A criminal trial ended this week, with a young mom being sentenced for lying to police but not for murdering her two-year old.
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.
5 thoughts on “congratulations Casey?”
God did not spare Sodom because Abraham did not find 10 righteous people. That was the point of God’s discussion with Abraham. God knew there weren’t any righteous in Sodom. He used Sodom as a mini-judgement.
I think Dershowitz was pointing to the idea that God’s willingness to spare the wicked to preserve the righteous influenced the development of western law.
You are right, of course. He didn’t find them. And he didn’t spare them. But it is his conversation with Abraham that influenced jurisprudence.
This has been a topic of much discussion on a closed e-mail list to which I belong. The members all deal professionally with adult survivors of cult related abuse who have developed dissociative identity disorder as a survival mechanism. It was reported at some point in the trial Casey arose in the night, delivered her daughter to some strange men in a hotel, and then returned home to bed. There appears sufficient testimony in the trial to suspect Casey may actually be and adult survivor of a certain kind of abuse… the kind connected to groups of individuals who do these kinds of things. If this is the case, her capacity to do anything other than obey would absolutely be diminished. There appears much more may be here than meets the eye. Keep the victory! Tom
Very well written. I too wrote about Casey today from a Christian standpoint.
Thanks for your interesting insight. I hadn’t thought of it from the perspective of Western tradition/law. I heard one juror say that in this case, “not guilty” did not mean “innocent.” It was reported that this juror cried as the verdict was read. I only heard a tiny bit of the interview, but she said that they could not convict someone of murder without even a cause of death or a motive. She said that Anthony was certainly guilty of bad behavior, but we don’t convict someone for murder when we can only prove bad behavior.