Is our justice system failing us? Some will say yes without hesitation, and they can list a hundred reasons why this is true. For others, failure only comes to mind when a clearly guilty person is set free. Now I say “clearly guilty” based on general public opinion, which of course is not necessarily accurate. But anyway, it’s in these situations that the roles of the courts and juries and the rules of law are questioned.
I probably don’t need to recap the Casey Anthony saga for anyone. It’s safe to say that the public was outraged when she was found not guilty of killing her daughter. It seemed clear (from media accounts) that she must have been guilty. She lied about her missing daughter, lied to police about circumstances surrounding her daughter’s disappearance, and then there was that awful smell in her trunk. But, there was a lack of physical evidence linking Casey Anthony to the murder. The jury found her not guilty.
I recently came across a similar case from Vermont: In 2004, Isaac Turnbaugh was on trial for the murder of a co-worker who was shot in the head with a rifle in 2002. At trial, the jury had doubts. The defendant had actually admitted he did it, but there was alleged mental illness and a lack of physical evidence – the bullet that killed the victim was never found. The jury found him not guilty and he was a free man. The outrage in this case continues.
Recently, Turnbaugh called up the Vermont police and told them that he did in fact shoot his co-worker in the head with a rifle. The cops went out to his apartment, but they knew there wasn’t much they could do about it. It would be double jeopardy to try him again. They were out of luck. Imagine the outrage if Casey Anthony admits that she killed her daughter, and there’s nothing the cops or prosecutors can do about it.
When these cases don’t turn out how we think they should, the blame is often put on the jury. What about the people who were supposed to prove the defendant’s guilt? The jurors likely have the same opinion as we do, but they have a job to do, which involves not buying into any biases and instead looking at the facts and the letter of the law. There simply wasn’t enough certainty to convict this guy from Vermont, or Casey Anthony, or O.J. Simpson.
In reality, people do get away with murder. Obviously, this isn’t acceptable, but I’m not sure it means that our justice system is a complete failure. Some cases are too weak or simply impossible to sort out. Some evidence will never be found. Sometimes the prosecutors can’t connect the dots.
I think the problem is that we don’t live in the perfect world of a television crime drama, with magical crime labs and perfect endings.
Type your email address in the box and click the "create subscription" button. My list is completely spam free, and you can opt out at any time.
Filed under: Uncategorized