Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Why did the jury in the Casie Anthony case acquit her?

Ever since Casie Anthony was acquitted of the murder of her two-year-old baby, the flack against the jury members has been enormous. Some of them have even been threatened.

Did the jury really believe that Casie Anthony was innocent? Apparently not! The foreman admitted during an interview in the media that he really felt sick over their decision and he added that most if not all of the members of the jury suspected that this horrible woman really did murder her child. I should add that two out of three persons polled in the United States also believe that she murdered her child. Then why did the jury find her not guilty?

The prosecutors had computer searches for suspicious words such a chloroform that was on Casie Anthony’s computer, a trunk that had the odor of a dead body and chloroform, bones of her dead child that gave up their clues long ago, the mysterious presence of duct tape on Caylee's skull, and a mother behaving very coldly and very badly. The prosecutor even had evidence that the woman lied when she said that she spoke to her child who was already dead by then. She also lied when she said that the child was with a babysitter, a baby sitter who claimed she never met Casie Anthony. Further, for 31 days, she never told anyone that her baby was dead. These undisputed facts fit these scattered pieces into a story line about a pent-up hot body yearning for freedom and willing to kill her own toddler to acquire it.

Where these facts enough to convict her? They should have been but apparently according to the jury that tried her, it was not enough.

Juries, like people, have personalities. Some jurors are thinkers, some are emotional, others are idealistic and others are some combination of all the above. The jury personality is determined specifically by its dominant individual traits, including as a conservative composition (strict legal constructionists), or a liberal composition (social engineers). Simply put, a conservative jury will be more likely to convict if the only letter of the law was violated. A liberal jury will be more likely to acquit if only the letter of the law was violated.

Individual traits brought collectively to a jury generate an average age, gender domination and average intelligence that predisposes a jury to its collective personality, very much like the individual voices of a choir will combine to create a recognizable (predictable) collective voice.

One juror empaneled for the Casie Anthony trial admitted that she was not able to pass judgment on anyone. Over the objections of prosecutors, the juror was accepted by the judge. In a system where a unanimous vote is necessary to convict, it seems rather predictable that a guilty verdict was not forthcoming in this trial.

The jury was aware from the evidence that Casey Anthony was guilty of many things. She is an enthusiastic liar. She was an indifferent mother. She mooched off her overindulgent parents for years. Even after her daughter went missing, Anthony partied and even got a tattoo. But according to the jury that tried her, the state of Florida did not make a good case that Anthony murdered her daughter.

In his closing argument on July 3, one of the prosecutors, Jeff Ashton, said that a combination of chloroform and duct tape killed Caylee Anthony. But he couldn't say which came first, the chloroform or the duct tape; his team was never even able to prove that chloroform had been used. Caylee's corpse was found with duct tape on her face, but the tape had no fingerprints or DNA. And so Ashton, in his closing, had to resort to a passive accusation: "That tape," he said, "was placed there for one singular purpose. This murder was premeditated." It is obvious to anyone who thinks about it. Casie Anthony chloroformed her daughter first so that she wouldn’t be conscious when the tape was placed across her mouth and nose. If she was conscious when the tape was placed across her mouth and nose, she would have struggled and tried to pull the tape away. Perhaps Casie Anthony didn’t want her daughter to suffocate while she was still alive. These possibilities should have been stated to the jury by the prosecutor.

There is no doubt that the murder was premeditated but the jurors asked themselves, “Who exactly placed the tape over Caylee’s mouth and nose? By not knowing for sure, they decided to find the girl’s mother not guilty.

Casie Anthony got off because the prosecution couldn't answer such questions. Because the prosecutors had so little physical evidence, they built their case on Anthony's nearly imperceptible moral character. The prosecutors believed that coupled with Casie Anthony’s lies and the physical evidence that might lead a reasonable person to believe that she murdered her child. The jurors although convinced she was the murderer, were under the impression that they had to give her the benefit of the doubt because there was no direct proof that she killed her baby and there were no eyewitness, no fingerprints on the duct tape tying her to the crime and no proof that the baby was really chloroformed.

