When Does Doubt Become Reasonable? Ctd

Andrew Sullivan —  Jul 9 2011 @ 9:59am

by Chris Bodenner

A reader writes:

The "not proven" verdict is absolutely no different than a "not guilty" verdict, and I'm sure Marcia Clark knows that.  Both are acquittals; either verdict results in a Scottish defendant walking free.  Here, because the government bears the burden of proof, every "not guilty" verdict is the equivalent of a finding that the prosecution has not proven its case beyond a reasonable doubt.  We do not have a "not proven" verdict because it is a distinction without a difference.  Perhaps that is why the "innovation" has never spread beyond Scotland.

Another writes:

Regarding Marcia Clark's suggestion, as a lawyer I'm a bit puzzled at what a "not proven" verdict is meant to accomplish.

We already have a "not proven" verdict – it's "not guilty." A jury doesn't find someone "innocent", it finds that their guilt was not proven beyond a reasonable doubt. Every criminal jury is so instructed, and every American child learns this in a civics class (if not in myriad lawyer TV shows and movies). Is "not proven" meant to be a signal that the jurors believe the defendant may be, or probably is guilty? As some kind of lesser punishment (by public shaming) for someone whose guilt cannot be proven? To the extent this is a worthwhile goal (and I don't believe it is), I think the public shaming is already accomplished by making the defendant stand trial in public. Moreover, if victims want to publicly shame defendants on some lesser standard of proof, they can already do so through a civil suit for damages, as in the case of O.J. Simpson. In any event, I'm not sure what a "not proven" verdict has to do with the vagueness of standards of proof. All it would do is introduce another vague standard.

All of the armchair jurors complaining about the Casey Anthony verdict need to consider the obvious. Casey Anthony was not rich and famous, and she didn't have a high-powered team of slick lawyers with vast resources to befuddle the jury. Indeed, by most accounts, her lead attorney was, at best, mediocre. Nevertheless, a jury of her peers – who actually heard the evidence - unanimously concluded that the government failed to prove her guilt. Maybe the case against her just wasn't very good. It doesn't mean she didn't do it, but the world is an imperfect place.


One aspect of the Casey Anthony trial that hasn't gotten as much attention is the fact that not only did prosecutors have to prove Casey Anthony murdered her daughter, they first had to prove that Caylee was, in fact, murdered. While there is no question that Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman were brutally stabbed to death, there are still many questions that remain about what exactly happened to Caylee, let alone the question of who was involved in her death (or murder). 

I'll add that it is absurd for Clark to argue that Casey's behavior Too-soon-19087-1310005187-28afterward should have been a point in "favor of conviction."  (If that's the standard of proof a jury should go by, then wouldn't a suspect leading police on a high speed chase in a Ford Bronco with a gun to your head practically guarantee a guilty conviction?)  Unless Casey was getting a Memento-like tattoo that explicitly declared her role in Caylee's death, the only thing her behavior afterward proves beyond a doubt is that she's a despicable human being and mother.  When the prosecution uses behavior and actions after a crime as important evidence for its case, you know it's going to be incredibly hard to secure a conviction.  And as I mentioned, you still first have to prove a crime was committed. 

Is it likely that Casey Anthony murdered her daughter?  Yes.  But did the jury then reach the wrong verdict?  That's a much more difficult question.  All we can know for sure – and this is what makes this tragic situation even more upsetting – is there will be no justice for Caylee. 

(Remixed photo of Casey Anthony partying shortly after her daughter's death via Buzzfeed)