The reason why Casey Anthony was found not guilty of the murder of her daughter Caylee had absolutely nothing to do with the skill or lack of skill or experience of her defense attorney. In fact her attorney an inexperienced attorney having been admitted to the Florida Bar since 2005 made major trial errors in his defense of Ms. Anthony. In his opening defense counsel knowing that his client would most likely never take the stand told the jury a factual scenario that the child was killed by an accident, knowing that the only way that he could prove that factual scenario was through the testimony of the defendant, Ms. Anthony, or other witnesses. Defense counsel in his opening statement shocked veteran defense attorneys with promises that he knew he could not ever keep. In most jury trials jurors do not forget promises made and not kept by defense attorneys and prosecutors and a jury will not hesitate to punish the respective sides for empty promises.
The reason why Ms Anthony was acquitted was for the simple reason that no reasonable jury following the law as given to them on reasonable doubt could find beyond a reasonable doubt that Ms. Anthony engaged in, or participated in the death of her daughter.
Under Florida law reasonable doubt is defined as:
A reasonable doubt is not a possible doubt, a speculative, imaginary or forced doubt. Such a doubt must not influence you to return a verdict of not guilty if you have an abiding conviction of guilt. On the other hand, if, after carefully considering, comparing and weighing all the evidence, there is not an abiding conviction of guilt, or, if, having a conviction, it is one which is not stable but one which wavers and vacillates, then the charge is not proved beyond every reasonable doubt and you must find the defendant not guilty because the doubt is reasonable. It is to the evidence introduced upon this trial, and to it alone, that you are to look for that proof. A reasonable doubt as to the guilt of the defendant may arise from the evidence, conflict in the evidence or the lack of evidence.
In the Anthony case the State of Florida decided to indict Ms. Anthony on capital murder charge knowing that they had no evidence as to her guilt beyond the tenuous circumstantial facts regarding Ms. Anthony’s behavior during the period in which Caylee was missing. The State of Florida hoped in getting a conviction of Ms. Anthony not through hard evidence but through the visceral hatred that people have when they see that a mother, who has not seen her child in thirty days, and lies about it, consoles her sorrows with drinking dancing and partying.
Unlike Florida in New Jersey the reasonable doubt jury charge and attempts to afford the defendant accused of a crime even more protection.
The prosecution must prove its case by more than a mere preponderance of the evidence, yet not necessarily to an absolute certainty.
The State has the burden of proving the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Some of you may have served as jurors in civil cases, where you were told that it is necessary to prove only that a fact is more likely true than not true. In criminal cases, the State’s proof must be more powerful than that. It must be beyond a reasonable doubt.
A reasonable doubt is an honest and reasonable uncertainty in your minds about the guilt of the defendant after you have given full and impartial consideration to all of the evidence. A reasonable doubt may arise from the evidence itself or from a lack of evidence. It is a doubt that a reasonable person hearing the same evidence would have.
Proof beyond a reasonable doubt is proof, for example, that leaves you firmly convinced of the defendant's guilt. In this world, we know very few things with absolute certainty. In criminal cases the law does not require proof that overcomes every possible doubt. If, based on your consideration of the evidence, you are firmly convinced that the defendant is guilty of the crime charged, you must find [him/her] guilty. If, on the other hand, you are not firmly convinced of defendant's guilt, you must give defendant the benefit of the doubt and find [him/her] not guilty.
The bottom line is that Casey Anthony was very lucky that she was given a jury which took the reasonable doubt standard seriously, and applied the law without passion, prejudice or hatred. Unfortunately, and this is no secret in the criminal defense bar, most juries do not hold the State to its proofs and adhere to the reasonable doubt standard as given by the trial judge. Yes she was only 12 good jurors away from sitting on death row. Although most people, including myself, believed that Ms. Anthony was probably guilty, the jury in the end did the right thing. When all is said and done, a jury of 12 reasonable people is the only protection we have against the power of the government to prosecute and take another human beings life and liberty.
Law Office of Vincent J. Sanzone, Jr.
Elizabeth, New Jersey
Criminal Defense Attorney in New Jersey, Union County, Federal Court, Newark, N.J., Jersey City N.J., New Brunwick, N.J.
Dated: July 8, 2011