The trouble with media trying Casey Anthony

Anna Staver

When I was a kid I learned that our justice system was the best because it presumed all those accused of a crime are innocent until proven guilty. Then I grew up, and I realized that while the law may view defendants as innocent, the public has a very different opinion.

In recent weeks I’ve been following a few prominent cases that have illustrated the problem of trial by media. Before all the facts are in, the media and the American public have largely convicted Casey Anthony and Dominic Strauss-Kahn.

For those of you not following these cases, Casey Anthony is the Florida mother recently acquitted of murdering her nearly three-year-old daughter. And Dominic Straus-Kahn is the former managing director of the International Monetary Fund who is accused of raping a hotel maid in New York City.

What got me thinking about this issue is new evidence brought forth by the New York City Prosecutor’s office in the case against Strauss-Kahn that suggests the woman may have lied. The trouble is: The American press has already convicted Strauss-Kahn because he has a reputation for being a womanizer. There have been numerous, vicious opinion pieces and editorials written about the man.

Nancy Grace and other pundits like her have turned the Casey Anthony trial into such a circus that people literally waited all night in line and fought each other for a seat in the courtroom.

I think all these people forget that what makes the American justice system great is that it allows a person who is falsely or mistakenly accused of a crime to return to normal life with as little disruption as possible. I think our founding fathers understood better the devastating effects that being accused could have on a person’s life. Can you imagine Casey Anthony ever being able to show her face in public again?

Guilty or not, her life is ruined. And that seems to be an exceptionally cruel fate if in fact she is innocent and this is compounded by the loss of her child. I’m not saying I think she’s innocent or guilty. I’m saying that none of us in the media or the public had the whole story, and it was wrong to jump to conclusions so early on.

Even prosecutors and police are often working with an incomplete set of facts, and they make their best guess based on the information they have at the time. And sometimes those guesses turn out to be wrong. Just look at the case of the Duke University lacrosse players, and the murder of JonBenet Ramsey. If the professionals frequently make mistakes, what business do we have in drawing early conclusions?

The first amendment of our constitution protects people who say terrible things that offend me personally, but like Voltaire, I will defend to my death their right to say it. I think Americans need to remember that the Fifth Amendment guarantees all persons the right to a fair trial no matter how heinous the crime. In my opinion, that includes a presumption of innocence not only by the jury, but also by the public.

I think we taint our system and image, as well as dishonor our heritage when we assume someone is guilty before we’ve heard any or all of the facts. The media should report on arrests, evidence and trials, but stop short of drawing conclusions. Otherwise we are jeopardizing the defendant’s right to a fair trial.

In my opinion, we want guilty parties to these crimes because of their heinous nature. We want to know that the person who raped that woman or killed that little girl is locked up so it can never happen again. But in our rush for a conclusion, I worry that our society is too quick to lynch the accused.

You are entitled to your own feelings, but you are not entitled to your own facts. And I think the public and the press would do well to remember that they have an incomplete set of facts at best, especially before the start of a trial when both sides are still investigating.

At the end of the day, I think what everyone should remember is: If you were sitting in that defendant’s chair, you would desperately want the press and the public to assume you were innocent until proven guilty.

Anna Staver is a senior news major. Contact her at [email protected].