Ethics Alarms All-Star Lianne Best sent me this link about a member of the Casey Anthony jury who is going into hiding because of all the hate and criticism being directed at jury members and their controversial verdict. Her plight, which must be shared by other members of the much-maligned jury, highlights the unethical, not to mention ignorant, reaction of the public to the Florida ex-mother’s narrow escape from a murder conviction she almost certainly deserved.
The problem begins with publicity. We may need to re-examine the logic behind broadcasting high-profile cases. The combination of live courtroom feeds and quasi-semi-competent commentary gives viewers the mistaken belief that they are qualified to second guess the jury, and they are not. They are not because the jury is in the courtroom, and the viewers aren’t. The jury and TV watchers see different things; individuals communicate different emotions and reactions in person than they do on camera. There is only one fair and sensible way to answer those on-line instant polls that ask, “Do you think Casey Anthony should be found guilty?”, and that is “I don’t know.”
Most of all, the viewers and pundits are not present in the jury room. Without knowing what goes on in deliberations, the arguments put forth and the personalities involved, no outsider can criticize the ultimate verdict. Reginald Rose’s 1955 television and 1957 movie drama “Twelve Angry Men” is more than a classic: it should be mandatory viewing for any American who presumes to criticize a jury for acquitting when it has a “reasonable doubt” about a defendant’s guilt. (You can read a good condensation here.) You will often see a still from the film in the Ethics Alarms collage, rotating pieces of which decorate this blog.It’s been there from the beginning, and for good reason.
Henry Fonda, known in the film only as Juror #8, is the lone holdout in an initial 11 to 1 vote to convict in what seems to be an open and shut case of premeditated murder. He insists that the jury really examine the evidence, even though he admits that the defendant, who faces a death sentence if convicted, is “probably guilty.” Over the course of the deliberations, the evidence that seemed so convincing at first begins to crumble, and jurors confront their own biases that push them either to favor acquittal or conviction regardless of the real facts. Some jurors change their votes because they are weak, or because they are following a stronger personality, or because they don’t like the jurors on the other side…or because they just want to go home. Eventually, all 12 vote for acquittal, because it is clear that there is reasonable doubt—they prosecution didn’t prove its case. But as the title suggests, getting there is no picnic.
It is also clear that the defendant is still, as Juror #8 said at the beginning, probably guilty. The ending of the story, the acquittal, is a still positive one. The system worked. The system worked because the rights of the accused were properly protected, and because the jury system did its job by holding the state to its burden of proof, admittedly a difficult one, before it could deprive a citizen, guilty or innocent, of life or liberty.
The evidence against the defendant in “Twelve Angry Men” is stronger than the evidence against Casey Anthony. There is a weapon, a body, witnesses, threats, opportunity, and motive. If the trial has been on television with Nancy Grace screaming for blood, Henry Fonda might have been heading for the hills after the verdict (along with Martin Balsam, John Fiedler, Lee J. Cobb, E.G. Marshall, Jack Klugman, Edward Binns, Jack Warden, Joseph Sweeney, George Voskovec, Robert Webber and Ed Begley) just like Juror #12 on the Anthony jury.
The million or more angry fools who are protesting and signing petitions calling for the verdict to be overturned or for a new trail (and proving that they prefer mob justice to jury trials and have no clue regarding such fine points of our legal system as double jeopardy) are threatening the jury system, which is both a microcosm and bulwark of a participatory democracy.
“I’d rather go to jail than sit on a jury like this again,” Juror #12 told her husband. No wonder. If potential jurors start feeling like that because they are subjected to this kind of mindless hatred and despicable criticism from a public stirred up by the irresponsible talking heads of Grace and Marcia Clark, every single American citizen’s freedom and rights are at risk. The jury system is our best protection against abuses by prosecutors and the government, and the beyond a reasonable doubt standard is our best shield against rushes to judgment, over-zealous prosecutions and biased, incompetent or politically motivated law enforcement. It is already shamefully difficult to get qualified, dedicated jurors to make the sacrifice necessary to perform their jury duties as part of our democratic system. Abuse being heaped on the relative few that do make that sacrifice can only make this crisis worse.
And I realize I am at fault too…guilty of the same mistake as the Hang Casey Anthony mob. In my previous post about the jury I insulted the members of the O.J. Simpson jury, and that was stupid, unfair and wrong. I wasn’t in that jury room either, and they deserve our respect and gratitude as much as any jury, and arguably more. It wasn’t the jury’s fault that Chris Darden got tricked in to letting O.J. try on the gloves. It wasn’t the jury’s fault that Marcia Clark rested her whole case on a white cop who could be portrayed as racist in front of a largely black jury. I know it is common practice to impugn the wisdom of that jury, but I know it is wrong, knew it was wrong, and still insulted them. I’m ashamed of myself, and I apologize to them. and Ethics Alarms readers.
We all should thank the Anthony jury, and every jury, for doing the hard, thankless job of self-government. We must all remember the wisdom of the “Twelve Angry Men,”, and reject the hate and ignorance of the million angry fools.