Several years ago—about 22 of them—the State of Delaware charged a young man with one count of felony DUI. He entered a NOT guilty plea and retained a highly respected Delaware attorney to defend him. I served on the jury.
The prosecution called only three witnesses: the two arresting city police officers and a technical expert. I can’t remember the latter’s name, but he held a PhD in Chemistry and testified—seemingly forever—about the nature and legal veracity of BAC (Blood Alcohol Content) tests relative to DUI cases.
Aside from cross-examining both police officers, a BLISTERING cross-examination of the expert witness, and a closing argument based entirely on those cross-examinations, the defense called NO witnesses and motioned for a summary dismissal of the charge. The judge—now long retired—denied the defense motion.
In HIS closing argument, the prosecutor downplayed the defense’s closing as emotional nonsense. He seemed to imply—condescendingly in the minds of ten of the jurors, by the way—that people with 3-digit IQs would HAVE to conclude this case as “open-and-shut” based on the blood work alone.
The trial began at 1:15 PM. It took just a tad less than two hours. We, the jury, deliberated for only 20-minutes but waited another 23 minutes to notify the bailiff that we had reached a verdict—we didn’t want it to seem as though we had rushed to judgment.
At about 4:16 PM, in a courtroom with a surprising number of spectators, the court clerk asked the jury foreman—yes, I realize this term is sexist by today’s standards, but you’ll just have to get over it—how we, the jury, found.
“We the jury find the defendant NOT guilty.” You could hear a pin drop in the courtroom. The police offers were shocked. The prosecutor slapped his hands to his forehead in STUNNED amazement.
The judge thanked us for our service. We left the courtroom through the jury’s exit. The judge adjudicated the defendant as “not guilty,” and told him he was free to go. It was over.
So, who blew this “open-and-shut” case for the prosecution: the police officers, the prosecution’s expert, or the prosecutor himself?
The arresting officers didn’t screw it up. They testified to the facts as they saw them at the time of the arrest. They followed standard protocol for DUI suspicion, including the drawing of a blood sample.
On the other hand, the prosecution’s “expert” confused the jury from the moment he began testifying under direct examination. It became evident that he was more intent on dazzling us with his “brilliance” than he was with enlightening us with it.
We, the jury, were capable of understanding the legal/scientific impact of a properly administered BAC test. All of us understood that, at that time, the legal definition of alcohol intoxication using BAC was 0.10.
He went into mind-numbing detail concerning the development of the process. He inundated us with chemical terms and technical references that added more to the confusion side of the legal ledger than to the clarification side of it.
But, he never actually stated the defendant’s BAC results. And, to this day, I do not have any idea what his BAC was. And, what made it worse was the fact that a young prosecutor didn’t bother to clarify the BAC results.
In the interest of kindness, the only way to describe the prosecutor’s apparent ineptness was to ascribe it to prosecutorial INCOMPETENCE. He had become so enthralled with his “open-and-shut” case that he fell, headlong, in to the dangerous abyss of ASSUMPTION.
The defense attorney, on the other hand, took full advantage of it by cross-examining on the useless details provided under direct examination, while taking care NOT to attribute a specific BAC result to the defendant.
And, adding insult to injury, under a respectful, but scorching cross-examination, the expert actually contradicted some of his own key direct testimony, which the defense attorney pointed out in simple-to-understand lay terms.
By the time the cross examination concluded, the jury was drowning in reasonable doubt. And, even though the prosecutor had a final opportunity to clarify under redirect, he didn’t do it; he simply rested his case!
The judge’s instructions to us were very clear. She explained the difference between “reasonable doubt” and a “preponderance of the evidence.” She made it abundantly clear that we had to base our verdict on the facts IN EVIDENCE beyond a reasonable doubt.
Technical “experts” are a critical component to legal testimony. But, if such experts are going to dazzle juries with their brilliance, they had better be practical about it. Otherwise, juries have a tendency to assume such obvious brilliance is nothing more than sophisticated attempts to baffle them with bullshit!
Now, I swore that I would not write about the Casey Anthony verdict. But, given all the pontificating hype that’s been screaming out of the nation’s TV screens from virtually every cable channel “legal” expert in the country, I’ve GOT to make these comments.
First, when it comes to sending people to jail for extended periods or, even worse, sending them to an execution chamber, merely choosing up sides is NOT acceptable.
This is especially true in light of all the pre-verdict hype coming from the likes of Nancy Grace, every other loud-mouthed HLN host and/or “former” prosecutor vying for “air-time,” and virtually every Judge Judy wannabe declaring Casey Anthony’s guilt a foregone conclusion!
Such people need to learn the art of “eating crow” gracefully because juries do not have the luxury of confusing “legally just” with “morally just.” In criminal matters, these are often NOT the same. However, in a criminal court of law, the former is ALL that counts.
“Not guilty” does NOT mean “innocent” in any legal sense; it NEVER has. It means, as it ALWAYS has, that the prosecution failed to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt.
And, in the Casey Anthony case, there was NO evidence of a TIME of death, a CAUSE of death, or even the CIRCUMSTANCES surrounding the actual death of the VICTIM. Like it or not, hate her all you want, there was NO way to tie her directly to her child’s death
It’s not about competent lawyers versus incompetent lawyers. It’s not even about which side has the best lawyers or the highest paid lawyers. It’s about the EVIDENCE and reasonable doubt.
In this case, the jury felt—at least based on all that we’ve heard so far—that it was “more likely than NOT that Casey Anthony was complicit in the death of her child. But, they were NOT convinced beyond a reasonable doubt.
Several years ago, someone sent me a copy of a legal cartoon. It consisted of a drawing of an acquitted defendant standing before a judge. The caption read; “I realize that a jury of your peers has found you not guilty, but I’m giving you 15-years just to be safe.”
Our system of jurist prudence does not permit judges to do this. Nor does it give prosecutors a two out of three proposition once a jury declares a not guilty verdict, not even with the likes of Nancy Grace, et al, vomiting ad nauseam hissy fits because they disagree.
Finally, if Casey Anthony is of the flawed moral character that many claim that she is—and I’m one of them—we’ll read and hear about her again the next time she flaunts the law. Such people do NOT change. Think O. J. Simpson!
Joe Walther is a freelance writer and publisher of The True Facts. You may comment on his column by clicking here.