Casey Anthony and O.J. Simpson
The two most publicized and notorious criminal trials in recent years are the murder trials of O.J. Simpson and Casey Anthony. Both trials captured the attention of the media and the public and both trials resulted in the acquittal of the defendants on murder charges. Both trials also resulted in the vast majority of the American public believing that the defendants “got away with murder.”
The American justice system is unique in many ways but a critical principle is this: one is innocent until proven guilty. Theoretically, the defendant sitting in a courtroom is presumed to be an innocent person. The prosecution has the heavy burden of convincing a jury that the defendant is guilty. They must prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the person is guilty of the crime of which they have been accused.
Most Americans, I believe, do not possess this assumption of innocence when others are accused. When they pick up the newspaper and turn to the police blotter section and read the names of those arrested, I believe that most make the assumption that those arrested are guilty of the crimes listed. But they are not. Not until they are convicted.
The Founding Fathers were men who had a strong skepticism about, and a deep distrust of, government. They lived, as most did in those days, under a system where the government could easily imprison people and seize their property and, perhaps, end their lives.
They believed, from their own experience and observation, that the power of the state needed to be limited and controlled. From that came the intention to protect the innocent from abuse of power and to force the state to prove their allegations against a citizen.
If the state could not prove the allegations, the person was declared to be not guilty. Technically, the defense was not required to prove innocence. The assumption was that it “was better that ten guilty men go free than for one innocent man to go to jail.”
In both the Simpson case and the Anthony case, for whatever reasons, the prosecution failed to convince 12 people that the accused were guilty of the crimes charged. Therefore, the accused were innocent. The result is that both defendants were free and could never again be charged with the same crimes. I can live with that.
In a local coffee shop a few days ago, I overheard several people angrily denouncing the jury in the Casey Anthony case. The members of the jury were described as “stupid, ignorant” people who “rendered a ridiculous verdict.”
No, they were simply citizens who, after six weeks of hearing evidence, came to the conclusion that the prosecution did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Casey Anthony murdered her daughter. The jury in the O.J. Simpson case likewise came to the conclusion that the prosecution did not prove that O.J. Simpson murdered two people.
The burden is not on the defense to prove innocence. The burden is not on the jury to make sure that “justice is served.” The burden is on the state to prove that the presumably innocent person on trial committed the crime. To prove it — to 12 people — beyond a reasonable doubt. The prosecution failed in both cases.
When it works correctly, that’s how it works in America.
[David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, 4881 Hwy. 34 E., Sharpsburg, GA 30277. Services are held Sundays at 8:30 and 10 a.m. (www.ctkcec.org). He is the bishop of the Mid-South Diocese (www.midsouthdiocese.org) and is the mission pastor of Christ the King Fellowship in Champaign, IL. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.]