Last in a series–
Many people were astonished that Casey Anthony was found not guilty of murdering her child. How could this happen when it appeared to people who followed the trial that she was obviously guilty?
I’ve posted four reasons previously and offer a couple more here:
Reason #5 The prosecutors are incompetent or distracted.
The best example of this problem occurred in the OJ Simpson trial. Many people were convinced he was guilty, but after a year-long trial a jury found him Not Guilty.
The prosecutors didn’t have a direct eye-witness case, but they had strong circumstantial evidence. Juries can find a defendant guilty with either direct or circumstantial evidence if it’s proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
My own assessment of the trial is if the prosecutors had put their evidence before the jury in a shorter time–a few weeks–they probably would have won. The longer they dragged-out the trial, the more time and opportunity the jury had to find reasonable doubts.
They also did things that not even an inexperienced prosecutor would do–asking OJ Simpson to try on the “famous glove.” It gave Simpson a wonderful opportunity to pretend the glove didn’t fit–and there wasn’t one thing the prosecutor could do to counter that mistake. It was such an inept move it even gave the defense their mantra for the rest of the trial: If the glove doesn’t fit, you must acquit.
Although the lead prosecutor was experienced, I think the presence of TV cameras, the press, and the celebrity of the defendant all distracted the prosecution team and they blew it.
In my own, less notorious experience, I tried a case as a defense lawyer where the defendant was charged with possessing some stolen sound equipment. He essentially admitted it during his testimony, but the prosecutor led the jury to believe the defendant was a major criminal fencing huge amounts of stolen goods. When her evidence didn’t prove that, the jury acquitted him.
Reason # 6 A good defense lawyer.
When I was first out of law school learning how to try cases, I held many of the local trial lawyers in awe. They seemed to have a magic touch and could get anyone off.
Years later, I’ve changed my mind–to a degree.
Even the best defense lawyer must work with the evidence the government has. Regardless of how smart or good a defense lawyer is, if the evidence proves beyond a reasonable doubt his client is guilty, the jury will convict.
However, a good lawyer can do a few things to change the equation:
1. They can exploit the weaknesses in every prosecution case. Even one flaw may cause the jury to have a reasonable doubt about the defendant’s guilty.
2. They can exploit technical details of law that weaken the prosecutor’s evidence. For instance, if the search of a defendant’s house was unconstitutional, any evidence seized at the house can’t be used in the trial and is never presented to the jury.
3. They can prevent certain critical pieces of evidence from going to the jury because of the way they’re offered in the trial. The rules of evidence dictate the proper and legal way to introduce evidence to a jury and may be violated by prosecutors.
Reason # 7 Sympathy
In my experience, sympathy for a defendant usually doesn’t get a Not Guilty. Jurors are specifically warned by the judge not to allow sympathy to play a role in their decision.
However, in close cases where the government’s case is weak, I think jurors would prefer to “give the accused a break” rather than convict. Maybe this isn’t sympathy, but it comes close. If the defendant seems to be the underdog, jurors have all the human emotions which can lead to a not guilty.