If I responded to even one out of a hundred ethically muddled, logically addled posts by the hoard of bloggers in cyberspace, I’d have time for nothing else. Now and then, however, I am directed to a post that typifies the kind of free-floating, fact-starved gut sentiment that rots public discourse in America and that helps keeps the public confused and panicked.
In this case, I was directed to the post by the blogger herself, who managed to annoy me by accusing my post on the Casey Anthony jury of being callous to the victim in the case, two-year old Callie. I re-read my post; there wasn’t anything callous toward the child in any way. Puzzled, I went to the blogger’s page, a blog by someone who calls herself wittybizgal, and called Wittybizgal. Sure enough, there it was: an anguished lament about the verdict in the Casey Anthony trial entitled, “But What About Callie?”
The post is frightening, because I am certain that this kind of non-reasoning is epidemic in the United States, nourished by touchy-feely bloggers, pundits and columnists and made possible by the ingrained habit of having opinions without knowledge. Since their opinions are not supported by facts or reasoning, they can’t be debated. If you aren’t persuaded, you’re just mean, that’s all. That’s no way to decide what is right and wrong, but it certainly a popular way. Here is wittybizgal’s argument, one fallacious step at a time:
1. Pronouncing herself “disgusted” by the Casey Anthony verdict, wittybizgal finds herself transported back to the O.J. trial—the current cliché among those who are outraged that Nancy Grace wasn’t able to get Anthony convicted of murder by edict. Of course, there is no similarity between the two trials in substance at all, and making the comparison amounts to misrepresentation. The prosecution proved O.J. guilty but was sloppy about it, and when a bad jury, an over-matched judge, a brilliant defense team and the cognitive dissonance advantage all celebrities have in criminal trials were added to the mix, O.J. walked. The prosecution didn’t prove that Casey Anthony killed her daughter. That’s why she was acquitted.
2. Noting that Casey was found guilty “of only lying to police,” wittybizgal says, “Slap on the wrist, anyone?” No, the jury wasn’t finding Casey guilty of lying to the police as a substitute for finding her guilty of murder; they were finding her guilty of a crime she actually was proven to have committed. A slap on the wrist is when someone receives an inappropriately light punishment for an offense he or she was found guilty of committing. The “slap on the wrist” canard presumes that the jury was letting Casey off with less than she deserved. But the American justice system, which wittybizgal should understand a little better because, after all, she lives here, doesn’t regard someone as deserving punishment for a crime until it has been proven beyond a reasonable doubt in court. There was no “slap on the wrist”
3 “What were these twelve people thinking?”, wittybizgal asks. Easy: exactly what the judge told them to think in his instructions. You can read them here. What they weren’t thinking was what wittybizgal would have been thinking, which is why she would have been an unethical jury member: “How can we avenge the terrible death of that little girl?”
4. At this point, wittybizgal’s excuse for an opinion devolves into bathos. “What about Caylee?” she cries. Well, what about her? A murder trial is for the purpose of determining guilt, and it doesn’t matter whether the victim is 2, 20, or 102, a little girl, a gang-banger, or a Nobel prize-winner. What does Caylee have to do with it? The verdict won’t bring her back. She’s not on trial. The age, innocence and vulnerability of the murder victim should not change the standards that the jury must apply to the evidence.
5. Apparently wittybizgal also thinks that the defense attorneys should be remorseful for successfully defending their client, and should be thinking of Caylee too, writing “While the defense team has the audacity to stand in front of cameras and take an undeserved bow, what about Caylee?” This show her complete ignorance of the adversary system. Casey Anthony’s lawyers have no duty to Caylee, absolutely none. They had one job, which was to show that the prosecution hadn’t proven its case. Caylee doesn’t and shouldn’t matter to them.
6. Wittybizgal, in truth, seems to think the justice system is like an Agatha Christie novel, and is obligated to tie-up crime stories in a neat, clean conclusion. “Tell me, jury, if her mother didn’t kill her, who did?,” she asks, accusingly. The jury doesn’t have to know that or decide that. That’s not their duty. It isn’t even their duty to decide whether Casey Anthony was the most likely killer—and she was. The jury’s duty is to weigh the evidence and determine whether the intentionally high bar of “proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt” has been cleared by the prosecution. Not to solve the crime, not to make Caylee’s grandparents feel better, not to satisfy the bloodlust of Nancy Grace. To say that they aren’t sufficiently sure Casey did murder her daughter does not require that the jury have a better candidate, as good a candidate, or any candidate at all. Wittybizgal’s question is ignorant.
7. So is the next one—“And who will take responsibility for tracking them down and seeing that they are convicted?” The case is closed, WBG. The police and the prosecutor have determined who killed Caylee, they just can’t prove it sufficiently. Nobody will take responsibility for tracking the killer down, because Casey is almost certainly the killer, and she can’t be tried again. “Who will see that justice is pursued from here on out? We’re waiting…” Well, you’re going to be waiting forever. I’ll try again: not all criminals can be proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Go ahead, bay at the moon about it. Scream and curse. That’s a fact, and it has always been so. It is not up to the jury, or the judge, or the court to fix the lack of a good case by illicitly convicting someone because “everybody just knows” they are guilty.
8. “It seems like this happens more often than not…people do awful things and get away with them, seemingly, in this lifetime at any rate.” Oh, does it? How odd then, that the U.S. prison population is the largest of any first world nation, and that crime rates here are declining rapidly. In fact, citizens being wrongly convicted is a bigger problem than guilty criminals getting acquitted, especially since our traditions hold that avoiding unjust punishment for one innocent citizen is worth 100 guilty parties escaping justice.
9. Wittybizgal concludes, “Quite frankly, I doubt that any punishment that would have been doled out to the individual who killed Caylee, or at least neglected her to the point that she died accidentally, would have been adequate anyway. But, today, I sure would have liked to see twelve among us at least try to balance those scales…” With or without sufficient evidence, apparently. She is advocating a version of the jury’s function that is flat-out mistaken, and one that far too many others believe. The objective of the jury system isn’t justice for the victim. Its objective is justice for the accused, and society.
Yes, I know, everyone is entitled to their opinion. But some bloggers, spreading facile opinions on the internet without research, study, knowledge or comprehension, are the intellectual equivalents of Typhoid Mary.