2011-07-14 / Editorial

Scattering Seeds

By John A. Murphy jamurphy@jamestownlawyer.com

For many of you, what follows may be purely review of what you already know. Nevertheless, review is always helpful as a learning tool.

1. A verdict of “not guilty” following a criminal trial is not a declaration of innocence. It simply means that the jury (or judge, in the case of a non-jury trial) determined that the prosecution did not meet its burden of proving guilt of the crime(s) charged beyond a reasonable doubt.

2. Learned observers of the Casey Anthony trial opined, correctly in my view, that the prosecution in that case had presented sufficient evidence in that case to meet that burden. Therefore, the trial judge acted correctly in denying defense motions for judgment of acquittal following the presentation of evidence.

3. Learned observers also opined, again correctly in my view, that a jury, after hearing all of the evidence, might conclude that there was reasonable doubt that prevented them from rendering a guilty verdict.

4. The conclusions in paragraphs 2 and 3 are not mutually exclusive. The judge and jury have completely distinguishable roles in a criminal trial.

5. Our system of criminal justice is founded upon the principle that it is better that a guilty party occasional goes free than an innocent one ever be convicted. The presumption of innocence, the requirement of juror unanimity, and very rigorous burden of proof create tough work for the prosecution, but these standards are premised upon universally recognized concepts of justice.

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