Sunday, July 17, 2011

“Not Guilty” isn’t “Innocent”

Tibor R. Machan

An indication of the sad state of journalism is how often when people show support for the Casey Anthony verdict they are labeled as Casey Anthony supporters. But they could very well be supporting just one thing. That would be to accept the “not guilty” verdict. It is, after all, the result of an arguably elaborate jury trial in what is supposedly an entirely legitimate court of law. Once the jury reached its verdict, Anthony and any other accused person must be regarded not guilty as charged, in her instance primarily of murder. She wasn’t judged innocent, which would require omniscience on the jury’s part. Like her or not, believe what you will, the process that one must go through in this kind of situation resulted in “not guilty.”

It is odd that standing up for the result once it is reached is considered supporting Casey Anthony. Only in one respect is it a kind of “support.” That is that within the framework of the criminal law, the case against the accused wasn’t made successfully. She wasn’t shown guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Some folks, on the other hand, appear to believe that the prosecution had to make the insurmountable achievement of proving Ms. Anthony guilty beyond a shadow of doubt. That would be impossible to do since shadows include fantasies, imagination, wild guesses and so forth. Instead the prosecution needed to prove only that all reasonable doubt about her guilt had been rebuffed. And as the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein pointed out in his book On Certainty, such a doubt must be well grounded. But every member of the jury agreed that they didn’t manage to overcome all reasonable doubt, so they reached the only verdict they could reach.

As Voltaire is supposed to have said, better for a thousand guilty to go free than one who isn’t be convicted. Why so? Well, for one--aside from how precious human liberty is--because the prosecution has enormous resources with which to mount its efforts to get a conviction. It is, after all, THE PEOPLE vs. Casey Anthony. Symbolically or literally, the entire state of Florida was at work to convict Ms. Anthony before its legal representatives, namely the members of the jury. And it couldn’t do so.

The O. J. Simpson trial resulted in a similar acquittal because the jury didn’t find the prosecution’s efforts to prove him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt successful. In a civilized country that is the end of the case. Another reason is that members of the jury are presumed to have had the best opportunity for studying the pros and cons. The defense had to concentrate on refuting what the prosecution produced, while the latter had the responsibility and ample opportunity to make the case against the defendants. You and I didn’t, nor did all those who were outside the courtroom dissatisfied with what resulted from these trials and many others.

Of course, hope isn’t often rational, so once the prosecutors pick a likely suspect, many of those who have been aggrieved--whose relative has been murdered or otherwise violated--will become partisans instead of objective evaluators of the case made as the jury must be. But civilized men and women must resist such partisanship in the pursuit of justice which is supposed to be blind to favors and sentiments.

It is most important here to remember that these trials are a decent enough approximation to the best search for justice human beings can come up with. Only if someone has been shown to be guilty in the eyes of members of the community, represented by the jury, may the accused be deprived of his or her liberty. That liberty is, in a reasonably free country, a very if not the most precious element of a citizen’s public life. So the only way to lose it is if the accusation of a severe crime is proven true beyond any reasonable doubt.

As one of the signs said outside the jail from which Casey Anthony emerged on Sunday morning, July 17th: “She is not guilty! Live with it.”