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April 18, 2011

38

defining reasonable doubt

by Andrea O'Connell

Reasonable Doubt.  Sounds simple enough, right?  In truth, it can be a tough burden.

I was browsing through the court filings in this case – www.ninthcircuit.org - and came across a Defense motion that objects to the use of the standard Florida jury instruction with regards to reasonable doubt.  It was very interesting.  Here’s the link to the defense document:  WRITTEN OBJECTION TO THE STANDARD JURY INSTRUCTION ON REASONABLE DOUBT

This motion, written by Andrea Lyon and Jose Baez, opposes the standard definition of reasonable doubt.  The defense supplies its proposed verbiage to instruct the jury on reasonable doubt for both the Guilt Phase and the Penalty Phase of the trial and its aftermath.

Before discussing Florida’s definition of Reasonable Doubt, I want to include the definition of reasonable and doubt from my American Version of the Oxford Dictionary to see how we fare in our understanding of the words.

Reasonable: 

adj.1 having sound judgment. 2 not absurd. 3a not excessive; inexpensive. b tolerable; fair.

Doubt:

n.1 uncertainty; undecided state of mind. 2 inclination to disbelieve. 3 uncertain state of things. 4 lack of full proof.  v.1 tr. feel uncertain or undecided about. 2tr. hesitate to believe or trust. 3intr. feel uncertain or undecided.  4 tr.  call in question.

Because the definition both of “reasonable” and “doubt” are subjective, it stands to reason why the court attempts to define it in such as way as “reasonable” people can apply their own ethical thermometer to the amount (or level) of reasonable doubt they apply to the question of guilt or non-guilt.

No doubt every juror comes to the table with their own meaning of reasonable doubt no matter what instruction is provided to them.

Is it reasonable to conclude that what you believe is reasonable and what I believe is reasonable will be as different as day is from night?

In “Taming of the Shrew,” characters Petruccio and Kate argue over this very question!  He says it’s day, she says night.  Are they both wrong?  Are day and night really different?  The sun and moon are different, but it’s still Monday.

What is reasonable?  Every person on the jury will apply their own background, culture, and perhaps educational background to its meaning as they listen to a case.  I did as a juror.  But, when deliberation begins, individual remembrances of the evidence and testimony becomes like a patchwork that’s collectively sewn together into agreement.

Anyway, below is the standard jury instruction that defines reasonable doubt and aggravating circumstances, for the jury:

 Florida’s Standard Jury Instruction in Criminal Cases defines reasonable doubt as follows:

A reasonable doubt is not a mere possible doubt, a speculative, imaginary or forced doubt.  Such a doubt must not influence you to return a verdict of not guilty if you have an abiding conviction of guilt.  On the other hand, if, after carefully considering, comparing and weighing all the evidence, there is not an abiding conviction of guilt, or, if, having a conviction, it is one which is not stable but one which wavers and vacillates, then the charge is not proved beyond every reasonable doubt and you must find the defendant not guilty because the doubt is reasonable.

It is to the evidence introduced in this trial and to it alone, that you are to look for that proof.

A reasonable doubt as to the guilt of the defendant may arise from the evidence, conflict in the evidence, or the lack of evidence.

Proposed Instruction on Reasonable Doubt for Guilt Phase

As I have said many times, the government has the burden of proving the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.  Some of you may have served as jurors in civil cases, where you were told that it is only necessary to prove that a fact is more likely true than not true.  In criminal cases, the government’s proof must be more powerful than that.  It must be beyond a reasonable doubt.

Proof beyond a reasonable doubt is proof that leaves you firmly convinced of the defendant’s guilt.  There are very few things in this world that we know with absolute certainty, and in criminal cases, the law does not require proof that overcomes every possible doubt.  If, based on your consideration of the evidence, you are firmly convinced that the defendant is guilty of the crime charged, you must find him guilty.  If on the other hand, you think there is real possibility that he is not guilty, you must give him the benefit of the doubt and find him not guilty.

Proposed Instruction on Reasonable Doubt for Penalty Phase

As I have said many times, the government has the burden of proving each aggravating circumstance beyond a reasonable doubt.  Some of you may have served as jurors in civil cases, where you were told that it is only necessary to prove that a fact is more likely true than not true.  In criminal cases, the government’s proof must be more powerful than that.  It must be beyond a reasonable doubt.

Proof beyond a reasonable doubt is proof that leaves you firmly convinced that an aggravating circumstance exists. There are very few things in this world that we know with absolute certainty, and in criminal cases, the law does not require proof that overcomes every possible doubt.  If, based on your consideration of the evidence, you are firmly convinced that the aggravating circumstance exists, you must find that it exists and give it whatever weight you determine it should receive.  If on the other hand, you think there is real possibility that aggravating circumstance does not exist, you must give the defendant the benefit of the doubt and find that it does not exist.

