Shouting Into Darkness

I Am (Not) The Law

Posted in Ranting and Raving by Chris W. on July 11, 2011

The big story today deals with the verdict in the Caylee Anthony Murder Trial, in which the mother, Casey, was charged with her death. In case you haven’t been checking the Internet recently – *spoiler alert* – she was acquitted of the murder charge, but found guilty of lying to police, which could carry a four-year prison sentence.

But I’m not here to talk about the trial. I’ve only barely been keeping up with it, and that’s whenever I get the urge to open “The Daily” on my iPad (which is rarely). My focus today was the backlash that happened almost instantaneously online. As soon as news broke, people ran to their Facebook and Twitter accounts to vent their frustration at what they obviously felt was a travesty of justice. In fact, for most of the afternoon, “Dexter Morgan” was trending, with some commenting on how this case could inspire a storyline in Dexter and some (reprehensible) people making jokes that Casey Anthony deserved a visit from the fictional serial killer/vigilante because she escaped the justice she deserved.

I’m not without blame when it comes to making bad jokes at the expense of others. Hell, it’s the only way I know of to be funny. But I want to address the almost universal condemnation for the verdict and the language used to express that disappointment. Before we begin, let me make my stance perfectly clear:

I was not there at the time of the crime, nor was I in the courtroom during the proceedings. Ergo, I have no valid opinion concerning Ms. Anthony’s guilt or innocence. I cannot, and will not, comment on whether she deserved to be found guilty or not, as I have no way of knowing for sure.

And as far as I know, most of the people out there are in the same boat as I am.

The amazing thing about this trial was not the trial itself; it was the hangin’ jury that sprung up after the verdict of “Not Guilty” was read. The reaction is simultaneously amazing and confounding. I can understand being moved by the death of a small child. I can understand the urge to want to see her death answered for. What I can’t understand are the extreme opinions that the verdict aroused, especially by people who only experienced the trial as a passive observer. If that was your child, or you knew her personally before her death, then I totally get it. I’d be out for blood too if I were in that position, but a lot of the response to the verdict is not centered around the still-unsolved death of a child. Instead the anger comes from the denial of a guilty party, someone to point the finger at, condemn, and take vengeance upon. I get the feeling that people were just pissed that they couldn’t anticipate the execution of someone sick enough to murder her own child, like a teenager waiting for an unsightly zit to pop.

This is a side-effect of allowing the court proceedings to be streamed on the Internet or broadcast on TV. Every armchair prosecutor and peak in and play Jack McCoy. It doesn’t help that the details of the crime were gruesome and involve the death of a very, very young girl that in no way deserved what she got. Take all of that, throw it into a blender and you get a great recipe for a pissed-off group of people who want to see someone pay for the crime, and feel wholly justified in their opinion of Ms. Anthony’s guilt or innocence. Our justice system allows for a jury of twelve at the most, but allowing the whole world into the courtroom means that the defendant is being tried in the Court of Public Opinion as well, a battle her attorney can’t hope to win, for good or ill. Not because she might be guilty – although I can understand if someone has a logical argument for her guilt. Again, I don’t know the facts that well – but because she’s convenient. The sooner we can attach a criminal to the crime and punish him or her, the faster we can put the tragedy behind us and move on.

I remember reading in a science book (can’t for the life of me remember which, so I could just be drawing on a false memory) that humans and primates evolved with a built-in idea of fairness, and a disdain for “cheaters.” The very basis of law and order is “if you break the rules, you are punished.” Whether this comes from the natural progression of evolution (primitive humans learning that they could achieve more by working together towards a common goal), religion (going to Hell is kinda the ultimate punishment), or a collection of both, I don’t know. Either way, it results in a reaction to cheaters that borders on being irrational at times. Remember how pissed your Dad would get after a referee would make an obviously bad call? There usually was no reason to get that upset. I look on the whole Casey Anthony thing in a similar vein. It doesn’t affect me, or most people, at all and I’d rather occupy myself with things that have an impact on my day-to-day life. The only explanation I can think of to explain the reaction to the not-guilty verdict is that people psychologically needed to find the culprit quickly, the mother was convenient, and everyone got pissed that she got away with it.

Again, let me emphasis that I’m NOT saying that she didn’t do it. I’m saying that I don’t know. Since I wasn’t there, looking at the evidence with the jury, that’s the intellectually honest position to have. I can’t even ask myself what was going through the jury’s mind during deliberation; I don’t know that, either. Our legal system is built upon “innocent until proven guilty” and “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Despite our desire for justice, or ill feelings that someone “got away with it,” I trust that the jury did what they thought was right. If evidence to counteract that claim comes forward, then we’ll come back and talk some more. Until such time, I’d like to put the whole affair to rest.

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