Sitting in judgment

Some years ago, I was a juror on a criminal case in New York City. There were heated arguments during deliberations. Every vote we took was 10 to 2. We ended up being sequestered overnight, continued the debate in the morning, and finally reached a unanimous verdict.
“Not guilty.”
This, even though some of us figured the defendant was guilty of something.
The problem was, the prosecution presented a lousy case. The state left us with more questions than answers, and no answers at all that added up to a conviction. It did not prove the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
In good conscience, we could not convict on the charges before us.
A few of us figured the guy would end up incarcerated sooner or later. He had an odd and unforgettable name, and last week I Googled it and discovered that, sure enough, he was later found guilty in another criminal case and landed in prison.  Justice delayed is not always justice denied.
I’m recalling all this, of course, because of the Casey Anthony verdict, and you are by now probably thinking I agree with it.
No. I do not.
Unlike the case on which I sat, the prosecution in  Florida did, to my mind, a superb job.
“But it was all circumstantial,” is the argument. And so? Consider that it could hardly have been otherwise. Because of the delay in learning that Caylee Anthony was, indeed, missing. (And just what/who deliberately caused that delay?) And then all the time to find the by-then-disintegrated remains.
Cases can be decided on circumstantial evidence, and in this one I believe the evidence was powerful. Trials do not always involve unchallengeable forensics, despite what our TV-crime-show culture would have us believe.
Every time I hear the “circumstantial” comment, I think of the quote from Thoreau: “Some circumstantial evidence is very strong, as when you find a trout in the milk.”
In Orlando, there was an overwhelming odor of trout.
There’s another quote, one which I have heard often (and in various versions) in the last few days: “It is better that 10 guilty men go free than to incarcerate one innocent man.”
A pronouncement by 18th century British jurist Sir William Blackstone, the concept is one of the cornerstones of our American system of justice.
Reading up on this, I came across an intriguing response to Blackstone: “Better for whom?”
That got me thinking, and I have a modest proposal: If we so venerate Blackstone’s viewpoint, if that is truly how we balance the scales of justice, why bother to have criminal trials at all?  Just let everyone go. Why even risk a mistake in judgment?  Besides, since all suspects are innocent until proven guilty, the system would be freeing only innocent people, right?
Think of the money the government could save.
Talk amongst yourselves.
— Karen Zautyk

Learn more about the writer ...