Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Casey Anthony was not found guilty. Hugh Hewitt pronounced the jurors "morons" and devoted his entire show today to discussion of the case. The supporters of the verdict all pointed out that the jury was not given the choice to convict her of negligent homicide. My memory was faulty in that I believed that manslaughter requires specific intent, but that is not the case. Manslaughter may be voluntary or involuntary. So I basically made a fool of myself in the chat room at his Hughniverse website.

However, in following it up, I found a federal case, Charlton v. Wainwright containing this paragraph:
Florida courts have given a special definition to "culpable negligence." Instead of construing it to emphasize involuntary and unintentional behavior, they have construed it to emphasize culpability which rests on intentional, or quasi-intentional, behavior:
This is followed by quotations and citations from Florida cases.

Charlton v. Wainwright is an appeal based on the petitioner's claim that he may have been convicted of "attempted manslaughter 'by culpable negligence'" since the jury was not instructed to, and did not, specify which of the three modes of manslaughter he attempted. If he was convicted of an attempt to commit involuntary manslaughter, "such a crime is a logical absurdity, since it involves the intent to commit a negligent (involuntary) act."

Anthony was charged with "Aggravated Manslaughter of a Child," and found Not Guilty on that charge. I don't intend to write a brief here, since I am no longer a lawyer, but I assume from the definition above that the charge requires a finding that she engaged in behavior that she knew or should have known would result in the death of her daughter.

As I tried to track down the definition of "culpable negligence," I once again was reminded of the tangle of terms and definitions we expect juries to wade through in reaching verdicts, terms like reckless, willful, knowing, negligence, culpable negligence, criminal negligence, "quasi-intentional" and so on. The problem is that there is no way to guarantee that jurors or anyone else understand those terms uniformly, let alone correctly. Ultimately, we do our best, but in the end jurors have to hash it out in the jury room and without proof of misconduct by them, we let their findings of fact stand.

I just think, I'm glad I didn't have that job.

Hugh was asking all callers who supported the verdict if they thought that O.J . Simpson was innocent, but that's not really the question. He should have said "Do you think the state proved that O. J. was guilty?" I thought that the investigation, prosecution and trial in that case were badly bungled, but I would still have probably found him guilty, but I don't think that should be a litmus test. The public had a lot more evidence in that case than the jury was permitted to consider, as it did in Casey Anthony's case. We were treated to weeks of lawyers arguing the facts, the law and the tactics of this case, while the jury was sequestered. Maybe they just got sick of being away from home while being subjected to hours of boring presentations of a lot of stuff they didn't understand the need for and blamed the prosecutors for putting them through all that.

In the end, none of this brings back that little girl and I don't think we'd really want to put her back in the care of Casey Anthony or her family, knowing what we do about them now.

Most people will look at the basic facts and say, "Of course, she killed her daughter!" But if you add, "Are you willing to send her to her death based on that?" they get a little more thoughtful, as we want them to do. This jury seems to have done that, but to call them "morons" is unfair and promotes the image of conservatives as cold, bloodless, judgmental and cruel. I don't believe them to be that way, but they do believe that justice is a fundamental law of the universe or, in other words, that God is just, whereas too many people today have the idea that all judgment is wrong.

You can't run a society on that basis. I don't believe that life has a point if it's true. That's why all religions have a definition of good and evil and provide some belief in justice. That's why all systems of law that have been invented are based on justice, fairness or some standard of behavior beyond mere animal instincts. People denounce vengeance and revenge, but we all have a sense that bad behavior requires punishment, if only to teach us what we shouldn't do. Without a well developed sense of right and wrong, we're sunk. That's probably what resulted in Casey Anthony in the first place.


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