Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Blind Rage will kill us all.

Someone I went to high school with posted this status update last night after Casey Anthony, alleged child murderer, was acquitted:

"Everybody go to Caylee's Law and like the page and sign a petition to hopefully change the DOUBLE JEPORADY LAW... maybe it wont help but its worth a try!! JUSTICE FOR CAYLEE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

She wants to change the double jeopardy law--as if double jeopardy is some federal statute that exists by popular vote--because of the outcome of one trial. What the hell is going on?

I understand the frustration that accompanies the feeling a criminal has been allowed to walk free. It's horrible. But at the same time, in a publicized trial, most of what We see is what the Media thinks is the most interesting, which is not necessarily representative of what's really going on in the courtroom. Even if the person looks guilty as sin, that does not a conviction make. Our justice system is founded on a presumption of innocence, not a presumption of guilt with people we think look shifty.

I am, however, rendered almost speechless by the quote above. First, the so-called "double jeopardy law" is not just some obscure technicality that benefits lucky criminals. It arises from a little thing called the United States Constitution--the Fifth Amendment to be exact. In relevant part, the Fifth Amendment reads "nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb." Further Constitutional support is found in the Fourteenth Amendment--"No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States . . . nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws"--which makes the Fifth Amendment's prohibition of double jeopardy binding on the several states as well as the federal government (Benton v. Maryland). Thus, overturning the "double jeopardy" law would, in essence, be to violate (or repeal) the relevant clauses of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. You would change our fucking Constitution just because some jurors in a strange case that has no bearing on your personal life whatsoever couldn't agree that the prosecutor, who seems to be lazy, had satisfied the state's "beyond a reasonable doubt" burden of proof? You have to be kidding me.

Secondly, what happens if you are alleged to have committed a crime, are acquitted, and then prosecuted a second time for the same event? You would be infuriated, scared, harassed. Let's please not throw the baby out with the bathwater just because you personally find the outcome of a single case to be undesirable.

Thirdly, it is the responsibility of a jury--not the public at large--to decide guilt or innocence. That jury was unconvinced by whatever evidentiary showing the prosecution made. I would venture to say the jury, or at least most of the people on it, probably had the same bad feelings toward Casey Anthony as the 5th/14th-repealers do: the story doesn't make sense, she looks guilty, we don't like her, there's a dead toddler and someone must pay, etc. But the jury has a duty--a very, very serious duty--to put aside personal feelings and evaluate the entire picture. Then, the jury must put that information alongside the state's "beyond a reasonable doubt" burden of proof, which in many jurisdictions is treated as somewhere between 90 and 99.9% certainty of guilt; anything less should end in acquittal. If the jurors just weren't convinced that burden was met--regardless of whether their gut feelings tell them she's guilty or that they hate her guts--they had a duty to acquit. That result falls squarely on the prosecution for not mounting enough evidence, presenting it poorly, etc.

Fourthly, even if that little "double jeopardy law" is repealed, there's no guarantee you'd get a conviction to satisfy your bloodlust. What if Anthony is tried again and a second jury acquits her? Then she looks even more innocent, you have egg on your face, and your bloodlust goes unsatisfied. This is sort of like the poor people that play the lottery and pray to win it, because it'll fix all their problems; then when they do win the millions, their lives go in the shitter because the money ruins them, and they end up in a worse situation they started in. Then what?

Lastly, everyone seems to be looking at this situation through the same rage-filled lenses as they did the OJ Simpson verdict. We all assume the bitch is guilty and want her to burn. Fine. But what if she isn't?

Let's look at another polarizing case: JonBenet Ramsey. Popular opinion was that her family was responsible for her death, and they were publicly vilified for it. Many people wanted the family prosecuted and put to death, because they were so certain of their guilt. But in 2008, the Ramsey family was cleared of wrongdoing and deemed innocent. What if, between the death in 1996 and the 2008 declaration of innocence, the family had been tried, falsely convicted, and wrongly executed?

In our rage and bloodlust and desire for justice--especially where an innocent child has been murdered--we still cannot lose sight of the foundations of our system. We can't lose sight of the big picture, and all that hangs in the balance. The reactionary changing of laws based on one data point--here, one case that ends without a satisfactory ending in the minds of many--can easily chip away at our fundamental protections and make the mere act of living in the USA a dangerous endeavor. What if you are falsely accused of a serious crime? Don't you want the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment to protect you? That is what's at stake here: your own safety and protection.

I'm sorry for all the people that are sitting at home crying and worrying about the outcome of the Casey Anthony trial. Benjamin Franklin has echoed the famous "Blackstone formulation" that it's preferable to have ten guilty people walk free than one innocent person suffer. That's kind of the basis of our entire nation's criminal legal code. That's why it takes so long for criminals to be brought to justice: our courts are very, very careful about exercising the burden of judging another human being when lives hang in the balance. It's taken very seriously and it goes back hundreds of years. Ignoring that precedent for the sake of one bad mom that you don't like does not a good idea make.

Have some perspective, people. It's what the Founding Fathers would want.