Legal Analysis in the Morning

26 Jun

I’ve been watching ABC’s coverage of the Casey Anthony trial, but I’m probably going to stop. I might switch to CBS or NBC, or I might limit myself to internet news sources.

The reason is simple: Nancy Grace.

I get that as a mother herself, she finds this case not only important but affecting. I get that she sees pictures of Caylee Anthony and wants someone to pay for the child’s death.

I also get that Casey Anthony is not sympathetic. In fact, she’s kind of repulsive. She obstructed justice by lying to police, and she should pay for that. She delayed reporting Caylee’s disappearance, which I believe carries some legal penalties as well. She engaged in behavior after Caylee’s disappearance that, from a moral standpoint, is indefensible (from a legal standpoint, it’s disadvantageous, but not criminal). I doubt that I would have befriended Casey Anthony when I was her age; what I’ve seen of her on television tells me that she’s unlikable.

So I get it when Nancy Grace wants everyone to be as upset as she is. I get it, but I don’t like it.

For one thing, it’s insulting, especially her repeated use of the non-word, “tot-mom.” I get the impression that Grace doesn’t trust her audience to remember from one minute to the next—or even one sentence to the next—that Caylee Anthony was a small child, that Casey Anthony was her mother, and that Casey Anthony’s name is Casey Anthony.

Worse than that, it’s emotionally manipulative. I bet when Grace was serving as a prosecutor she got a lot of convictions by playing on people’s emotions. She would have hated having me on the jury. I figure, if the prosecution’s case is strong, they’re not going to rely heavily on manipulating emotions; they’re going to present the evidence which they know to be solid. If they’re relying on the jury to respond emotionally, it makes me think there’s a problem with their case.

And there is a problem with this case: they don’t have a cause of death. They don’t have any physical evidence that proves that Casey Anthony was responsible for Caylee’s death. All they have is her lawyer’s assertion that Caylee’s death was accidental.

Intuitively, I think Anthony probably did it. But you’re not supposed to use intuition when deciding any legal verdict. If there is any time that one should be clear and rational in one’s thought processes, it’s in capital cases like this one.

If Anthony’s convicted and loses all her appeals, the state is going to take her life, and that blood is on everyone’s hands. If she did not kill her daughter, if it was an accident, then that’s (unlikable but) innocent blood on everyone’s hands. I live in a state with the death penalty, and I’m not altogether certain that I don’t already have innocent blood on my hands.

Grace would have her audience believe that if the defense puts forth an alternative theory, they can’t change their mind, and if they don’t prove the alternative theory, then the case must go to the prosecution. Maybe she’s right, but I think that’s just legal gamesmanship. I don’t think it makes sense.

One of the cornerstones of the American justice system is that the accused is to be presumed innocent until proved guilty. Grace’s position does not allow for the possibility that neither the prosecution nor the defense can prove their case, a very real possibility here.

I believe, but cannot prove, that Caylee Anthony was murdered, and it breaks my heart. I believe, but cannot prove, that Casey Anthony is responsible. As much as I dislike her, I am not willing to sacrifice our justice system for morbid gratification founded not on evidence and reason, but on the stubbornness of heightened emotions.

Nancy Grace does not appear to want justice in this case—she wants revenge for a dead little girl, and she wants you to want it as much as she does. That’s understandable, but it’s dangerous, too.

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Posted by on June 26, 2011 in justice system, media


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