What is the probability that Casey Anthony is guilty of murder? High, but according to twelve men and women honest and true, not high enough. High enough is supposed to be that probability which is “beyond reasonable doubt.” In bringing in a verdict of not guilty, the jurors thus believed there existed reasonable doubt. Just what is that?
This trial swam into my ken about three days ago (during my sojourn in Ithaca, I saw no television; same since then, because I have been traveling). I am no expert on this situation and know few details. I only want to make one point about reasonable doubt, spurred by a comment from Marcia Clark, the prosecutor in the OJ Simpson case, and from one of the jurors in the Anthony trial.
From ABC News:
Casey Anthony juror Jennifer Ford said that she and the other jurors cried and were “sick to our stomachs” after voting to acquit Casey Anthony of charges that she killed her 2-year-old daughter Caylee.
“I did not say she was innocent,” said Ford, who had previously only been identified as juror No. 3. “I just said there was not enough evidence. If you cannot prove what the crime was, you cannot determine what the punishment should be.”…
Ford said that she couldn’t make out “logically” the prosecution’s argument because there were too many unanswered questions about how Caylee died, including how Casey Anthony would have used chloroform to smother her 2-year-old daughter, then put her in the trunk of her car without anyone seeing her.
And so, every bit of evidence presented by the prosecution could’ve been tinged with doubt. At the end of the day, the jury might have found that they just couldn’t convict her based on evidence that was reconcilable with an innocent explanation—even if the weight of logic favored the guilty one…
And reasonable doubt? That’s the hardest, most elusive one of all. And I think it’s where even the most fair-minded jurors can get derailed.
How? By confusing reasonable doubt with a reason to doubt. Some believe that thinking was in play in the Simpson case. After the verdict was read in the Simpson case, as the jury was leaving, one of them, I was later told, said: “We think he probably did it. We just didnâ€™t think they proved it beyond a reasonable doubt.” In every case, a defense attorney will do his or her best to give the jury a reason to doubt. “Some other dude did it,” or “some other dude threatened him.” But those reasons don’t necessarily equate with a reasonable doubt. A reason does not equal reasonable. Sometimes, that distinction can get lost.
Listening to Jennifer Ford (at the link above), and noting her (almost certainly loose) use of the word logically, gives weight to Clark’s supposition that the term reasonable doubt has been transmogrified into any doubt.
Now it is a trivial truth that for any contingent event—any real-world event, that is; and murders are real-world events—there can never be logical, 100% certainty that you have proved its cause. That is, it is always possible that your theory of what caused the event can be false. It will always—as in always—be possible to offer alternative theories of what caused the event, no matter how implausible, absurd, or ridiculous these theories are.
In the context of a criminal trial for murder (or any other crime), this means that no theory can ever be proved such that there is no doubt in the theory’s veracity. In other words, no juror, no judge, no person can ever know with 100% certainty that the accused did the deed. They can only know with 99.9999999999999% certainty, or any higher certainty, just never 100% certainty.
This means that if jurors in this case mistook reasonable doubt for any doubt, the defense council best strategy would have been to present other possible theories of Caylee’s death. Which they did. And remember, the absurdity of these theories is besides the point. We just need to know they are possible, no matter how implausible.
Just knowing these other theories exist (and as we saw they are guaranteed to exist) is enough to provide “any” doubt. And that is what appeared to happen here. Juror Ford said as much when she claimed she did now know how Caylee died, that other theories beside murder were possible, even those these other theories were improbable.
In short, Clark apparently was right. Jurors sometimes do misinterpret or misunderstand what reasonable doubt means. Incidentally, reasonable doubt means there exists plausible reasons to believe another theory. I’ll leave it to experts to say whether other plausible theories of Caylee’s death exist.