In the wake of the Casey Anthony verdict, many people are left with a bitter taste in their mouths. How could the jury say she didn’t do it? Of course, she did!
The jury decided, unanimously, that she is not guilty of the charges. They did not find her innocent, only not guilty. These are not the same things.
A not guilty verdict means that the jury believes that the prosecution did not prove its case. In a criminal case, the state or federal government is given the burden of proving its case beyond a reasonable doubt. All elements of each alleged crime must meet this burden. If the prosecution has not met its burden of proof, the jury must return with a not guilty verdict. This is exactly what happened in the Casey Anthony. It is solely the jurors’ prerogative as to whether the prosecution met its burden.
A finding of innocence is not required for a not guilty verdict. The defense doesn’t have to prove that the defendant is innocent. In fact, the defense doesn’t have to prove anything at all. Defense attorneys are there to protect the defendant’s rights. For example, the Fifth Amendment provides that the defendant does not have to testify in a criminal proceeding. It’s important for the defense attorneys to invoke this right on behalf of the defendant and for the judge to instruct the jury not to place any weight on the defendant’s decision not to testify. In short, the defense is attempting to show the jury that there is not enough evidence to convict the defendant of the charges against him or her. They are not trying to prove the defendant’s innocence.
Guilty and not guilty are important distinctions in our legal system. For without them, our system of justice would be based on the emotional whims of the jury. Guilty and not guilty verdicts keep the trial more objective giving jurors less room to bring their emotions to the table when it is time to deliberate.