Casey Anthony may have been convicted of murder in the court of public opinion. However, there’s obviously a higher legal standard required when you sit as a jury member a murder trial and are essentially deciding whether accused defendant will ive of die. "Beyond a reasonable doubt" is the degree of certainty you must reach regarding the defendant’s guilt. There is no wiggle room for justifictions about "guilty of something" or reasonable alternatives to the charges brought by the prosecution. Many writers and bloggers are searching for answers from trial lawyer blogs, and for good reason: We are the professionals trying cases before juries.
I agree with others who say that a single factor — credibility — determined the outcome of the Anthony murder trial and resulted in a decision contrary to the one sought by the aggressive prosecutors. Or maybe these two words — "attorney credibility."
Chalk this one up to attorney credibility, or the prosecutors’ lack thereof. You must prove everything you say you will in your opening statement. If you don’t, you are sunk.
An incredible degree of credibility is required if you are a prosecuting attorney putting forth evidence in a criminal case or a personal injury case. If your side has the burden of proof, your credibility in your opening statement is of paramount importance, and I agree with my injury attorney colleague John Lowery that the prosecution in Anthony’s murder trial lost credibility when it stated it would prove premeditation to support first-degree murder.
Jose Baez and his defense team were correct when they argued in closing that the prosecution failed to prove premditated murder beyond a reasonable doubt; the prosecution had chosen to place all its eggs in that basket. There was evidence of criminal homicide but, the state pursued murder one and did not invite the jury to consider alternatives such as manslaughter in its closings.
A completely different strategy would have been to pursue the case as a criminal homicide or negligent homicide case. It is easy to argue in hindsight that this would have been a winning strategy because all the credibility supported criminally responsible death, but the evidence of premeditation and murder beyond a reasonable doubt was simply lacking in the view of the jurors. It’s not unusual for prosecutors to stick with the highest charge, as the lesser charges are inconsistent with premeditation, right? Hard to argue with that, also.
Jose Baez has an incredible story as an attorney with only about three years law practice since he was granted his bar license in Florida, and one wonders whether he and his defense team did a series of focus groups before this jury trial.
Coducting focus groups is a major tool in the arsenal of lawyers who conduct jury trials. Often, the use of focus groups is not disclosed. My own firm does not make any disclosures relating to how, when or where we would conduct a confidential focus group.
Even if Baez never used a focus group, I guess he just had fate and luck fall upon him in his dogged defense of this young mother — whether you hate her or not. Many lawyers get lucky in the law library at midnight, so goes the saying. Whatever the reason, Baez came out on the right end of the verdict and I guess it doesn’t matter if he did one focus group or none.
Chalk this one up to attorney credibility, or the prosecurors’ lack thereof. You must prove everything you say you will in your opening statement. If you don’t, you are sunk. Every personal injury attorney for a victim knows this. So do criminal defense trial attorneys.
About the Editors: The Shapiro, Cooper, Lewis & Appleton personal injury law firm, which has offices in Virginia (VA) and North Carolina (NC), edits the injury law blogs Virginia Beach Injuryboard, Norfolk Injuryboard and Northeast North Carolina Injuryboard as pro bono services.