The Casey Anthony Trial: The role of a Jury

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Casey Anthony - found not guilty of murderThe close of the Casey Anthony trial with an acquittal on the most serious charge has brought gasps of disbelief by all the pundits and white middle class viewers that were just sure this mother was guilty. She may well be guilty, but according to the jury on her trial she is not-guilty. Chances are, she may even be innocent, but who knows.

Frankly, I didn’t care a thing about the Casey Anthony trial and know very little about it except for the small excerpts that I listened to on the evening news when I wasn’t digging for something to eat in the refrigerator. But this I do know, I have served on a jury, a murder trial no less and what a jury sees and what the media sees are entirely different.

Watching a trial on television with analysts breaking down every piece of evidence and analyzing the strategy of the defense or prosecution is something that the jury never sees. The jury never witnesses the side-bar discussions of motions of what is allowed to be presented to them and what isn’t. They don’t know the back-story, but only what is shown to them. Juries are also given strict instructions about what the law means in a case and how it should be applied. The jury’s job is simple and limited. Evaluate the evidence and testimonies and weigh them against the law in question. A properly acting jury will not let their emotions override their duty.

It has been over fifteen years since I sat in that jury box and deliberated the fate of a young man that was being tried for first degree murder with an enhancement of special circumstances. We convicted because he confessed to being the driver in a kidnapping where the young girl ended up shot execution style in the Oakland hills. It was an easy conviction under the law, because if you kidnap a person and they die while in your possession, you are guilty of first degree murder. That was our verdict under the law.

The Jury box - a cornerstone of American law systemAfter the verdict was rendered the attorneys came and visited with us. It was an informal meeting, but they spent time asking us questions and answering ours. One of the issues that nearly each jury member wanted to know is why we couldn’t ask questions. There was a lot that we wanted to know about various aspects of the case that were never presented. One of which was the sentence for his crime. When we found out that a conviction for this man meant a lifetime in prison without the possibility of parole, nearly to a juror we thought that was too harsh for the role that he played in the death of this young woman. He claimed that he didn’t expect that she would be killed when they picked her up, and we believed him. As a jury we thought that he should be punished, but none of us thought justice was served by a lifetime sentence; ten years maybe, but not a lifetime.

So it probably was with the jurors in the Casey Anthony trial. They only heard what the judge allowed them to hear. When things were said that should not have been said, they were told to disregard it. When motions were upheld to keep certain pieces out of the trial, they unlike the television viewers, never heard about the evidence, making their decision much different than that of the television audience.

I find it amazing that so many people in this country do all they can to find a way to avoid jury duty, but when the media wants to put a trial on television millions tune in to see the so-called action. Jury duty is a civic duty, and I would serve again if given the chance. Usually they only take two or three weeks and that time is time well spent, not only because of the service rendered, but because of what a person can learn about the jury trial system. Unlike television shows and even the media circus around certain trials, it is a somber and serious situation to actually sit in judgment of another human being with the power to decide where they will spend the next few years of their life, or possibly the rest of it. It is too bad the much of America sees these trials as a sort of sport to be watched on television with the requisite Monday-morning quarterbacking of the jury’s decision.

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