With outrage that has not been seen since and sometimes surpasses the public outcry of the O.J. Simpson verdict of 1995, many Americans continue to question how justice could have failed 2 year old Florida toddler Caylee Anthony.
The toddler’s mother, Casey Anthony, was acquitted of the child’s murder by a sequestered jury that had been bussed in from Pinellas County, Florida after only hours of deliberation, much to the shock, anger and dismay of a nation that had followed the tragic case from the beginning. But how did a case that many believe to have been so cut and dry end up failing to provide justice to its innocent victim?
To rightfully answer that question, the way our nation adjudicates its criminal cases must be reviewed. The United States Constitution guarantees all individuals who are accused of a crime the right to due process. Contained in the right to due process is the right of the defendant to be tried by a jury of her peers and right to have all criminal charges brought against them proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
The first issue, the right to be judged by a jury of your peers, is a topic of hot debate as a result of the Anthony verdict. Looking at the jury itself is an excellent example of why. The Anthony case required understanding of complex testimony including testimony relating to the process of human decomposition and an in-depth analysis of forensic testimony.
The jury members who served on the Anthony jury, while fairly typical in regard to juries, consisted of individuals from a broad range of educational backgrounds. Many of the jurors had no formal education in regard to law enforcement or forensics and several had not even completed high school.This was particularly relevant considering that the jury rendered a verdict after less than 12 hours of deliberation and without requesting to review a single piece of the thousands of pieces of evidence and testimony transcripts that were available to them.
In addition to a lack of reasonable education, several of the jury members had had run-ins with the law. Although race is typically irrelevant to the process of jury selection, studies show that minorities, particularly African-Americans and Hispanics have a mistrust for law enforcement and some legal analysts have speculated that similar levels of mistrust may have played a role in the ability of some of the Anthony jurors to make a non-biased determination of guilt.
Another key factor that has come under fire since the acquittal is the concept of reasonable doubt. Reasonable doubt is a broad term that may hold vastly different interpretations based on the life experiences and educational backgrounds of each jury member. What is a reasonable level of doubt to one juror may be entirely unreasonable to another. As a result, it is often difficult for a panel of complete and total strangers from diverse backgrounds to come to a unified decision in regards to the case. Take into consideration that juror number 4, an African-American female who lives alone and had stated during the process of jury selection that she did not feel comfortable in judging anyone and the situation becomes even more complex.
So what can be done to ensure that what happened in the tragic story of two-year old Caylee Anthony never happens again? Many experts agree that the Anthony verdict speaks loudly and clearly that the judicial process is in dire need of revision. The first step is the proposed legislation of what is being called Caylee’s Law, a law that would make it a felony for parents of missing children to not notify law enforcement.
Another proposed piece of legislation calls for the revision of the judicial process in regard to the requirements set forth to determine reasonable doubt. The proposed act would more clearly define what is required in regard to proving criminal liability and remove some of the vagueness in regard to reasonable doubt. The amendment to the U.S. Constitution would be named, if passed, in honor of Caylee Anthony and future victims of crime.
Lastly, while no such legislation has yet been brought forth in regard to the matter, one must consider whether or not juries should be selected based on educational backgrounds and each potential juror’s ability to comprehend and understand the judicial and forensic process. If the Casey Anthony trial has taught us anything, it is that our courts are courts of law, not courts of justice. Perhaps that is the problem.