Appellate Law, Criminal Defense, Criminal Appeals & Criminal Appellate Review and Post Conviction Relief in Florida Courts, Federal District Courts and the 11th Circuit for Criminal Attorneys, Criminal Lawyers & Appellate Lawyers
The media is swirling with reports about the verdict in the Casey Anthony case. Reporters and courthouse watchers are all talking about how shocked they are. Others speculate about what will happen to Anthony and her family now that she has been acquitted. It is easy to get dragged in to the media hype surrounding this case. After all, a little girl’s dead body was found in the woods, and her mother acted despicably in the days following her disappearance. But before you join that angry mob out there, take a minute to think about something else.
We all know that in a trial, the prosecution’s job is to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt, and that the defense attorney’s job is to convince the jury that there is reasonable doubt. The role of defense attorney seems easy enough in cases where the criminal defendant might be a likeable person, or where the Government made some clear mistakes either in the investigation or in the prosecution of the case. But in cases like Anthony’s, where the defendant shows no remorse for what happened, or acts despicably in the days following the perpetration of the crime, the role of the defense attorney becomes all the more difficult and important. In cases where the defense attorney has to defend someone that is despised by the public, the defense attorney truly assumes the role of defender. The jury trial system given to us by the Founders of this great Nation knew the importance of the jury trial as a check against mob justice. And the Justices of the United States Supreme Court, in Gideon v. Wainwright, 372 U.S. 335 (1963), recognized that all defendants, regardless of income, have the right to be defended against criminal charges. The right to due process of law, which we all enjoy under the Constitution, requires nothing less.
It is somewhat ironic that the verdict in the Anthony case was reached one day after Independence Day. While we may feel angered and frustrated by the senseless death of little Caylee, and while we may disagree as to the appropriateness of the verdict, there are two things we should all take a moment to remember in these days surrounding the Fourth of July: the right to trial by jury, and the important role of the criminal defense attorney. An oath contained on the website of the Office of the Public Defender for the Fifteenth Judicial Circuit is worth quoting:
I am a Public Defender.
I am the guardian of the presumption of innocence.
My clients are the indigent accused.
They are the lonely, the friendless.
There is no one to speak for them but me.
My voice will be raised in their defense.
I will protect and defend my clients and the Constitutions of the United States and the State of Florida.
After only approximately 10 hours of deliberations, the jury reached its verdict in the Casey Anthony case: Not Guilty of Counts I through III, which were the counts charging Anthony in the death of her daughter. (Note: Count I charged First Degree Murder, Count II charged Aggravated Child Abuse, and Count III charged Aggravated Manslaughter of a Child). The jury did, however, find Anthony guilty on Counts IV through VII, which charged her with Providing False Information to a Law Enforcement Officer. Sentencing has been set for Thursday, July 7, 2011.
Pursuant to Florida Statute sec. 837.05(2), a person who provides false information to a law enforcement officer with regard to the alleged commission of a capital felony commits a third degree felony, and may be incarcerated for a term of up to 5 years. Since Anthony has been in custody on and off since the death of her daughter in 2008, Anthony may have already earned a substantial amount of credit for time served.
The Miami Herald reports in an article today that the State of Florida has asked the Court to reconsider its previous Order wherein the Court found Florida’s death penalty scheme unconstitutional. The Court has not yet ruled on the motion. It is unlikely that the Court would rule until the time for Evans to file a response has elapsed. Under the Local Rules for the Southern District, parties generally have 14 days to respond to motions. According to the article, Attorney General Pam Bondi stated that the State of Florida will take an appeal to the Eleventh Circuit if Judge Martinez does not alter his ruling.
A report on CNN today states that during trial proceedings on Thursday, June 30, 2011, a Casey Anthony trial spectator decided to give the middle finger to a prosecutor while the prosecutor was at the podium, in open court. Although the prosecutor did not see the middle finger being given because he was at the podium and had his back to the gallery, the spectator’s actions were caught on tape and played on national television for all to see. After Judge Perry was notified of the spectator’s actions, Chief Judge Perry, outside the presence of the jury, called the spectator, Matthew Bartlett, up to the court to address his actions. The Chief Judge questioned Bartlett as to what the middle finger gesture meant, and particularly, what the gesture meant to him. After Bartlett said he did not even know why he made the gesture, he apologized. Apparently not happy with the apology, Chief Judge Perry sentenced Bartlett to 6 days in the Orange County jail, a fine of $400.00, and $223.00 in court costs. Bartlett was handcuffed and escorted to jail by Orange County deputies.
Can the Judge really do that? In a word: YES. Attorneys are well aware that the courtroom is a place that demands the highest levels of respect and decorum. A court’s contempt powers are the means to enforcing the rules of the court, and maintaining proper behavior in a courtroom. While it may be that people who are not attorneys may not be aware of the court’s contempt powers, ignorance of the law is never a defense. And, in this case, ignorance of the law could not possibly be a defense because as noted in the CNN report, there is a sign posted indicating that gestures would not be tolerated. In addition to the sign, on May 4, 2011, Chief Judge Perry signed an Order Establishing Rules Governing Members of the Public, which clearly states that proper decorum was to be expected at all times, and that “[t]here shall be no gestures, facial expressions or the like, suggesting approval or disapproval during the proceedings.”
While a jail sentence may seem harsh at first, closer examination shows that perhaps that’s not the case. True, going to jail for giving the middle finger could be characterized as extreme. However, one cannot simply look at the action and the consequence in a vacuum. The larger picture needs to be taken into account. What we have here is a woman who is on trial, possibly facing the death penalty, for the murder of a little girl. These court proceedings, as do all court proceedings, require respect and solemnity. We also have a Judge who is responsible for balancing the rights of the media and the public to observe the proceedings, against the rights of the accused to a fair trial. Why should the Judge allow the irresponsible actions of one mere spectator inject a possible taint into the entire proceeding? After proceeding for more than 6 weeks, why run the risk of a mistrial because one immature person could not respect the rules of the Court? If the case is mistried, the entire process would have to start all over again, and the work of everyone–jurors, witnesses, attorneys and the Judge– will have been for nothing. In the end, I regret that the sentence had to be imposed, but I believe that to protect the dignity of the proceedings, the authority of the Court, and the efforts of all the players involved, the sentence is appropriate.