Is circumstantial evidence sufficient proof to obtain a conviction?

a) Circumstantial evidence is indirect evidence which leads to, but does not prove a specific conclusion.

b) Using circumstantial evidence is way of reasoning which draws probable conclusions from facts that are known. The know facts lead to conclusions that are reasonable steps from the know facts. For example, the statement: “When she came into the house, her umbrella was dripping wet.” implies but does not conclusively prove that she had been outside in the rain.

c) Deductions regarding the topic of discussion can be drawn form related facts and information. They infer other facts which usually and reasonably follow from the available evidence.

d) Circumstantial evidence consists of facts pointing in a particular direction—facts that are in harmony with one side or another hypothesis being analyzed, but standing alone, this related evidence is not sufficient to draw any definite conclusions.

e) Deductions and implication can be drawn form available data and information which is somewhat distant from, but relates to the topic of discussion. This is commonly relied upon when direct evidence is not available.

However, there are circumstances which a reasonable person can presume such as the fact that it was raining when the person entered the house because he or she was wet and the umbrella was also wet. One can make that kind of presumption even if that person who is making the presumption had not been outside or even looked outside or heard noises that implied that it was raining.

If you have only one piece of circumstantial evidence, carrying that evidence to a specific conclusion is prone to significant error. However, when you have numerous pieces of circumstantial evidence all pointing in the same directions, carrying them collectively to a specific conclusion is usually quite reliable. Thus we have a gradual shift in the probability of the conclusion being accurate.

I am going to refer you to an interesting case that was heard on January 25, 2011 in an appellant court re the State of Tennessee vs. Genaro Dorantes. It deals primarily with the acceptance of circumstantial evidence by a jury.

The defendant, (Genaro Dorrantes) who was extradited from Mexico to face charges for aggravated child abuse and felony murder by aggravated child abuse, was convicted for each offense. The trial court imposed sentences of twenty-two years and life, respectively, to be served consecutively. The Court of Criminal Appeals reversed the conviction for aggravated child abuse, finding the evidence to be insufficient, but upheld the felony murder conviction. This Court granted applications for permission to appeal by both the State and by the defendant.

Because the circumstantial evidence was sufficient to support the convictions for both aggravated child abuse and felony murder, the judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals was reversed in part and affirmed in part. More specifically, the conviction for felony murder was affirmed, and the conviction for aggravated child abuse was reinstated. The sentences imposed by the trial court for each of the two offenses were affirmed.

Facts and procedural history of the case

On June 18, 2002, one of the children, Martha Bernece Cisneros Patlan, observed Patlan and Genaro Edgar Espinosa Dorantes (the “defendant”) abduct the victim from Cisneros' yard, place him in a black vehicle, and drive away. At the time, the victim, not yet four years of age, was described as “normal and healthy.” He no longer wore diapers. Cisneros reported the abduction to the Houston police and, about two months later, traveled to Nashville in an unsuccessful effort to find their abducted child.

Patlan, who had given birth to a son fathered by the defendant on October 20, 2001, in Nashville, was “supposedly” staying at the apartment of the defendant's mother, but much of her time involved travelling with the defendant. They had no established residence. In February of 2003, Patlan visited the apartment of her sister, Antonia Patlan who had lived in Nashville for some nine years. Appearing concerned about the victim, Patlan asked Antonia for “money to buy a cream” to treat his injuries, explaining that while she was in the bathroom, “she heard her child crying out” when he “burned himself with some corn cobs that she was cooking.” Antonia gave Patlan forty dollars to purchase medicine. One week later, Patlan returned to the apartment and asked Antonia for permission to store some toys, stating that she was about to take a trip to Florida. When Antonia asked to see the victim, Patlan led her to a white van parked outside and driven by the defendant. Antonia entered the van and saw the victim lying on his side in an apparent effort to protect the area around his buttocks-“in a position like maybe not to hurt himself.” She touched his head and asked, “What happened to you, my child?” The victim provided an unintelligible response. At that point, the defendant interrupted, saying “let's go, let's go woman, let's go, woman” to Patlan before driving away. In consequence, Antonia was unable to determine the nature or extent of the victim's injuries.

