Thursday, July 7, 2011

The right to trial in open court

There are some issues in the news that I have avoided. The Casey Anthony trial was one of those issues.  This post is actually not about Casey Anthony.  It is about the right to be faced by your accusers and the media in court cases.

The trial of Casey Anthony has been in everyone’s face for a couple of months now.  Talking heads are interviewed on cable news stations about the trial every day.  Voiceovers on videos that show Anthony laughing during a night out on the town talk about the trial.  Others talk about the trial while actual court room footage show Anthony crying when things weren’t going her way.

The media had us all believing she was guilty before the jury had a chance to deliberate on the evidence.  We thought we saw all the evidence we needed.  We heard the sound bites of the prosecutor asking questions and the answers his witnesses gave.  She was going to the chair for sure. 

The shock that we all felt and the shock we witnessed from our co-workers, friends, family as well as the strangers we watched on the television as the verdict was read was just re-enforcement that we were right – every body thought she was guilty.  She should have gotten the chair.

Yet, the jury came back quickly with their opinion.  Anthony was found not guilty on the most serious of the charges against her, including murder.  What could explain such a verdict when watching from afar, through the media, we could all clearly see she was guilty?

We weren’t there and the jury was.

That is not to say that Anthony didn’t kill her daughter, Casey.  She may have or at least had some involvement in the cover up.  But, the jury returned a verdict not based on what we saw in the media, but what they saw – and didn’t see – in the court room. 

We have a system that asks everyday people to come forward and listen to the evidence, presented in an adversarial way, in person.  Each side in the case makes their arguments about the guilt or innocence of the accused.  Evidence is presented directly to the jury in person.  The jury in this case heard all of it, not just the sound bites that the media presented.  They listened to the judge when he gave instructions about the law and the crime.  In the end, the jury made a decision that could have only been made by being there.

Our system of government is based on real people making decisions about real crimes and the real people that stand accused.  Today, we might be unsure about the system – it does get things wrong occasionally, both ways.  But, if you are ever accused of a crime and the media has you in the chair before the trial starts, it may comfort you to know that you still have the chance to stand in front of real people, face to face and tell your side of the story.

To face your accuser and be to be judged by a jury that are people just like you, are rights we should all cherish.  There is at least one person right now, guilty or not, that does appreciate those rights.

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