Persuasion Matters

The Jury: What We’ve Forgotten in the Aftermath of the Casey Anthony Verdict

The verdict is in: Casey Anthony was acquitted on all charges related to the death of her daughter. She was found guilty only of providing false information to investigators and law enforcement officers.

I find myself mesmerized by the public reaction and media obsession with the jury’s verdict. Facebook, Twitter, every media source, radio talk show and print newspaper is aflutter with “experts” and “analysts” who are trying to dissect whether the jury verdict was the “right verdict.”  The general public is downright angry and many seem to have lost faith in the judicial process because they think Casey Anthony should have been found guilty of murder, or at the very least, manslaughter.  To many, the misdemeanor charges were nothing but a slap on the wrist.  Couple the verdict with fact that Casey Anthony will be serving less than a month of additional prison time, and we hear pure outrage from millions in the court of public opinion.  “The system is broken,” they say.  “The jury system isn’t fair.”  “The jurors were wrong.”

Lady Justice– the quintessential symbol of our judicial system–wears a blindfold.  The blindfold does not, however, symbolize ignorance.  Rather, the blindfold so proudly worn by Lady Justice represents objectivity:  justice should be rendered with impartiality and without prejudice, fear or favoritism.

No matter what happened in the courtroom, one thing is crystal clear and cannot be disputed: A jury was empaneled to render the verdict.  Not the public.

How soon everyone forgets that the jury selection process for the Casey Anthony trial was a painstakingly long one, lasting ten arduous days. Despite the defense team’s motion for a supplemental jury questionnaire, Judge Perry denied the motion.  Both the prosecution and the defense attorneys spent hours and hours questioning jurors with two goals in mind: (1) to seat a panel of citizens who could fairly evaluate the facts without letting their preconceived ideas or biases get in the way of the facts, and (2) to select jurors who would be willing to consider their arguments.  It was undoubtedly a brutal process for everyone involved, including the jurors.

Ultimately, counsel agreed to seat fourteen jurors from a pool of almost two-hundred. These folks were identified by legal counsel and the judge as the 14 best jurors to enter the courtroom with an open mind and a blank slate, so to speak, regarding impressions or opinions about the allegations.  They were also the 14 best jurors possessing the ability and strength to separate emotion from fact.

The jurors had an incredibly difficult task: to determine whether a mother killed her child, and whether that mother should be put to death or spend the rest of her life in prison. I don’t envy any juror who ever has to make that sort of decision, and I’m sure the Casey Anthony jurors felt the weight of the world on their shoulders as they deliberated the fate of the defendant. Tears were shed and jurors made what very well could have been the most difficult decision of their lives.

Having worked in the jury consulting field for more than 14 years, I have interviewed hundreds of actual jurors in post-trial interviews in many different cases.  No matter how big or small the case, it’s been my experience that jurors universally take their job very seriously and approach their task with the utmost respect and care.  After all, heaven forbid, someday they may have a juror sitting in judgment of them.

I wholeheartedly believe that each and every member of the Casey Anthony jury panel did his absolute best to follow the court’s instructions and the law, and to weigh the evidence carefully, thoughtfully and thoroughly.

Unlike the public, the panel members were sequestered throughout the trial– sheltered from the media’s spin, the opinions of armchair experts and most importantly, sheltered from exposure to facts or speculations that were not introduced as evidence.  And unlike the public, jurors were not allowed to simply do “what felt right.”  They were required, by law, to base their verdict on the evidence presented.  Period.

Had they rendered a decision based on emotion or desire, the media could very well be reporting on a completely different verdict.

Did Casey Anthony get away with murder?  Only she knows.

Did the jury do what the court instructed it to do?  Absolutely.  Members put emotion, gut instinct, sympathy, anger and a host of other feelings on the back burner and did what the law required.  Even if it wasn’t what they wanted.

Could you have done the same?

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