All I have been hearing over the past few days is outrage over the Casey Anthony verdict. And I get it – I do. It is outrageous that a woman who most likely killed her child is walking free. I’m outraged, too. But we need to think twice about who we blame. I’m not sure who is to blame. Did the prosecutors not do a good enough job? Maybe. Should we blame the defense? No – they were doing their job. One thing I know – we shouldn’t be blaming the jury, and yet that’s what I am seeing time and time again.
Having been on a jury for a somewhat high profile, criminal trial, I feel for those jurors. You’re puled away from your normal life and thrown into an emotionally charged, high pressure, absolutely exhausting situation and the whole world (or the whole country or state or city or even just the victim’s family) is looking to you todo something – to fix it. You might be able to deliver a guilty verdict – the thing everyone is hoping for- but even if you do, it doesn’t fix it. The crime was still committed. What was done is still done.
But after a horrible crime, the only thing left to cling to is that guilty verdict – putting the bad guy in prison or on death row. That’s a lot of pressure for the average person. It was a lot of pressure for me. I was on a jury for a kidnapping/rape trial. It was exhausting and heart wrenching. You are supposed to be neutral, but it’s impossible not to look at the victim and their family and feel their pain, even just a little. You want to do what’s right for them, but your job is to do what’s right for everyone – what’s right for the justice system, and sadly they aren’t always the same thing.
There are a lot of things wrong with our justice system – trials are delayed, courts get mired in ridiculous lawsuits, evidence is mishandled and worst of all (to me) are the completely ass-backward sentences. Many child molesters spend less than a year in prison. Rapists serve about 6 years on average. And yet you commit a monetary crime and the sentence is longer than many murderers serve. Jim Bakker received 45 years for embezzlement. Now, I’m not saying that financial crimes don’t deserve a tough punishment – they do. But what does it say about our society when an embezzler gets 45 years and a child molester gets less than one?
So yes – our justice system isn’t perfect. But the juries are not to blame. The juries are just doing their job to the best of their abilities. Juries aren’t made up of legal experts and psychologists and social workers. Juries are made up of teachers and mechanics and engineers and students and housewives and grandfathers. Some are educated, some aren’t. Some have kids, some don’t. Some will cry along with the victims, some won’t feel a thing. but the one thing they (usually) have in common is that they want to do a good job. They want to do what’s right. And sometimes what’s right isn’t what what they want or feel or what is best for the victims.
At the trial I was on, there were 21 counts – ranging from rape and other sexual charges to robbery to kidnapping. We easily found him guilty on 20 of those charges. But the 21st charge threw us for a loop. It was a weapons charge, and while you would think that the kidnap/rape charges would be more important, this was a big one. This charge meant a HUGE increase in jail time. And I’m sure the victim & her family were disappointed to hear the not guilty verdict on that one charge, we did what we had to do.
Every single one of us felt that he was guilty – that he had had a weapon (a big scary knife). But as a juror, it is your job to take what you feel out of it and base your decision on the evidence. And the evidence wasn’t there. The prosecution couldn’t prove to us beyond a reasonable doubt that a weapon was used and we couldn’t come back with a guilty verdict. It sucked. But it was also the right thing to do.
Our justice system has problems – I know that. But not because the juries aren’t trying to do their job and do it right. After hearing all the evidence, the juries are given their instructions, and those instructions are very clear about evidence and testimony and reasonable doubt. And you go into that room wanting to do what is best for the victim, what’s best for society and still follow the rules. It’s a lot of pressure. And often, outsiders – people who complain about the outcome – haven’t heard all the evidence. Or the jury’s instructions. And most off all, they are basing their opinion on their emotions – their outrage. Not on reasonable doubt.
When I read news stories about how the jurors in the Anthony trial are being threatened, that the courts have to protect them from possible harm, it makes me sad. Don’t blame the juries – they are doing the best they can with what they are given. And while sometimes the verdict isn’t what we all want or think is warranted, the system is set up the way it is for a reason. And I for one, believe in it. Because as much as I hate the idea of the guilty going free, I hate the idea of the innocent being convicted even more.