She had long since been convicted in the court of public opinion, and the outcry was enormous. For a couple of months the case dominated the headlines, although I wasn’t paying any attention. But lots of people were and they feel like justice was not served.
Well, maybe not for Caylee, the daughter. But Alan Dershowitz, a law professor at Harvard, makes a strong case for the system in an editorial today in the Wall Street Journal. It’s worth a read whether you were keeping up with the trial or not.
His argument is that a criminal trial is not about truth or morality. It’s about proof. Casey’s lawyer, Jose Baez, was able to convince a jury of her peers that the evidence was circumstantial. And that’s not good enough.
Here’s why. Western law has long held that it is better to let 10 guilty people go free than to convict one innocent one. The precedent for this is biblical, going back to Abraham’s intercession for the people of Sodom. After Abraham coaxes God down from 100 to 10, God himself agrees to stay his judgment if 10 righteous people could be found.
If God would spare the wicked to save the righteous we can too. And this is why the burden of evidence is on the state, “beyond a reasonable doubt.” A criminal trial is not about justice for the victim, but about the this standard. No one should by convicted in a capital case for “likely” or “probably.”
And this is a standard that on our own day in court each of us would be grateful for. Certainly there are innocent people in jail, and there are even more guilty ones on the street. But in the end we are all partially protected by the system from capricious power and emotional judgments.
To think Christianly about this is to understand that every one in the system, from the victim and the accused, the police and the prosecutors, and the judge and the jury: all are capable of and indeed likely to act in self-serving ways. The human heart is inherently evil. That’s what the system tries to mitigate against.
Sometimes it fails to get the right result. But in such matters is it not better to err on the side of caution? That’s what the jury decided in their heads, if not in their hearts.
This is a tragic murder. But the forensic evidence wasn’t there, and this is not reality TV. Or a crime scene drama either. As Dershowitz points out, this is not a whodunit or a multiple choice test.
It’s a trial where the legacy of jurisprudence tempers the potential injustice on both sides of the bench. Perhaps, as he suggests, the Scottish verdict of “not proven” is better than our “not guilty,” since Casey may be as guilty as sin.
She certainly wouldn’t have gotten away with this in China.
But I wouldn’t want to ever be on trial there either.