Court Imitates Art

For the last three years the Caylee Anthony case has been tried in the media and in the court of public opinion. Nancy Grace has made a career of opining on the subject and many others have weighed in on how they “know” that Cay-lee’s “Tot Mom” Casey Anthony was the killer. Many in the public have affirmed this opinion, that Casey was the one who killed her beautiful daughter, stuffed her into a garbage bag and deposited her into a swamp. The public fascination with this case is just another episode in a series of highly visible criminal cases to capture the American imagination, starting with the O.J. Simpson case in the nineties. The Simpson case revealed how much a contentious trial featuring celebrity can titillate a world that has come to expect sensationalism from its news outlets. Since then the alleged perpetrators of certain crimes have been made into celebrities by a media desperate for something gory and exciting to feed the masses. Casey Anthony is the latest victim of this need by the media for sensational content.

What I find fascinating about this whole affair is that in my opinion Casey was tried and convicted by the media and thus by the public and yet the verdict of not guilty was as informed by the media as the biases of the public were. With the recent proliferation of forensic based TV shows the public has become enamored with real and physical evidence as the only basis for prosecutorial victory. Without fingerprints and DNA evidence people do not feel cases can be adequately presented. It used to be that a case with strong yet circumstantial evidence stood a great chance of bringing a guilty verdict. Now, without the requisite forensic evidence a case stands no chance of succeeding. We have become addicted to the technological aspects of evidence gathering.

Even in the face of mountains of circumstantial evidence to the contrary the prosecution in the Anthony case was unable to present the jury with what it craved. There was no DNA, no smoking gun, to connect Casey to any evidence that a murder had actually taken place. Ergo, no conviction.

As sensational cases tried in the media become more commonplace a corresponding dependence on flashy forensics will make prosecutors jobs even more difficult. What this means for jurisprudence in America is yet to be seen. Our modern focus on infotainment is having unintended consequences.

Which of our treasured institutions will be next to be desecrated.

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