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Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Soapbox: Casey Anthony, Amanda Knox and William Blackstone

I had a post all ready to go on patriotism and almost stuck with it, but finally decided that I could not ignore yesterday's ruling in the Casey Anthony trial.  In some ways the patriotism theme still connects, because for many today's ruling tries their patience and tests their belief in some of basic standards of justice in this country. I am not going to talk about Casey Anthony's guilt, innocence, or even share my best guess.  I want to talk about the choices we make regarding justice and how moral choices challenge us all.

Years ago an English jurist named William Blackstone wrote a book which included his standard [often called Blackstone's Ratio]: "Better that 10 guilty men escape than one innocent suffer."

Centuries earlier the Bible writes that God will spare an entire city rather than destroy 10 righteous men in it. [Genesis 18:23-32]

In the American court system an accused person must be proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt to be ajudged guilty and punished accordingly. Accepting that standard, it is a given that there will be guilty people who "get away" with murder and other crimes simply because there is not enough hard, provable, evidence to erase all reasonable doubts from a selected jury of 12.

Another trial we have been fascinated is the trial in Italy of American Amanda Knox.  Amanda Knox is almost the same age as Casey Anthony.  She too was put on trial for a murder. She too claims innocence.  Her character has also been questioned. She too has been in jail for more than three years.  But her trial is in Italy.  Different country.  Very different rules.  Also very different outcomes at this point.  In the Knox case reasonable doubt is not a required standard and many Americans have decried its absence. Reporters commented on the tragic differences between Italian courts and U.S. courts. But somehow it is harder if you think the person is guilty, isn't it. It is harder when the victim is a small, wide-eyed toddler.

So we are back to the bottom line.  Are we willing to let some who may be guilty, and even some who we may believe to be guilty, go free?  Is that better than risk the principle of innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt?  Our country has made a commitment to those decisions. Very few moral principles, choices, and decisions are easy. We often doubt.  We often question. Not all of our American principles are easy.  They aren't intended to be.

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