A few days later, on February 20, 2003, Patlan approached another one of her sisters, Maria Patlan-Cano (“Maria”), at the Nashville restaurant where she worked, claiming that the victim “was very sick” and in need of medication. Patlan was accompanied by the victim, her baby by the defendant, and her ten-year-old daughter by Cisneros, who by that time was somehow in Patlan's physical custody. After tearfully explaining that the victim had been burned while she had been cooking corn on the cob, Patlan expressed her fear to Maria that the victim might die. In response, Maria gave Patlan food and two hundred dollars, but insisted upon seeing the victim. When Maria went outside, however, the defendant, who was driving the white van, was reluctant to allow her to see the victim, claiming that he was blocking traffic. After the defendant moved the vehicle out of the street, Maria opened the door, observed the victim, and screamed, “Why is the child like that?” Maria, who had described the victim as “chubbier” and “very happy” when she had last seen him in Mexico, noticed that he was very thin and that a foot was bandaged. He was positioned on his knees with his feet behind him” but did not move. When Maria asked the defendant why he had not provided medicine to the victim or taken him to the doctor, the defendant replied that “since he wasn't his father, he didn't have any reason to want to make him get better.” Maria then asked why the defendant had taken the victim away from his father if he did not intend to provide for his care. According to Maria, the defendant replied “He didn't want to bring him, but that bitch (Patlan) wanted it to happen.” At that point, Patlan directed Maria to get out of the van because the defendant was angry. When Maria complied, the defendant drove away “really fast.”

Maria tried to get the license plate number in order to provide it to the police, but because of the defendant's sudden departure, she was unable to do so. Afterward, she asked her brother-in-law, Juan Sanchez (“Sanchez”), to contact the police and report her observations about the victim's health. Sanchez called 911; however, because of the language barrier, there was a delay in the processing of the information to the proper authorities within the department. Initially, in addition to an unidentified male child, Patlan was also thought to be a victim. After the report, patrol officers were notified, but the matter was not immediately assigned as a high priority.

Detective Sara Bruner of the Youth Services Division of the Metro Police Department had the responsibility for investigating child abuse and neglect cases and deaths of children twelve years and under. She contacted Sanchez, who provided her with the victim's name and urged her “to find him.” As a result of their conversation, on February 21, 2003, Detective Bruner issued a notice for officers to be on the lookout for the van being driven by the defendant. Her investigation was to include not only the victim, but also the other two minors in the custody of Patlan and the defendant.

On February 23, 2003, three days after the initial report to the police, Jerry Moore of the Metropolitan Park Police was approached by a visibly shaken woman who had observed the body of a child on a grassy surface behind a mound of dirt in West Park in Nashville. The mound blocked the view of the body from the road and parking lot. Officer Moore found the body and secured the scene before Metro Police Detective Brad Corcoran of the Homicide Division arrived to conduct the investigation. No shoes were on the body, which was otherwise clothed. Because no grass stains were on the socks or pants and the body was not covered by the snow that had fallen during the night, Detective Corcoran deduced that the body had been placed at that location only a short time before its discovery. Later, Sanchez identified the body as that of the abducted victim. On the following day, arrest warrants were issued for the defendant and Patlan. Despite substantial media coverage, including the mention of the crime on the “America's Most Wanted” television show, which resulted in several tips, the police were unable to locate either the defendant or Patlan.

Dr. Amy McMaster, the Deputy Chief Medical Examiner for Davidson County, who had special training in the interpretation of injuries, performed the autopsy the day after the body was found. She discovered that the victim was wearing a diaper at the time of his death and had bandages and a piece of cloth wrapped around his feet. The autopsy indicated that the victim had received “multiple injuries to virtually every surface of his body.” and had also suffered serious burns to entire areas of his feet, which were wrapped in elastic bandages and covered by socks. The nature of the numerous injuries, including horrific burns of “full and partial thickness,” was illustrated by graphic photographs taken during the autopsy.

After examining the contents of the diaper, which concealed the more severe burns, Dr. McMaster speculated that its primary purpose was to absorb blood that was probably caused by the scabbing and infection of the extreme burns to the entire area of the buttocks, rear upper thighs, and genitals.

According to the testimony of Dr. McMaster, the burns were altogether inconsistent with injuries caused by a cooking accident and were consistent with “burn immersion,” the result of the victim, likely in a sitting position with knees raised, having been intentionally forced into a liquid over 150 degrees for at least one second.(Perhaps it was a bath) The pattern of some of the “satellite” or splash burns suggested that the victim kicked and resisted as his buttocks and feet entered the water. In Dr. McMaster's opinion, the burns, between days and weeks old, were so serious that the victim could not have been able to walk or sit without painful consequences. The infection caused by the burns and loss of skin had damaged the victim's internal organs, which were failing at the time of his death. Dr. McMaster also found scars on the victim's face and multiple bruises and puncture wounds on other areas of his body. In her opinion, the puncture wounds were the result of “some type of pointed instrument.” The injuries to the skin, dozens in number, were at different stages of healing at the time of the victim's death.

