COLUMN: Critics are wrong — our justice system worked

Friday, July 8, 2011 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

Critics found America's system of delivering justice seriously wanting this week in two sensational criminal cases. Actually, the critics have it wrong: The system worked as it should.

The outcome in the Florida murder trial of Casey Anthony and the apparent collapse of the rape prosecution in New York City of Dominique Strauss-Kahn are hardly satisfying.

A child is dead, and damning circumstantial evidence points to the mother, yet a jury Tuesday found her not guilty of murder. The former head of the International Monetary Fund had his career wrecked on the basis of a rape accusation from an alleged victim who, it turns out, has serious credibility problems.

Criminal prosecutions, however, are not the tidy affairs seen on television dramas, where good and bad are portrayed in clear shades of black and white. In the real world, the criminal justice system in this country must deal with all the shadings of fact and fiction, all the while striving to balance the power of the government against constitutionally protected rights of the accused.

The system is designed to be fair to all sides in the pursuit of justice, even though the outcome may not always fit what some may see as the "truth."

That point was lost amid the shock and outrage that greeted the Casey Anthony jury verdict Tuesday. Millions who watched the trial on television may have been convinced of Anthony's guilt, but the jury had a different duty to perform: to say whether government prosecutors fulfilled the state's burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The jurors concluded the prosecution failed to meet that high standard, even though some of them may in their hearts believe she is guilty.

That may strike some as unfair, but the alternative is a government that can punish the innocent without the benefit of a fair trial. For the authors of the Constitution, that was so important they were willing to allow some guilty go free in exchange.

In New York, public opinion has gone full circle: First, many naturally assumed Dominique Strauss-Kahn was guilty of raping a hotel maid, based on his reputation as a sexual predator. Following disclosures that the accuser lied about important aspects of her past, the prosecutors are on the firing line for having supposedly rushed to judgment.

In fairness, the prosecutors had reason to believe initially they had a credible witness, and they rightly moved to keep the accused from fleeing to France.

Although the New York district attorney's office may have been too quick to accept the accuser's story, it deserves credit for independently investigating the details. And it deserves credit for making it public when the story unraveled, knowing that likely could sink the case.

It is worth keeping in mind that, whatever her past, the accuser could be telling the truth about what happened in that hotel room, and Strauss-Kahn may yet return to France a free man even though he might be guilty.

These two cases exposed flaws in American criminal justice, but it was designed for fairness, not perfection.

That means the public and crime victims may not see the real perpetrator punished, but it is a price worth paying to avoid punishing the wrong person.

This ran as an editorial on the Opinion Page of Wednesday's Des Moines Register. Reprinted with permission.

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david smith July 8, 2011 | 7:24 p.m.

What a ridiculous Column published by a liberal newspaper. Some toddler ends up dead in a trash bag along the side of the road and idiots argue the justice system worked. No one has been held accountable for this child's death, the justice system did not work.

(Report Comment)
Louis Schneebaum July 8, 2011 | 7:56 p.m.

I mean, technically, the justice SYSTEM worked. Ethically, justice was not served. They system isn't perfect, some slip through the cracks.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams July 8, 2011 | 9:07 p.m.

There is something horribly unsettling about all this, and I'm trying to figure out what it is. Much less write about it.

Who grieves for this child? If the child did indeed accidentally drown, do we a humans...expect those who are supposed to love her to be in profound despair? Wouldn't you be? What would make a mother lie about her child's death, party-on, blame others....for years? Is this not depraved indifference? If not, what the hell is it? Can this truly be blamed on a dysfunctional family? Or a dysfunctional mother?

This woman did not behave as a human being. She did not behave as a loving mother. And, from a societal point-of-view, there is something horribly wrong with that...something not covered by society's written laws.

But, I don't know how to do that with written or unwritten laws.

Except shunning. And utter disgust and disapproval.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith July 9, 2011 | 5:23 a.m.

Well, Michael, what the situation points out is that laws alone - and we are up to are posteriors in them - are not the answer to everything.

Also, having a child or children only technically and legally makes one a parent. Conversely, good parenting can come from persons who are not biological parents.

And you are correct: there IS something horribly unsettling about all this, including some of the ghoulish media coverage.

(Report Comment)
Paul Allaire July 9, 2011 | 11:22 a.m.

"What a ridiculous Column published by a liberal newspaper."

So it's a liberal thing to criticize the "justice" system...
I should have known.

(Report Comment)
Paul Allaire July 9, 2011 | 11:23 a.m.

Excuse me. So it's a liberal thing to DEFEND the "justice" system. I should have known...

(Report Comment)
david smith July 9, 2011 | 4:40 p.m.

Yea it is Paul, geraldo Rivera was happy as a clam when this non-educated ignoramus got acquitted. Libs protect the criminal because it is never the criminal's fault.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith July 9, 2011 | 5:35 p.m.

@ david smith:

I agree, but maybe a bit of "expansion" would be good. In our modern in-the-toilet society the criminal is not to blame, because SOCIETY is to blame.

Well, what IS society? It's everyone in general but no specific individual in particular.

