People screamed, shouted, cried, and deluged the internet in protest of the Casey Anthony verdict on Tuesday, July 5th. Anthony was found not guilty of First Degree Felony Murder charges for allegedly killing her then 2 year old Caylee Anthony, which could have brought the death penalty. Instead of death row, Anthony was merely convicted on 4 misdemeanor counts of lying to the police.
From an emotional, smell test standpoint, Anthony SEEMED guilty. However, seeming guilty and being proved beyond a reasonable doubt are two separate things. To help you understand why the jury chose not to convict Anthony, a few basic things about the law and courtroom happenings you may not be aware of will help shed some light:
Please note: I am not advancing my belief or feelings of Casey Anthony's guilt or innocence. What is included is a post-trial legal analysis of what happened in the case.
1. Prosecution had ZERO irrefutable evidence to convince a jury of cause of death and Casey was responsible for the specific cause prosecution advocated for.
Very few capital murder cases based entirely on circumstantial evidence lead to a conviction. Direct evidence is exactly that - physical evidence clearly showing the defendant committed a crime. For example, prosecution alleged in the Anthony case Caylee, the alleged victim, was suffocated with chloroform. Direct evidence would have consisted of Casey's fingerprints on chloroform bottle. Prosecution itself admitted Caylee's death was a "dry bones" case, where the body decomposed to a level no evidence could be found with it. With circumstantial evidence, pieces of evidence points to guilt of defendant. Circumstantial evidence has varying degrees of strength, and is far more subjective to a juror viewing the evidence than direct evidence. An example of circumstantial evidence was Casey Anthony not coming forward with the death of her daughter after she allegedly was dead 31 days. Such evidence doesn't point specifically to an actual cause of death, leading it to be not as strong evidence as a lay person would think. Prosecution can use circumstantial and direct evidence together to convict a defendant. Using ONLY circumstantial evidence? Very tough. Were circumstances fishy? YES? Convictable? NO.
2. Jury instructions required jury to acquit Casey Anthony.
Jury instructions are a set of rules the jury must follow when deciding a case. The judge reads a litany of scenarios based on the law and the evidence presented in which a jury should convict someone. For example, a judge will say "if you believe A (set of facts), you must find B (verdict)". The jury had a very narrow line to walk. If they followed the directions on the law, the jury had to acquit Casey Anthony. If they did not and went on entirely circumstantial evidence the jury would convict only based on jury nullification, where a jury reaches verdict contrary to judge’s instruction on the law.
3. The prosecution overcharged Casey Anthony, and alternatively, did not add possible other convictable charges.
Prior to trial, members of the defense went public with a strategy of trying to prove Caylee Anthony's death was an accidental drowning and Casey Anthony did indeed lie to authorities in a shoddy attempt to cover up the death. Knowing those facts, the prosecution still pursued a first degree murder strategy. Prosecution never added other potential charges of child neglect, lesser homicide charges, obstruction of justice or any Florida state specific manipulation of corpses crimes on the books. Many of the elements of these crimes could have been showed by the nature of the defense. The prosecution swung for the fences and struck out with no alternate theory of guilt.
4. Prosecution could not retry Casey Anthony for other crimes related to Caylee's death, i.e. cover up the accidental drowning.
Double Jeopardy prevents a defendant from being tried for the same crimes. Although a lesser homicide or child neglect charge is different from murder, a defendant cannot be retried on the same set of facts. If the jury was hung (did not come up with a verdict) double jeopardy would not have applied (Blago case). Just because prosecution cannot bring charges for covering up accidental drowning in does not mean it is not permissible. After bringing those chargers, defense counsel would bring a motion to dismiss for double jeopardy. The judge would set a date for a motion call, and the case would be dismissed.
5. Casey Anthony could receive up to 4 years in jail or serve no additional time for 4 misdemeanor charges.
The very definition of a misdemeanor is a crime punishable up to a year in jail. Casey Anthony was convicted of 4 separate counts of lying to the police. There are two types of sentences concurrent and consecutive. Where one act results in multiple offenses (example: person robs someone and kills them..one act, two offenses), the sentence takes the highest offense (the murder). Where multiple acts results in multiple offenses (serial rapist, robber, murderer), a sentence usually is consecutive, where the sentence is the sum of the sentences of the various crimes. Casey Anthony has been in jail almost 3 years. The judge could require here a maximum requiring a year and some change in jail. However, a misdemeanor crime would have required probation anywhere from 6-24 months depending how the judge rules. All points considering, the judge could release Casey Anthony on the street.
6. Other legal implications of verdict. Zanaida Gonzalez, who Casey implicated as part of Caylee's death and then retracted, has officially sued Casey Anthony for defamation.
A defamation case may put Casey Anthony on the stand speaking about Caylee's death, but the testimony might be limited in scope if it gets that far. Cindy Anthony could be brought for perjury charges about lying on the stand about searching for chlorophyll. The organization the Anthonys used to search for Caylee as a missing person will sue the Anthonys and their lawyer Jose Baez for recouping costs made for search. Lastly, because Casey Anthony is the mother of Caylee Anthony, it is highly unlikely she would face a civil case for wrongful death.
7. No one may ever know what happened to Caylee Anthony.
Whether Casey was convicted or not, a 2 year old child is gone far too soon. The real tragedy is the public may never know what happened.
Exavier B. Pope, Esq. is an entertainment and sports attorney and legal blogger for Chicago Now. All opinions expressed are those solely of Mr. Pope.
(c) 2011, Exavier Pope
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