The examination also revealed that the victim had sustained blunt trauma injuries to the brain and skull. According to Dr. McMaster, the swelling to the brain indicated that the head injuries had been recently inflicted. She determined that the skull fracture, which involved internal and external bleeding, was the most serious of his injuries. In her opinion, the victim lived no more than two hours after being struck by the blow. Because the victim was immobile due to the extensive nature of the burns, she concluded that the blunt force had to have been inflicted by an individual rather than being accidental in nature. Dr. McMaster expressed the further view that the victim had suffered a blunt trauma to his hand, which was swollen and discolored. This injury was consistent with the victim attempting to protect himself and shield his body from an attack. She also found an older contusion on the front portion of his brain, which was likely sustained six to seven weeks earlier.

Dr. McMaster found a therapeutic level of naproxen-possibly Aleve or Antiprox-in the victim's body. She believed that the “fluid accumulated in different body spaces” indicated that the victim would have ultimately died from the infection due to the burns; she speculated, however, that “with immediate treatment, he likely could have survived” the burns. She also found that he was malnourished, weighing only thirty-four pounds at the time of his death, which was far less than the average weight for a child his age. “His ribs were very easily seen beneath the skin,” and only a small amount of brown and gray thick fluid was found in his stomach. Dr. McMaster classified the cause of death as battered child syndrome, (a term used to describe a child subjected to repeated bouts of severe physical abuse.)

Carla Aaron, the Regional Administrator for the Department of Children's Services in Davidson County, who had training and experience in child abuse cases and a familiarity with the procedures involved in reporting the suspected abuse or neglect of children to law enforcement, the Juvenile Court, or the District Attorney's Office, confirmed that her department had not received any notification of the victim's circumstances until after his death. After reviewing the autopsy photographs, she concluded that if any medical provider had been called on to treat the injuries the victim had sustained, they would have “absolutely” reported the incident to her department for investigation.

Approximately four months after the discovery of the body, a Davidson County Grand Jury returned a two-count indictment for felony murder during the perpetration of aggravated child abuse. Count One alleged that the defendant and Patlan “did kill the victim during the perpetration of or attempt to perpetrate Aggravated Child Abuse, in violation of Tennessee Code Annotated Section 39-13-202.” Count Two alleged that the defendant and Patlan “did knowingly, other than by accidental means, treat the victim, a child six (6) years of age or less in such a manner as to inflict injury, and the act of abuse resulted in serious bodily injury to the child, in violation of Tennessee Code Annotated Section 39-15-402.

On February 13, 2006, almost three years after the victim's death, Sanchez reported to Detective Bruner that Patlan was in Mexico. On April 5, 2006, Katrin Miller, Assistant District Attorney General for the 20th Judicial District, submitted applications for the extradition of the defendant and Patlan, based specifically upon the charges for felony murder committed in the perpetration of or the attempt to perpetrate aggravated child abuse and for aggravated child abuse. The affidavit in support of the request to extradite also included the following language:

“Both the defendant and Patlan are criminally responsible as a party to the offenses of felony murder and aggravated child abuse if the offenses were committed by the defendants' own conduct, by the conduct of another for which the defendants are criminally responsible, or by both.”

The extradition agreement, executed by the appropriate authorities on May 30, 2006, made specific reference to the charges in the indictment. The terms authorized and directed the extradition of the defendant to face charges of “homicide in violation of criminal code 39-13-202 and child abuse described by criminal code 39-15-402.” The Federal Bureau of Investigation assisted in the extradition process and, in July of 2006, the defendant and Patlan were returned to Nashville for trial.

