Recently by Butler Shaffer: Conversation at a Grocery Store
Every once-in-awhile events occur that provide some optimism that real people — rather than the sock-puppets who speak on behalf of institutional interests — have a firm grip on reality. The jury in the Casey Anthony trial did precisely what they were directed to do by the court: deliberated on the evidence presented to them, and concluded that there was not the requisite degree of certitude to allow them to find this woman guilty of the murder charges brought against her.
This was more than the percaled agents of "justice" could take. They know a "guilty" person when they see one: it's whoever is charged with a crime by the state! The cable-TV bobbleheads — let's call them Dennis Dullard and Amelia Airhead — began screaming for vengeance, . . . not so much against Ms. Anthony, but against the jurors! Their screeches of rage were echoed by other lobotomized voices, one of whom urged doing away with the jury system altogether. Charles Dickens' Madame Defarge was resurrected! Another shrieked at the "idiots on the jury," while another asked the most irrelevant question as it pertained to this defendant: "who killed Caylee then?"
It was not the role of the jurors to find Caylee's killer (if, indeed she was killed rather than dying accidentally). It is the function of the police to search for causal evidence and present it to prosecuting attorneys. If the prosecution concludes that there is "probable cause" to charge a defendant with a crime, it will do so, leaving to the jury the task of deciding whether, "beyond a reasonable doubt," there was sufficient evidence to convict the defendant. The jurors did what they were supposed to do, what the judge ordered them to do. If their critics want to blame someone for Casey's being found not guilty, they should focus on those who failed at their assigned task: the functionaries of the state! If blame is to be found, it can more readily be said that police investigators and prosecuting attorneys were unable to fulfill their roles. To blame the jurors who, by their verdict, said "you have not convinced us," is as irrational as a murderer blaming his victim for spilling his blood on his carpeting! Those who talk of abolishing the jury system would be better advised to urge abolishing the prosecution of criminals!
Perhaps Dennis spent too many of his high school years in "drivers ed" classes, while Amelia was at cheerleader's practice on the day the legal system was discussed in civics class. Whatever the explanation, they knew what is foremost in the minds of all men and women of statist persuasion: the proof of a defendant's guilt is found in the fact that he or she is charged with a crime! What more needs to be asked? How can "enquiring minds" be expected to give up such more pressing inquiries as the identity of the next "American Idol"?
I have no defense to make of Casey Anthony as a person or a mother. I don't know that much about her to make any such judgment. Her alleged failure to notify anyone of Caylee's being missing until thirty-one days later does not impress me as the epitome of responsible motherhood. But the jury was not assigned the task of judging this woman's character. They understood what Dennis and Amelia did not: individuals are responsible for the consequences of their actions. In a world in which we have become accustomed to dealing with one another in highly abstract ways, it is easy for any of us to express opinions — or courses of action — without feeling any sense of responsibility for what we have put in motion.
Don Boudreaux offered a powerful example of the adverse consequences of living in a world of abstractions. He spoke of the differences between the wartime experiences of soldiers on the ground — who have to shoot, bayonet, or throw hand grenades at their victims — and bomber pilots who may kill more than the foot-soldier, but whose acts appear to them only as distant "puffs of smoke." While Dennis and Amelia saw the implications of their commentaries as little more than "puffs of smoke," the jurors were required to daily confront Casey Anthony, face-to-face, and determine her life-or-death fate. In another case in which they had not been picked to sit in judgment of a defendant, some of these jurors might have been as impressed by Dennis and Amelia's post-trial babblings as was your cousin Louise in Schenectady. But on this day, they made the choice to live responsibly. The words of one of the jurors, Jennifer Ford, should give encouragement that many of our neighbors can rise above the Madame Defarge lynch-mob mindset. As Ms. Ford so well expressed it: "If they want to charge and they want me to take someone's life, they have to prove it. They have to prove it, or else I'm a murderer too."
Neither Dennis nor Amelia will have the slightest appreciation for Ms. Ford's remarks. They will likely accuse her of being "soft on crime," or a "terrorist sympathizer," as they head for the hardware store for more rope!
Butler Shaffer [send him e-mail] teaches at the Southwestern University School of Law. He is the author of the newly-released In Restraint of Trade: The Business Campaign Against Competition, 1918–1938 and of Calculated Chaos: Institutional Threats to Peace and Human Survival. His latest book is Boundaries of Order.