Some years ago a book was written in England by a doctor who had years of experience with patients in UK's social welfare medical system. The descriptions some give of their crimes are fascinating.

"The knife went in," not "I stabbed a person." Imagine that, a self propelled knife!

"The gun went off," not "I shot him/her." (The gun in question just happened to be in my hand with my finger on the trigger.)

You might expect something like this if a perp had just been brought in for questioning, but these were people who had already served time for their crime.

The knife was responsible; the gun was responsible; therefore, I was not responsible. :(

(Report Comment)
Paul Allaire July 9, 2011 | 6:43 p.m.

"Yea it is Paul, geraldo Rivera was happy as a clam when this non-educated ignoramus got acquitted. Libs protect the criminal because it is never the criminal's fault."

Oh, I see. Because he might be a liberal,(You probably know about that more than I because YOU listen to him...), and stated his opinion about this, I am obliged as a "liberal" to keep my opinion in lockstep with his... because I want to act as independent as the republicans do? Is that why I am happy at the verdict?

One major fact that I should mention is that I haven't followed one stupid bit of that trial. I am concerned about the defense of the accused and the rights of crime victims. However, that single trial many states away from me concerning a mother and an infant does not make my top 1000 list of things to think about. The only reason I'm even commenting is because I looked on the computer when reading my newspaper and found someone had written a stupid statement on it. I get concerned when I find someone making a stupid statement and standing behind it.

Did you think about how many thousands of more important and controversial trials were opened and concluded while you had your eyes glued to your stupid television set? Just because a video goes viral does NOT mean that I should watch it.

"non-educated ignoramus"

Would that be opposed to an educated ignoramus?

(Report Comment)
Ricky Gurley July 18, 2011 | 3:48 a.m.

David Smith Wrote: "No one has been held accountable for this child's death, the justice system did not work."

The Justice System DID in fact work. An innocent person was not convicted; I'd say that indicates that our Justice System Worked....

A few things I'd like to clear up...

Most of you have been B.S.ed into believing that the "Not Guilty" verdict does not mean that she is not innocent, but rather there simply was not enough evidence to prove she is guilty. WRONG! From the beginning when a person is charged with a crime they are "innocent until proven guilty" or as we like to say these days "they have a presumption of innocence". Until that person is found to be guilty in a court of law with a guilty verdict, they maintain that presumption of innocence. So, in essence Casey Anthony was innocent when she was charged, she was innocent while in court, and she is innocent right now because the court did not find her guilty or take away her presumption of innocence by finding her guilty.

The Prosecution did not even prove that Caylee Anthony was murdered. Members of the Jury have stated that they could not find Casey Anthony guilty because the Prosecution could not even prove a cause of death. Without proving a cause of death we can not rule out if Caylee Anthony died due to the result of an accident.

I am grateful that this Jury demonstrated to the world how a Jury is supposed to rule in a case; by what the evidence or lack of evidence indicates and not by allowing their emotions to be manipulated.

And when Casey Anthony becomes a millionaire, don't be mad at her; be mad at the media. Be mad at "Nasty Disgrace" and all of these other legal commentators that have taken an ordinary person from an ordinary family and gave her trial so much media attention that any Movie Producer, Book Writer, and/or Magazine Publisher would pay top dollar for her story...

Ricky B. Gurley.

RMRI, Inc.
(573) 529-4476

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith July 18, 2011 | 5:49 a.m.

@ Ricky Gurley:

Well Hello, stranger. (I'd suggest getting the gang together for lunch, but an outdoor lunch would NOT be a good idea just now.)

Maybe we're the only ones who are disgusted about "trial by media" justice, but I doubt it. The media are such paragons of fairness and propriety. Isn't that right, Rupert Murdock? Hello, Rupert? I guess Rupert is otherwise occupied at the moment.

Isn't it Scottish law that allows THREE possible jury verdicts in a capital case? "Guilty," "not guilty" and "not proven."

Is our legal system (and that of all other countries where the system is based on English roots) flawed? Hell yes it's flawed, but consider some of the possible alternatives.

(Report Comment)
Ricky Gurley July 18, 2011 | 3:00 p.m.

A lunch with the gang is WAY overdue... But you are right; AIR CONDITIONING is the key to a comfortable lunch, currently.... LOL.

Yes, Scottish Law has three different verdicts; and it makes a distinguishable difference between not being able to prove the case and the defendant actually being unarguably Not Guilty.

Yeah, I blame the media for a lot of this... "Nasty Disgrace" should be prosecuted for interfering with a Police Investigation, Trial Manipulation, Subverting Justice, and a host of other nasty little charges! Nasty charges for a nasty person! What the heck? Shouldn't cost her any money, she is an attorney; she can represent herself! She could not prosecute a case ethically in a court of law when she was a Prosecutor, so I guess she's just trying to prosecute these cases in the media, instead..... I kind of wish she'd sue me for saying and posting that; so she would be giving me a chance to dig into her background and prove my statement as fact....

Ricky B. Gurley.

RMRI, Inc.
(573) 529-4476

(Report Comment)

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