Some five months later, on December 7, 2006, the District Attorney General's Office filed a superceding indictment against the defendant and Patlan that included two additional counts for felony murder by aggravated child neglect, an offense not specified in the extradition request or in the extradition agreement. Upon motion by the defense, however, and a concession by the office of the District Attorney General that the new charges were prohibited by the terms of the extradition agreement, the trial court entered an order of dismissal as to those two counts. (The reason for that decision was that those two charges weren’t listed in the extradition agreement and for this reason, it is improper to add the charges beyond the scope of the extradition agreement)

The defendant and Patlan were tried jointly on the charges set out in the original indictment. The State, through the witnesses previously identified (in the appellant court’s decision) prosecuted the offenses based entirely upon circumstantial evidence, including expert testimony. There were no eyewitnesses to any of the allegations of abuse. Moreover, neither the defendant nor Patlan made incriminating statements to the police which were admitted as evidence. Further, the defense elected not to offer proof at the trial. (I am interpreting that to mean that the defendants chose not to take the stand and testify at their trial just as Casie Anthony chose not to take the stand and testify at her trial)

During its closing argument, the State, (precluded from prosecution based upon aggravated child neglect) argued that the death of the victim was the result of abuse and relied upon the surrounding circumstances to establish that the defendant and Patlan either caused or were mutually culpable for his death under the alternative theory of criminal responsibility. In response, the defense argued that the State had proved little more than the mere presence of the defendant some three days before the body was found and further, had offered no evidence of the requisite shared intent to support the theory of criminal responsibility for the conduct of another. At the conclusion of the proof and the arguments of counsel, the trial court instructed the jury as to felony murder, aggravated child abuse, and criminal responsibility.

Following its deliberations, the jury found Patlan and the defendant guilty of both aggravated child abuse and first degree felony murder by aggravated child abuse. As to the defendant, whose appeal was separate from the Patlan case, the trial court imposed a mandatory life sentence for first degree murder and a consecutive sentence of twenty-two years for the aggravated child abuse conviction.

On direct appeal, the Court of Criminal Appeals reversed the defendant's conviction for aggravated child abuse, finding the evidence to be insufficient and more specifically observing that the State had failed to offer any proof that the defendant had actually inflicted the injuries causing the death of the victim. The Court of Criminal Appeals, however, affirmed the first degree murder convictions, concluding that the crime of aggravated child abuse, although different from child neglect, included “aggravated child abuse through neglect”:

The record shows that the State never argued that the defendant inflicted the victim's fatal injuries and did not offer any proof in support of this theory․ Accordingly, the conviction for felony murder based on a theory of aggravated child abuse through infliction of injury and the conviction for aggravated child abuse were not supported by the proof in this case.

The evidence however was sufficient to support the conviction for felony murder during the perpetration of aggravated child abuse through neglect. The evidence showed that the defendant knowingly failed to provide the victim with any medical assistance which resulted in the victim's serious bodily injuries.

In summary, the intermediate court ruled unanimously that the circumstantial evidence was insufficient to support a conviction of aggravated child abuse. On the other hand, the majority of the panel of the Court of Criminal Appeals, over the dissent of Presiding Judge Joseph M. Tipton, held that a murder during the commission of aggravated child abuse included murder during the commission of aggravated child abuse “through neglect,” relying on State v. Hodges, 1998), a case involving the interpretation of the 1995 version of the felony murder statute, which was amended prior to the victim's death.

The State applied for permission to appeal to the higher court, arguing that the Court of Criminal Appeals had erred by holding that the evidence was insufficient to support a conviction for aggravated child abuse. The defendant also filed an application for permission to appeal, arguing that when the evidence is insufficient to support a conviction for aggravated child abuse, as determined by the Court of Criminal Appeals, a conviction for felony murder based upon aggravated child abuse cannot stand; secondly, the defendant asserted that a 1998 amendment to the felony murder statute, which made a distinction between a felony murder based upon aggravated child abuse and a felony murder based upon aggravated child neglect, precluded the extension of the former to the latter; and, thirdly, the defendant asked this Court to determine the propriety of a conviction for felony murder based upon aggravated child abuse absent any instructions defining aggravated child abuse by neglect. This Court granted both of the applications.

When considering a sufficiency of the evidence question on appeal, the State must be afforded the strongest legitimate view of the evidence and all reasonable inferences that may be drawn therefrom. The credibility of the witnesses, the weight to be given their testimony, and the reconciliation of conflicts in the proof are matters entrusted to the jury as the trier of fact

When the sufficiency of the evidence is challenged, the relevant question is whether, after reviewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the State, any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt.