What’s Next in the Case

This is going to be another interesting week in the State v. Casey Anthony case.  Judge Perry is scheduled to rule on the Frye motions on or before the 21st of April (Thursday). The next status hearing is scheduled on the 21st, too, though I am not aware of the start time.

I predict the State will prevail and everything comes in!

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38 Comments Post a comment
  1. Apr 18 2011

    Hi Andrea, super great article. thanks. I can say i am beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt that Casey Anthony killed her daughter Caylee.

    Reply
    • Apr 18 2011

      Hey Thanks, Knight Owl…

      I’m with you – no doubt in my mind either! No doubt whatsoever.

      Sent from my iPhone

      Reply
  2. Apr 19 2011

    Wow this is what I wrote in 2008 believe it or not on Caylee’s website.

    1. Casey didn’t report Caylee missing for 31 days and was seen out partying, etc during the time she was missing.
    2. Casey was documented as the last person to see Caylee alive, (possibly dead as well.)
    3. After Casey’s auto was found abandoned, the smell of death coming from the car was reported by several people including Cindy, George, Lee, Detectives and the tow truck operator.
    4.Grandmother Cindy reported her missing.
    5. Lying to Law Enforcement about everything. Making false statements, making up false names of who she told about missing Caylee. Telling the Police that she was working at Universal Studio when she was fired from there two years prior.
    5.Casey’s original story changed from dropping Caylee off at Sawgrass Apartments, at an apartment had been proven to be vacant for some time, to the nanny knocking her to the ground and her sister taking Caylee at Blanchard park.
    6.Stealing gas cans and “friends,parents, and grandparent” checks or monies.
    7. Not one friend, not even family members have met the “nanny” or spoke to her. Never heard Casey on the phone with her. And no phone numbers.
    8.Searches done on the computer at the Anthony home for homemade weapons, neck breaking, missing children, chloroform, mom Cindy was ruled out due to her work schedule. I rule out dad George and brother Lee because Casey was the last person to see Caylee alive and or dead.
    9.Police Cavader dogs hitting in the trunk of Casey’s car, and two places in the back yard, by the playhouse and the sandbox.
    10. Parents and Lee seeking Full immunity to help convict Casey. They know something

    In conclusion, given these facts, I think that there is a high probability that a jury will find her guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of murdering her daughter.

    PS: There is way more over the years that can be added to this. I believe it would be about a mile long if I completed it hahaha.

    Reply
    • jon
      Apr 19 2011

      Also, remember that it wasn’t Casey who actually reported Caylee missing. It was Cindy. And this was only after Cindy put pressure on Casey to find out where Caylee was. If she hadn’t, I wonder how much more time Casey would have spent “doing her own search” for Caylee before she reported her missing.

      Reply
    • Apr 19 2011

      Hi Shyloh! This is great and it’s given me an idea for my next post!

      Sent from my iPhone

      Reply
      • Apr 19 2011

        I can’t wait to read it Andrea.

  3. Apr 19 2011

    The trial starts at 1:30 EST time..

    Reply
    • Venice
      Apr 19 2011

      When Shyloh?

      Reply
      • Apr 19 2011

        I was talking about this Friday. It starts at 1:30 EST time.

      • Venice
        Apr 19 2011

        There’s a hearing this friday??

      • Apr 19 2011

        Friday is Good Friday – I think the court would be closed, right? I “think” it’s Thursday…. not 100 percent sure, though.

  4. Susan
    Apr 19 2011

    JB and Company seem to want to change as many FL procedures as they can since “death is different” – now they want to redefine “reasonable doubt”.

    I kind of understand some of the Casey “supporters”. After all their “reasonable doubt” seems to include catching the suspect with the murder weapon and an actual, well-defined cause of death. All they see is a young mother and don’t see how she could kill her child. (At least, that is how I consider some them when I am being charitable. Of course, some of them just have logic issues.)

    Me, if you take the currently FL defined reasonable doubt, I would have no trouble convicting CA with my understanding of the facts. I don’t care that you can’t find an actual cause of death – a child’s remains, with duct tape on the head(!), in a bag, in woods just off a road near the primary residence STINKS of foul play. Then you add in a car that was ONLY in the possession of the suspect, several people indicating the smell of death in the car’s trunk, a mother that didn’t mention to ANYONE that the child was missing for a month, a mother that seemed to be living the “Bella Vita” for that month, and then LIES to everyone including LE when questioned – to me that screams guilty.

    Reply
    • Apr 19 2011

      LOL Susan! I’m with you re: the Casey supporters. It seems to me that one of the blogs out there either belongs to the defense, or belongs to someone very close to the defense. I don’t really know, though… just guessing, really.

