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Saturday, July 9, 2011

The burden of proof...


I did not follow the Casey Anthony trial though I know many people did.  I didn't follow it because I am just too busy to sit down in front of my television for hours watching a murder trial unfold.  I, like many people who knew what happened in Orlando, Fl years ago, have an opinion about Casey Anthony's guilt.  That is not what is important right now.  Am I saying that finding the truth is not important?  No.  What I am saying has nothing to do with what I think is the truth.

Now, before I tell you what I think is important, I want you to know that I am a Republican who tends toward the middle, that is, neither left nor right when it comes to the "wings."  I, as most of you know, have been a police officer since 1983.  I believe in our justice system, even though I have seen it, on occasion, fail us. What is important right now is for people to remember that our justice system is based on the foundation that we are innocent until proven guilty.  When someone has been charged with a crime, the state has to prove that the person committed the crime "beyond a reasonable doubt."  What does that mean?  There are many definitions online for the phrase, but I found one on the Lectric Law Library's Lexicon that is pretty easy to understand:

REASONABLE DOUBT

The level of certainty a juror must have to find a defendant guilty of a crime. A real doubt, based upon reason and common sense after careful and impartial consideration of all the evidence, or lack of evidence, in a case. 

Proof beyond a reasonable doubt, therefore, is proof of such a convincing character that you would be willing to rely and act upon it without hesitation in the most important of your own affairs. However, it does not mean an absolute certainty. 

As a police officer, I am not held to this standard when I am making an arrest.  When looking at whether a crime has been committed or not, as far as being able to charge someone with a violation, I must have "probable cause."  This means that there must be a reasonable belief, based on facts or evidence, that a certain person committed a crime.  For example,  a person in a home wakes up to the sound of glass breaking in their kitchen in the middle of the night and calls the police.  When the officer arrives, he sees a person crouching behind a bush near the house.  The officer stops to investigate and sees that the person behind the bush has a cut on his hand that is bleeding, he is wearing dark clothing and can't explain what he is doing in the yard behind a bush.  Upon checking the house, the officer sees that there is a broken window in the kitchen and there are drops of blood on the floor.  Because of the circumstances surrounding his encounter with the person hiding behind the bush, the officer has a reasonable belief that the person behind the bush may have been the same one who tried to break into the house.  After the officer conducts a "pat down" of the person to search for weapons, he finds a screwdriver and a pair of gloves in his pockets.  Based on all of these facts, the officer has "probable cause" to arrest the person for attempted burglary, possession of burglary tools and  loitering and prowling.

That person has been charged with a crime and now has to be tried for the crime at some point.  Once the arrest has been made, the state has the burden to prove that the bad guy actually did commit the crime.  This means that the state has to examine all of the evidence and get their ducks in a row in order to show a judge and possibly a jury that the person that was arrested is guilty of the crime.  They do this by, in the case of the example, testing the blood found on the floor for DNA and comparing it to the DNA of the person who was arrested.  If there were any tool marks, they try to prove that the tool marks on the door were made by the screwdriver in the subject's pocket, etc., etc.

If the state can't prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the person who was arrested was actually the one who committed the crime, then that person is supposed to be found not guilty.

Sometimes, innocent people are found guilty and spend years in prison before they are released after new evidence comes to light.  This type of incident is always a heartbreaking tragedy.  Imagine spending years of your life in prison for a crime you are innocent of.  The way our system is set up is supposed to prevent such a terrible thing from happening, but it does happen.  On the other hand, sometimes people get found not guilty even though they actually did commit the crime.  Sometimes the state (meaning the State Attorney's Office and the police officers and investigators) simply don't have enough to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt.

Which leads me back to the Casey Anthony case.  I am not very shocked or surprised that the jury voted for an acquittal in this case.  It was a difficult case to investigate and a difficult case to try.  Because Caylee's body wasn't found for months after her death, there simply wasn't enough evidence available to definitively prove how, where and when she died.

The jurors who were seated in this trial did not choose to be in the position they were placed in.  They were commanded to appear in court and were selected to be part of the jury in this case.  They were forced to give up weeks of their lives in order to listen to hours and hours of heartbreaking, confusing, and sometimes tedious evidence and testimony.  They gave up a significant portion of their lives in order to serve, in order to do their "civic duty."

I think that the people who are angry with the jurors in this case need to remember all of these facts.  These jurors are people just like you and me.  They have families and responsibilities.  They have children and grandchildren.  They are moms and dads.  They are human.  They listened to the evidence that was presented to them without the constant running commentary provided by the media.  They were denied access to most forms of media and social networking.

Their duty as jurors was to hear all of the evidence and then make a decision.  Did the state prove Casey Anthony was guilty of the premeditated murder of Caylee beyond a reasonable doubt?  If it didn't, the jury was supposed to find her not guilty.  In this case, the jury did not believe that the state had sufficiently proven their case and they did the only thing they could do, they found her not guilty.

We may not agree with their decision, but we need to respect what they did.  That jury proved that, in America, we need not fear being tried in the media.  In America, you can take comfort that, if you are accused of a crime, even if Nancy Grace pronounces you guilty and goes on a personal vendetta to see you filleted and fried, you are innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.   In America, our justice system still works...even if we don't always agree with how it works.  


2 comments:

Dwija {House Unseen} said...

I have to agree with you, Diana. It is such a terrible tragedy, but the prosecution dropped the ball. Luckily the Lord is the one who ultimately judges and for eternity, so we really can take some of that pressure of ourselves and society.

Love ya!

Diana Burfield (BettyShmetty) said...

That's true, but people tend to get themselves worked up about their opinions. I am truly shocked that there are citizens out there who think it is appropriate to threaten the jury members just because they don't agree with them.