Because a verdict of guilt removes the presumption of innocence and raises a presumption of guilt, the criminal defendant bears the burden on appeal of showing that the evidence was legally insufficient to sustain a guilty verdict.

In the absence of direct evidence, a criminal offense may be established exclusively by circumstantial evidence. Ultimately, however, the jury decides the weight to be given to circumstantial evidence, and the inferences to be drawn from such evidence, and the extent to which the circumstances are consistent with guilt and inconsistent with innocence. These are questions primarily for the jury.’ On appeal, the court may not substitute its inferences for those drawn by the trier of fact (the jury) in circumstantial evidence cases. The standard of review is the same whether the conviction is based upon direct or circumstantial evidence

Years ago, Special Justice Erby Lee Jenkins wrote expressively on behalf of this Appellate Court, admonishing the finder of fact in criminal cases to exercise particular caution in the prosecution of cases based entirely upon circumstantial evidence. He said:

“In order to convict on circumstantial evidence alone, the facts and circumstances must be so closely interwoven and connected that the finger of guilt is pointed unerringly at the defendant and the defendant alone. A web of guilt must be woven around the defendant from which he cannot escape and from which facts and circumstances the jury could draw no other reasonable inference save (other than) the guilt of the defendant beyond a reasonable doubt. Mere suspicion and straws in the wind are not enough for circumstances take strange forms. Under our form of government and the administration of criminal justice, the defendant is clothed with a mantle of innocence and that presumption of innocence hovers over and protects him throughout the trial. Until this is overturned by strong proof of his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, not an imaginary or captious doubt but an honest doubt engendered after a consideration of all the evidence so that the minds of the jurors cannot rest easy as to the certainty of guilt, he is entitled to an acquittal.” unquote

In State v. Crawford, the standard purportedly required the State to prove facts and circumstances “so strong and cogent as to exclude every other reasonable hypothesis save the guilt of the defendant, and that beyond a reasonable doubt. This language has long been applied in Tennessee to criminal cases, particularly those cases in which the sufficiency of the circumstantial evidence is at issue. Recently, however, this Court (the Appellate Court hearing the defendant’s appeal) pointed out the inconsistency between the terminology employed in Crawford and its progeny and the standard of proof applied by the United States Supreme Court when the evidence is solely circumstantial. Observing that, while the Crawford standard has been used repeatedly in Tennessee, the federal courts have held that the government has no duty to exclude every other hypothesis except that of guilt." unquote

Significantly, the Supreme Court has specifically rejected the notion “that the prosecution is under an affirmative duty to rule out every hypothesis except that of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. In Jackson, the Supreme Court cited with approval Holland v. United States, a case holding “that where the jury is properly instructed on the standards for reasonable doubt,” an additional instruction that circumstantial evidence “must be such as to exclude every reasonable hypothesis other than that of guilt is confusing and incorrect.” In Holland, the Supreme Court made the following observation:

“Circumstantial evidence is intrinsically no different from testimonial evidence. Admittedly, circumstantial evidence may in some cases point to a wholly incorrect result. Yet this is equally true of testimonial evidence. In both instances, a jury is asked to weigh the chances that the evidence correctly points to guilt against the possibility of inaccuracy or ambiguous inference. In both, the jury must use its experience with people and events in weighing the probabilities. If the jury is convinced beyond a reasonable doubt, we can require no more.” unquote

The federal courts of appeal have followed the Supreme Court's directive, consistently holding that direct and circumstantial evidence should be treated the same when weighing the sufficiency of such evidence. In United States v. Kelley, the court ruled that circumstantial evidence alone is sufficient to sustain a conviction and such evidence need not remove every reasonable hypothesis except that of guilt. In United States v. Bell, the court ruled that it is not necessary that the evidence exclude every reasonable hypothesis of innocence or be wholly inconsistent with every conclusion except that of guilt, provided a reasonable trier of fact could find that the evidence establishes guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. In United States v. Nelson, the court ruled that since circumstantial and testimonial evidence are indistinguishable so far as the jury's fact-finding function is concerned, all that is to be required of the jury is that it weighs all of the evidence, direct or circumstantial, against the standard of reasonable doubt.

Thus, though it is said that circumstantial evidence is to be scrutinized with the utmost care, and non-lawyers are suspicious of it, the courts reject the view that circumstantial evidence has less probative value than direct evidence.