      And yes, all the circumstantial factors you mention, when taken together, are not in the least bit reasonable.

      Thanks, Susan! :)

      Reply
      • Susan
        Apr 20 2011

        I occasionally drift over to that blog just to see what their take is. Some of the people on that blog seem to have a genuine issue with LE. And, yes, there are many cases where LE over zealously prosecuted and won a conviction against an innocence person. (Hopefully, less now than in the past decades.) There have been too many cases overturned on DNA evidence, recantations and other evidence not to believe that LE can make mistakes. I believe that LE and SAO must be held to high standards.

        However, there are a lot of people on that blog that seem to wear “tin-foil” hats or at least are off their meds.

      • Apr 20 2011

        Absolutely Susan! LE and SAO’s must be held in check, too for fear of an innocent being charged – and God forbid she or he led to their deaths. This is part of the reason why I abhor the DP. Another reason it’s so wrong?Its cruel, and murder for 2 murders to make one murder right makes little sense to me. LWOP is harder for the murderer and it’s cheaper, too.

        Sent from my iPhone

  5. Apr 19 2011

    Shyloh and Susan, good posts. Yea and when you factor in when LE said to Casey when she was lieing to them, ” How is lieing to us gonna help us find your child? Casey says, “It’s Not”. There is a mountain of this stuff on tape Casey says that is incriminating.

    Reply
  6. Apr 19 2011

    The biggest impact the juror’s are going to see is that tiny innocent baby skull with duct taped wraped around the head covering the nose and mouth and even in to Caylee’s hair. That is a picture they will take in their minds and hearts to the jury room and it will way on their hearts heavily.

    Reply
    • Apr 19 2011

      …so true… :cry:

      Reply
    • Apr 19 2011

      Oh knight owl, you are absolutely right! I imagine those poor jurors who have to see that will never ever forget it. I pray that those pictures never get released to the public… seeing that would be devastating………

      Reply
  7. Apr 19 2011

    Hi Andrea. you know what they say, great minds think alike. haha~~

    Reply
    • Apr 19 2011

      Yup! Ain’t that the truth! :) :)

      Reply
  8. Apr 19 2011

    Now, why would a lawyer who is certain of his client’s innocence want to redefine the jury instructions of reasonable doubt? They must not have any evidence of a reasonable doubt or they would gladly want to bring it on!

    Reply
  9. Susan
    Apr 19 2011

    I forgot the “cadaver dogs” hitting on the car trunk. That, in some ways, is more reliable than people’s “opinions” that the car smelled of death since the dogs are TRAINED to detect that odor. Yes, the odor is suppose to be unmistakable, but…

    Reply
  10. Apr 19 2011

    Sherry, Louie and i are waving to you. Your 2:03 comment. Baez has no sense for one and most likely does not even understand what reasonable doubt even means. Your right if these dumbo’s had any evidence of reasonable doubt you know Baez would be screaming it to the rafter’s. Their problem we all know is they have nothing to defend Casey with. Casey sealed that with running her mouth with all her outragious lies she told to LE . Casey imo was pre-planning the murder but didn’t have the sense to plan her escape better, like all criminal’s they forget that part.

    Reply
    • Apr 19 2011

      {wavin’} back atcha! >^.^<

      I've often thought that Casey pre-planned her guilty verdict for as much as she has implicated herself!

      Reply
  11. Apr 19 2011

    Hi Susan, to Baez/Bozo cadaver dogs are junk science too. lol.

    Reply
  12. Apr 19 2011

    If i hear it could have been an accident from Mason one more time i will pull out my hair and be bald when the trial starts. An accident would mean the Mother of the child would eventually no matter how scared of what could happen to her or how much time had lapsed would eventually break down in tears and tell the truth as she couldn’t stand her baby lieing in those woods. I can thank Leonard Padilla for bailing her out of jail for this one reason, Casey spent night after night in the Anthony home knowing her baby was 15 houses down from her rotting in plastic bags, now that would have to get to any Mother that loved her child to make her confesss, so this goes to show just how much Casey hated Caylee. She was merrily baking brownies for her lawyer as well knowing where Caylee was. She told her parents in a jail house tape she couldn’t do anything from where she was (being in jail), but if she could get out she would look for Caylee. She got bailed out but where was she looking for Caylee? In a Duncan Hines brownie mix perhaps.~~

    Reply
  13. CptKD
    Apr 19 2011

    Hello ‘Peeps’!

    Listen, I’m having a total ‘brain-lapse’, and I can’t remember if it was here, or over at Mainstream, that a few of us were discussing the whole ‘pool’ thing, and whether or NOT, little Caylee had been actually IN the pool the day she was visiting at T. Lazarro’s.

