Last post I started to list the reasons why Casey Anthony may have been found not guilty by a jury. After more than 30 years working as both a prosecutor and defense lawyer, I have seen this happen before in trials.
The first two reasons can be:
1. The prosecutor must prove an accused guilty beyond a reasonable doubt; the accused is presumed innocent.
2. The prosecutors sometimes lack enough evidence to convince a jury beyond a reasonable doubt.
3. Even if a prosecutor starts a trial with enough evidence, during the trial, the case and evidence may fall apart.
Here’s an example:
I prosecuted the live-in boyfriend of a woman who’s two daughters said he sexually assaulted both of them. We were all convinced the guy was guilty and the young girls maintained their story through our questioning and to their therapists. We went to trial.
Things were going well until the girls were called to testify in open court. They both answered the questions well until I got to the critical questions of what the boyfriend did to them. Even using anatomically correct dolls for the girls, neither of them were able to say to the jury what happened. They couldn’t say the “magic words” that described how they were sexually assaulted.
The jury found the boyfriend not guilty.
Although we had used trained female counselors to prepare the girls for their testimony, when they got in front of the jury, they froze. Faced with a situation like this, a prosecutor tries to fix the problem but often can’t.
4. Prosecutors make a “rush to judgement.”
The charging of the IMF president, Dominique Strauss-Kahn is an example of this reason.
Prosecutors assembled evidence quickly including the sexual assault victim’s statement, forensic evidence, and photos of the crime scene. For some reason (New York DA Cyrus Vance, Jr. says they were worried that Strauss-Kahn would flee the country and elude prosecution) the prosecutors charged the case quickly and had Strauss-Kahn arrested.
As it developed, their main witness had serious credibility problems to the point the prosecution realized their evidence would be tainted and they’d be unable to prove the case to the jury. They dismissed the charges.
In most criminal cases, the prosecutor has adequate time to assess the strength of the evidence and, even if they think the accused is guilty, when they can’t prove it beyond a reasonable doubt at trial, they should dismiss. Prosecutors have an ethical duty to do so.
Most states allow the prosecutor to re-charge the a person later if more solid evidence is obtained. In the Strauss-Kahn case, I think the prosecutors made a rush to judgement and moved too quickly without full and adequate investigation of their evidence.
It’s also an example of how social and political pressures affect the decision to prosecute or not.
Next post, we”ll look at the OJ Simpson trial and why the prosecutors blew that case when they may have been able to convict him easily.