  Mistake #1 of hundreds (Judge Perry can list them all for you, I'm sure): The defense has absolutely no burden, Baez! Zero! Stop creating one for yourself!  

Literally, the only way to validate the claims of sexual abuse that Baez made in his opening statement would have been to put Casey on the stand. Putting Casey on the stand would have dragged the trial out another three weeks at least as the prosecution rehashed everything. Plus, it wouldn't have made a bit of difference because everyone assumes that every word out of the girl's mouth is a lie at this point. So when the defense rested, I still thought there would be a guilty verdict. (I also thought George Anthony would have brought a civil suit for defamation by now...)

And then there came closing arguments. The prosecution's argument was sensible, but lacked the missing link. And Jeff Ashton was less than professional.  Compared to the prosecution, Jose Baez hit it out of the ball park on closing. I was shocked.  True, some of his points went a bit far (who saw the Imaginary Friends of Casey board?). But he was energetic, seemed heartfelt, and had great visual aids. He engaged the jury, and quite frankly, tore the prosecution's little bit of circumstantial evidence apart, bit by bit by bit.  As I watched, I kept saying, "This is the strategy you should have been using all along!!!"  He even turned the prosecution's point about using speculation as proof back around on them! (I so called that rebuttal, did I not Eric? Yup, my lucky husband got to watch a grand total of five hours of closing arguments with me this weekend.) 
Best of all, the defense put the grandfatherly Cheney Mason before the jury to instruct them on the law and share parables. A seasoned veteran, Cheney seemed dependable, honest, and sincere...a brilliant move by the defense. By the end of the trial and closings, I had decided that while I myself thought she was guilty of at least manslaughter, I didn't think the prosecution had proved their case beyond a reasonable doubt. But I still thought the jury would find her guilty of at least second degree murder. Because what mother can get past the 31 days she didn't report Caylee missing, right?

And then, of course the verdict came back NOT guilty on all counts except providing false information a law enforcement agent. And folks, I have to say I agree. (Let the hate emails begin.)  If you'll hear me out, I'll tell you why...

I just don't believe the prosecution had evidence beyond and to the exclusion of every. single. reasonable. doubt. I just don't. Beyond a reasonable doubt is the absolute highest standard of proof in any court room, anywhere.  The Florida statutes tell us that "reasonable doubt is not a mere possible doubt, a speculative imaginary or forced doubt . . .  It is to the evidence introduced in this trial, and to it alone, that you are to look to that proof."  That means if there is even a fleeting thought, the slightest possibility that there is another explanation other than cold-blooded murder, then the verdict must be not guilty.  If we had to put a percentage on it, "beyond a reasonable doubt" means a juror must be beyond 99% sure that the person committed the crime to put them behind bars. Or God forbid, be put to death. (Don't even get me started on the death penalty. That's a rant for another day.)

Does the circumstantial evidence look suspicious? Yes.
Is Casey Anthony a liar? Absolutely. 
Was she an unfit mother? More than likely.


Does an internet search for chloroform mean that she used it to kill her daughter? I think not. (I'd hate for those experts to run reports on what my Google searches have been in the past...who knows what they could accuse me of! You too! Let's be honest...we have all searched for some random things...)

Does a bad smell mean that there was a body in the car, when just as many people said they didn't smell a thing? No.
Even if there was a body in the car, does it mean she put it there herself? No.
And even if she did, does it mean that she murdered the person? No, it just doesn't.

It looks bad, but it's not proof. 

Jurors are supposed to base their verdict and their opinions on the evidence they see presented in the courtroom, and that evidence only.  They don't see half the background information about the defendant that we see from the media, nor should they. (It's more prejudical than probative and...all of my classmates are  groaning collectively now.)

The bottom line is that none of us know, or will ever know, exactly what happened to Caylee. And that is incredibly unfortunate.  But if we don't know, how can we prosecute someone for doing it?

At the end of the day, our legal system is designed to protect the innocent over convicting the guilty. It is founded upon the belief that it is better to let one guilty man walk free than to lock an innocent one away. And I will not apologize for that. In fact, I'm proud of it. How incredibly fortunate we are to live in a country that affords us the right to a jury trial and refuses to convict without proper evidence.

Yes, it's a tough concept to appreciate or even understand sometimes. But if you disagree or find yourself questioning, then just picture your spouse, your mother, your child, or even yourself sitting in the defendant's chair.  What if you were falsely accused? Would you be grateful for the reasonable doubt standard then? If all somebody had on you was that you lied, a single hair, a smelly bag of garbage, and some shady google searches, how would you fare in court?

As Jeffrey Scott Shapiro (gasp, a prosecutor!) said in this incredibly well written article, 
"What many people often think is the product of a flawed justice system that allows the guilty to walk free is actually the finest example of our judicial process and the constitutional framework that designed it.
Casey Anthony’s verdict should remind us of the sanctity of civil liberties and due process rights, and how fortunate we are to live in a country where those constitutional principles are honored.
Those civil liberty protections, the ‘little things’ that that we take for granted are precisely what we will depend on most if we are the ones who are falsely accused. It is what reminds us that we live in America, and that despite its occasional miscarriages of justice we wouldn’t – or shouldn’t have it any other way."

So. Question and answer time, shall we?

Do I think Casey Anthony was guilty of murder? Possibly, but it's not about what I think; it's about what can be proven.

Do I think the prosecution had reliable evidence? Yes.

Do I think the prosecution did a good job presenting their case? Yes.  

Do I think the prosecution had evidence that proved their case beyond a reasonable doubt? No.

Do I think the verdict of not guilty was the correct one by law for murder, manslaughter, and child abuse? Absolutely.

Will I ever practice criminal defense law? No. (Famous last words says my finger-crossing husband...)

Just in time to celebrate our country's independence, these twelve jurors exhibited exactly how our country's legal system is SUPPOSED to work. These twelve people (fifteen with alternates), sequestered and away from their families for weeks on end, managed to put aside hatred, emotion, and bias for the facts and held our government to the burden they are required to meet by law. And that, my friends, grounds my faith in our judicial system, makes me proud to be an American citizen, and encourages me to be the best advocate I can be for my clients.

(As always, the above opinions are entirely my own ramblings and don't represent those of my office, my law school, my family, etc. etc. etc.)

1 comment:

  1. I thought the same exact thing, and did not watch any of the trail only what the news reported at the end of the day. Nice to know that I was thinking like a law student :) Well written post!