The Appellate Court specifically adopts the standard enunciated by the United States Supreme Court as applicable to prosecutions in this state. In practice, the distinction between the federal standard and the “reasonable hypothesis” language used in this state has rarely made a difference; therefore, there has been little reason to refine its standard of review by voicing disapproval of much of the terminology used in Crawford.

The defendant's argument, however, relies on the premise that the evidence was insufficient to support convictions based upon the crime of aggravated child abuse. As the State set forth in its response to the defendant:

“The State has never argued and does not now argue that the defendant is guilty of aggravated child abuse by neglect. Rather, the State's argument is that the proof shows that the defendant knowingly treated the child in such a manner as to inflict injury, either as principal or as one criminally responsible for the conduct of another. The State takes the position that the evidence, in this instance, is sufficient to establish that the defendant either committed the offenses or is criminally responsible for Patlan's commission of the offenses.” unquote

The Appellate Court said, “Thus, even though we disagree with the majority of the Court of Criminal Appeals that evidence of aggravated child neglect may support a conviction for the offense of felony murder in the perpetration of or attempt to perpetrate aggravated child abuse, the critical question before us is whether the circumstantial evidence, when considered as equal in stature with direct evidence, is sufficient to have persuaded a rational jury, by the proper “use of its experience with people and events in weighing the probabilities, of the defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt of aggravated child abuse and felony murder by aggravated child abuse.” unquote

The Appellate Court finally said; “In summary, the evidence, even though entirely circumstantial, is sufficient to support the jury's finding of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt of each of the offenses charged. The autopsy report, photographs of the injuries, and the defendant's flight from this jurisdiction and hiding out for three years were especially probative. The jury had a rational basis for the verdicts of guilt as to each count.” unquote

My final comment

There you have it. That court’s decision wasn’t the only time a court ruled that circumstantial evidence is evidence that must be seriously considered when determining guilt or innocence of a defendant. Courts have made such rulings for many years.

In my opinion, the Casie Anthony jurors didn’t spend enough time deciding on the innocence or guilt of this woman. I believe there were other factors that prompted them to hurry through their deliberations. First of all, they had been sequestered for six weeks and that is a long time to be absent from one’s family. Further, one of the jurors had previously booked a trip on a cruise ship that was about to leave its port.

Most importantly, they didn’t ask the judge for more instructions with respect to the validity of circumstantial evidence.

Casie Anthony and her lawyers believed that the jury’s decision was valid as do one third of those persons who were polled. But I and two thirds of the people polled think that the jury bungled its way through its deliberations and as a result, the murderer of two-year-old Caylee is walking free from her horrible crime. If there really is a thing called justice, it would bring us our rewards and bring the criminals to their just deserts. In the Casie Anthony’s case, it didn’t bring society its reward of finding justice for Caylee nor did it bring her murderer her just deserts.

I think Casie Anthony’s jury tweaked the nose of the statute of justice when they acquitted her of her crime of murder. If the Casie Anthony’s jury’s verdict represents justice, then justice had better apply for a name change. Her jury’s verdict is self-evident that when wise men plead cases, on many occasions, it is the fools who decide what the verdicts are.

Lord Denman in 1894 with respect to the judgment of a man called O’Connell said in his comment; “Trial by jury itself, instead of being a security to persons who are accused, shall be a delusion, a mockery and a snare.”

I like to think of juries as fountains of justice but alas, there are times when some of those fountains run dry. I don’t believe that jurors who make inept decisions can really ever successfully wash the blood of the victims from their hands.

Juries are supposed to be bound by the law as given to them by the judge and by the facts as given to them by the prosecution and the defence and even by the common sense they are presumed to possess. But if during their deliberations, their minds wander from the law and the facts and their common sense is irrational, then their verdicts are inconsistent to the needs of justice to all parties concerned.

Edmund Burke said; “Justice is itself the great standing policy of civil society and any eminent departure from it under any circumstances, lies under the suspicion of being no policy at all.”

1 comment:

Lost Motorcyclist said...

You present a good case here. But basically, you are saying that trial by jury does not always work. I agree, but it is still better than lynching, or trial by the media. Or do you have another idea as to how to decide the truth?

I think our system is set up to favour the innocent: "Innocent till proven guilty." I assume that means we accept that it is better to set a person free in case of doubt, than to execute them.