Juries & Justice: When Expectations and Outcomes Do Not Meet
On July 5, 2011, a jury found Casey Anthony not guilty regarding the death of her child, Caylee. The internet, print and electronic media were immediately filled with articles and commentary regarding the verdict. While Casey Anthony was found guilty of lying to investigators and sentenced accordingly, the thrust of the articles seemed to be that the jury was ignorant, duped or worse. Most alarming to me was a growing number of people who chose this verdict to indict the jury system in general.
So as LEOs, what do we do when expectations and outcomes do not meet after a jury trial? It is so important to remember that more often than not, in trial courts throughout the United States, on a daily basis, juries get it right. Every day, juries comprised of citizens take an oath to listen to evidence and make a determination of the facts of the case. Whether in a civil or criminal case, we rely upon those jurors to conduct the business of the court. In a criminal case, the safeguards afforded by a public trial before an impartial jury are central to our system of government.
LEOs arrest based upon probable cause. It is easy to forget the difference between the probable cause standard and guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. I personally believe that LEOs so often make cases using a “heightened sense” of probable cause, that the jury convicts easily after looking at the same evidence relied upon by the LEO. When the jury does not convict, this is not a reflection on the LEOs involved in the case. The jury may simply disagree or may not hear the same evidence due to procedural rulings.
As the English Jurist William Blackstone said, “better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer.” The jury system in the United States is a proving ground for evidence, an insertion of the conscience of society into the prosecution process and an acknowledgment that the people are the final authority in the criminal justice system. While we may disagree with the outcome of a specific case, we must continue to embrace the system.