Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Casey Anthony:
Loose Ends

I'd like my punishment to fit her crime, whaaaaaat?

REASONABLE DOUBT CUTS BOTH WAYS. After only a couple hours, almost everything that needs to be said about the Casey Anthony verdict has been said. Our good buddy Doc Zero has illustrated that 21st Century justice isn't quite the technological and scientific marvel we think it is. The merits of double jeopardy have been debated. All the pertinent Justice System Bad movies have been quoted. Patron Saint of vengence Dexter Morgan has been invoked.

There's just a few small bases left to cover.

There's been a whiff of blowback against the extremes of popular outrage about the case. Shades of posturing that too closely resemble the "I would never celebrate the death of any human being" moral narcissism that proliferated when Osama bit the literal bullet. Not on anything like the same order of magnitude, mind you, but it still needs to be addressed and debunked.

A friend of mine on Twitter ("tweeps," we kids call them. Aren't we precious?) articulates it well:

If you are sitting there saying that someone should be raped, beaten, murdered...are you any better than the person you think is bad?

Yes. Much better. I'll explain.

Take kidnapping, for example. Holding a person against his will. We all agree this is a Bad Thing. And no one has ever, or will ever, disagree with arresting that kidnapper and taking him to jail. But what is jail? Holding someone against his will. Are the police just as bad as the kidnapper, doing the same thing he did? Nope. What's the difference? The kidnapper did it to someone who didn't deserve it. The police are doing it to someone who does. You used to hear people say "let the punishment fit the crime." That's the principle at work here.

Does Casey Anthony deserve all manner of horrible fate? Fraid so. Another base to cover: Hate (ha) to disagree with The Boss, but there's no reasonable doubt here. A mathematically-insignificant-but-still-technically-bigger-than-zero chance is not a reasonable doubt. I understand the need to put the burden of proof on the state, and I understand the need for consequences for prosecutorial grandstanding & overkill, but lying to police + googling "chloroform" and "neck breaking" + having so little regard for your missing child that you don't try to avoid being photographed partying right after she goes missing = DUH. Let's start erring on the side of justice, shall we? Anthony's lawyers may as well have contrived a quantum-physics-swapped-her-unkilled-toddler-with-a-dead-doppleganger-from-an-alternate-universe defense. Hey, quantum physics is a real thing! YOU don't know!

Rand defines crime as "the initiation of physical force." Kids on a playground know the concept as "Who started it?" and they've got the right idea. (and yes, intent matters too. That's why we don't punish involuntary manslaughter like we punish cold-blooded murder. That's why we have laws against things like attempted murder and conspiracy to defraud. Jesus and Gandhi to the contrary, the proper revision of "An eye for an eye" is "An eye on purpose for an eye on purpose.") Punishment is the collection of a debt to morality itself. Nothing hypocritical about it.

One last base to go. I'll make it quick.

If Casey had broken her daughter's neck a scant seven trimesters sooner, we never would have heard about it. If George Tiller had stabbed Caylee in the brain before her mom crapped her out, he'd be a hero, Casey would have been making a noble sacrifice, and Caylee wouldn't count. As anything at all. Not even so much as three fifths of a person.

UPDATE: Quote of the century: "Man's law is about procedure, not justice. God's law is about justice."

Absurd. Then why have man-made laws in the first place? Why not let God take care of it all? Do you think He's not up to it?

Go ahead. Spank away. Can't wait.

UPDATE 2: I should be a good "mentee" and bite my tongue. But me and my damned self-respect...

Boss, I'm not sure what you're responding to. Nothing I wrote. Maybe that's my fault. I was trying to be all subtle and author-ly. I'll explain what you missed while you were wailing on that straw man.

1. You don't know Ayn Rand. I know you think you do. You don't.

If I said Edmund Burke was too staunch a traditionalist to have ever supported America's bid for independence, I'd be dead wrong. Even though my characterization of Burke's thought as traditionalist is largely correct. Such is your understanding of Rand. Not far off generally, yet still managing to botch the essentials. Remember when you claimed Randian orthodoxy would see "a soldier [giving] up his life for his country" as "an immoral sacrifice"? Dead wrong. I wasn't implying she advocated the Death Penalty or anything else, and you wouldn't know if she supported it or not. Your one readthrough of Atlas in high school didn't make you an expert. Even with your superhuman insight and pattern recognition.

If you're not sure how to handle being wrong, hit me up for some pointers. I have more practice than you.

2. God's intervention is always a maybe, at best. When an old tree needs to be cut down in your backyard, you don't pray for lightning to strike and burn it down for you. You break out the chainsaw & the day-glo kevlar chaps and start cutting. When you find yourself needing more money, you don't (just) pray to win the lottery. You sell some of your things, try to get more hours at your job, or think of some new value you can create (you can pray for inspiration, if you want, but you wouldn't just pray for it and then sit waiting patiently). When your car breaks down, you don't (just) pray it starts working again. You open the hood and roll up your sleeves. Jonas Salk didn't pray to wipe out polio. Da Vinci didn't splash paint on the canvas straight from the bucket and pray it landed where it needed to.

I'm not saying prayer is useless. People have won lotteries. Pestilence can wane on its own. Cars have been known to start working with no discernable cause. I'm not saying God doesn't get involved. But how dependable is His involvement? For responsible men, prayer is only a garnish on action.

Why should our legal system be any different? In a matter so important as justice, how is it acceptable to pass the buck Upstairs?

I'm not advocating lynch mobs or Chuck Bronson rampages (duh). I'm proposing a new principle in the philosophy of law: Presumption of Accountability. God may pick up man's slack, but we can't count on that. Therefore the burden of dispensing justice falls to man, and man exclusively. "Let's err on the side of justice" was hyperbole (double duh). What we need to do is not err at all. That a flawless justice system is impossible is irrelevent. Just like the impossibility of eradicating all disease doesn't mean there's a point at which we can stop the fight and say "good enough." So you don't miss that last point, I'll restate it, boldface it, and give it its own paragraph.

A flawless justice system is impossible. That doesn't relieve us of the obligation to strive for it. And how much more diligent and thorough would our striving be without God's Final Destination safety net as an excuse to slack?

3. So why not fix our system as best we can? "Juries can find guilty or not guilty on the charges they're asked to consider. They're not allowed to make up their own charges. For the awesome reason that they're not lawyers or judges."

Thanks for the remedial Social Studies lesson. I'll rephrase. Why shouldn't we let juries reduce charges? We let them determine amounts when it comes to financial compensation. If the evidence points to a lesser crime, like, to pick an example off the top of my head, first-degree manslaughter, it's unjust not to let them convict.

Do NOT tell me "the Founders didn't set it up that way, so we better not mess with it." That's not a reason. I won't insult you by intimating you don't know what a disaster the Interstate Commerce Clause has been. If we see an aspect of our system that needs real improvement, we need (hence the word need earlier in the sentence) to make that improvement.

But maybe you think I'm wrong.

Prove it.

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