July 4th, a day when Americans don red, white and blue from head to toe, sing patriotic songs, and literally light up the sky in celebration of our freedom. It’s a day when we reflect on our nation, on its greatness and why we are indeed proud to be Americans…
On July 5, 2011, just hours after the freedom celebrations ended, millions of Americans turned on their TVs to tune into a verdict in a case they may or may not have given any prior attention. They viewed Casey Anthony as a woman guilty of murder and awaited her fate to be announced to the world. Two words, “not guilty”, sent shock, rage, and disgust through people all across the nation. This rage incited American citizens (who more than likely still had Lee Greenwood lyrics swimming in the back of their mind) to criticize our nation. It incited people to lash out against American justice and a system that had now sent a woman, presumed by most to be guilty of murdering her daughter, back to her normal life.
Innocent until proven guilty
Those four words define the basis of our legal system. The state must prove that a defendant is guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt” in order for a jury (of one’s peers) to convict. The right to a trial by jury is granted to American citizens in the Sixth Amendment of the Bill of Rights, meaning from the time we were granted our right to free speech we were also granted the right to a fair trial.
Fair is defined as “free from bias, dishonesty or injustice; legitimately sought, pursued; tolerably good”. Not once in any of those three definitions of fair is the word perfect mentioned. Perfection cannot be promised by anyone, not by a judge, a jury, the government or The Constitution. What our judicial system aims for is to be fair and just, to keep guilty people behind bars and the innocent people free. Largely, this is exactly what we have done. Is the system flawless? No. However, are other countries doing any better?…
Many nations operate under a different mantra, “guilty until proven innocent”. One American who has experienced the wrath of this judicial system is Amanda Knox, who has now been in Italian prison since 2008 when she was presumed guilty of the murder of her roommate while studying abroad. Amanda (who faced a jury of 6, including 2 judges) was never innocent in the eyes of the Italian government, she was guilty and the only way she’d escape spending the rest of her life behind bars was by the defense proving her innocence. When you operate under a system of guilty until proven innocent, everyone is guilty of anything unless they can prove beyond the shadow of a doubt that they were not committing said crime.
Other countries still operate their judicial systems in a dictatorship manor. Committing a capital crime in a country like Iran will leave you facing no jury at all. Your fate lies solely with the decision of a government official. These seem far from fair, and even further from perfect, ways to run a judicial system.
In just a few days Casey Anthony will walk out of prison as a not-guilty woman. Innocent? No one can know for sure. However, what we do know is that based on facts presented to the jury she was found not-guilty. Based on what the founders of our country thought to be a fair system, she was found not guilty. Our system was designed based on the one word everyone associates with our country, freedom. So let’s not be so quick to judge, ridicule and berate a system that is designed to provide “liberty and justice for all.”