Yesterday, Casey Anthony was found not guilty on all major charges stemming from the disappearance and death of her two year old daughter Caylee Anthony. If you were expecting the obligatory “if Casey Anthony were black she would have gone to jail” post, then this post is not for you.
Casey Anthony was found not guilty because the prosecution failed to prove its case on the murder charges beyond a reasonable doubt. In my first year of law school I learned just how high the prosecution’s burden is, and in this case it was not met, causing the jury to return a swift and most importantly unanimous not guilty verdict on the most serious charge.
Simply put: Casey Anthony was not acquitted because she is white. If all of the facts, evidence, and jury in this case were the same but the Anthony family were a black family, it is still likely that little black Casey would have been acquitted.
It is possible that a young black single mother in the same situation may not have been able to snag a solid defense attorney like Jose Baez but if she did, I argue the jury would have reached the same verdict. In a case where many facts worked against the prosecution, like the fact that it took them so long to locate Caylee Anthony’s remains or the fact that there were no witnesses and very little physical evidence directly linking Casey to the murder. There are not a lot of jurors who are going to easily sentence a woman to death without more proof that there was even a murder at all.
In fact, in the state of Florida, only two women have been executed in the modern era. The third woman executed in Florida’s history was a slave who killed her master and was hung during the 19th century. There are currently 390 people on death row in Florida, only one is a woman.
There is a strong argument to be made about the fact that prosecutors overcharged this case and by putting a capital offense in the mix they basically made it an easy call for the jury. This argument is much stronger than claiming that race played a factor in the outcome or even as some “black twitter” users did by comparing this case to other trials like O.J. Simpson and Michael Vick (who for the record plead guilty to his crime). The fact of the matter is that prior to this incident Casey Anthony had no criminal record and it appeared that she had some psychological issues. Comparing this capital murder case to high profile cases where a black defendant like Michael Vick went to jail is not only off the mark, it only serves to ignore the real issue of racial inequality in the justice system. This case is not an example of that.
Professor Imani Perry made a similar argument over at The Grio today writing that:
[T]he case struck a nerve on what is colloquially called “black Twitter” because it reminds us of a larger trend that is unquestionably a sign of grave injustice: racial inequality in criminal law. Research shows that all things being equal: police, judges and juries treat African-American suspects and defendants much more harshly at every step in criminal law enforcement. African-Americans are the most imprisoned population on the planet.
Professor Perry goes on to explain that while inequality in the criminal justice system is a reality, outrage over Casey Anthony being acquitted is misplaced. The tragic death of a young child is hardly an anomaly and it is much more productive to target our energy and work towards preventing abuse of children before it leads to death.
The saying goes something like we would rather ten guilty men go free than one innocent man go to prison. We should be much more concerned with those individuals who are unjustly convicted and sent to prison instead of the one sensational media driven case where the defense attorney did his job. Priorities people, priorities.