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Tuesday, July 5, 2011

New Jury Rules Could Sway Trial Verdicts

Photo: Reuters
Many comparisons have been drawn between the O.J. Simpson murder trial in the early 1990s and Casey Anthony's infanticide trial from this summer. 

Like the Simpson trial, the Anthony jury's verdict left most Americans scratching their heads, wondering about the state of the criminal justice system in America, and in their local community.  Unlike the Simpson case, however, the Orlando, FL trial was placed on the fast-track and, fortunately for everyone, the judge delivered.

In the Anthony case, the accused mother was acquitted of all murder charges, but convicted on four counts of lying to the police.  She has been incarcerated for about two years; she could get maxed-out on Thursday to 4-years (a year for each count), with credit for time served.  Her out date could be weeks, or even days away.

Tuning-in to the trial while grinding around town tending to my own clients, I was first struck by the possibility of an acquittal when the prosecutor's case in chief was taking two days to clear a so-called "expert" on foul odors; apparently captured in special containers for later sampling.  They had experts on top of experts.

The jury, filled with non-Orlando out-of-towners, made the prosecution pay.  When she earns a 7-figure income next year, Ms. Anthony will be sticking it in all our faces.

Meanwhile, in September, Michigan begins a probationary period for a series of innovative new court rules.  These rules, designed to encourage more detailed juror involvement and participation in a case, may have changed the Anthony verdict.  Click here for a detailed discussion of the specific changes.

One of the primary innovations is the ability of jurors to discuss the case among themselves and to ask their own questions of the witnesses, as the proofs are going in.  In a huge case like Casey Anthony, you have to wonder if the new rules would make a difference in the outcome if the case was to be tried here in Michigan.

If I had to guess, I would think most Casey Anthony jurors would attest to their frustration spending half the summer listening to a parade of junk scientists. Jurors have fine antennae for junk science.

In the end, all the junk scientists in the world could not overcome the fatal flaws in this case: lack of a cause of death; and the all-in gamble of a first degree murder theory.

Here is a great take on this trial by Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz.

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