    Anyways, I acccidently stumbled on this past report from WFTV that I believe answers the question, that indeed, she WAS playing IN the pool with some “play” dishes she must have brought along.

    The articly was also a bit of a refresher as to how Ms. Inmate Anthony’s friends felt upon hearing the news of little Caylee being missing.

    As well, it also provided some important insight, that will definately be interesting when delivered at trial, about what EXACTLY she WAS doing during those 31 days. At least according to HER FRIENDS!

    All I can say, after reading this – Is

    ” G O O D L U C K “,
    ‘IA’, Baez, Mason, Et al…

    http://www.wftv.com/news/16979873/detail.html

    CptKD

    Reply
  14. CptKD
    Apr 19 2011

    Here it is, in its simplistic form:

    REASONABLE DOUBT

    The level of certainty a juror must have to find a defendant guilty of a crime.

    A real doubt, is based upon reason and common sense after careful and impartial consideration of all the evidence, or lack of evidence, in a case.

    Proof beyond a reasonable doubt, therefore, is proof of such a convincing character that you would be willing to rely, and act upon it, without hesitation in the most important of your own affairs.

    However, and do note, that ‘it’ does NOT mean, nor imply, an “absolute certainty”.

    Reply
    • Apr 19 2011

      Excellent, Captain! thank you for this…. I think what you’ve posted is much easier to understand. What is sometimes scary? Common sense is not so common many times…………

      Reply
      • CptKD
        Apr 20 2011

        Hence, why we are JUDGED by a JURY of our PEERS!

        Myself, I wonder if I’d prefer a “Trial by JUDGE (alone)” or “JUDGE and JURY (Together)”, in this sort of circumstance.

        Being JUDGED by my so-called ‘Peers’, would leave me in a panic of exactly that – SOME people don’t have a shread of COMMON SENSE!

        And it only takes ONE, to really put the ‘squeeze’ on things!

        Out of curiousity – Would that have been an available option to Inmate Anthony?

        Does the American Justice System have these options in Murder Cases?
        Is the fact that this is a CAPITAL MURDER Trial, make it so that she must be JUDGED by a JURY?

        Or could she have chosen a trial by Judge alone?

        Just wondering…

      • Apr 20 2011

        Yes, she could have a judge in place of a jury. If it was me and I was innocent, I would want a judge. The fact is, the jury system has inherent flaws, but there is no better system. Judge in place of jury, in my opinion, could be more fair – especially as it relates to the OJ Simpson debacle.

        Sent from my iPhone

      • Apr 20 2011

        Yes, Casey could have thrown herself on the mercy of the court.

      • Apr 20 2011

        Heehee! Andrea is on the ball! :mrgreen:

      • Apr 20 2011

        LOL! Sherry! Yup… Got the ole phone in hand! TG for the iPhone to keep up with all the news!

        Sent from my iPhone

      • CptKD
        Apr 20 2011

        She sure is!
        Thank you, Andrea.

        I figured so much, but I wasn’t 100% on that one.

        Like yourself, if I was truly NOT GUILTY, I believe my choice would be to go with the JUDGE alone.

        I don’t think I could put my whole life in the hands of 12 members of my community.

        I believe, I’d be HEARD much clearer by one individual, as opposed to 12, with some possibly lacking in COMMON SENSE, or NOT understanding the gravity of the situation!

        As for Inmate Anthony… I believe, we are where we are, because she truly believes that she’s some sort of STAR, and that she really wants the BIG finale.

        Well, let me tell you – She’s going to GET just THAT!
        A big,GRAND FINALE!

        That ends with her spending the rest of her life, rotting away in a Prison cell… Until she dies naturally, or is in fact, sentenced to die, and eventually escorted out of DEATH ROW, and straight to the gurney!
        Just like that!

        Adios!
        Good-bye!

        C’est fini!

  15. artgal16
    Apr 19 2011

    Is it reasonable to believe that a mother can leave with her toddler and reappear 31 days later without her and given an explanation that is believable to anyone on the planet (zanny). Are we now to believe that when a small child unable to leave on their own disappears while in their guardians custody, we cannot find the guardian of that child guilty? Especially when the child turns up in the woods skeletonized? A jury regardless of the instructions is really there to assign blame – Caylee is dead – someone is responsible for her death. So far after three years there is no one else on earth who could have been responsible but Casey. Even to the simple-minded it is not reasonable to believe that anyone else could have killed Caylee. Casey was and is responsbile I dont see how the defense can get around that. We dont even have a coherent explanation from Casey or the defense as to exactly how Caylee came to leave her mothers care
    so that someone else could have killed her. We got the “I dropped off Caylee at Zanny’s aparment story” which was all proven a lie and after that
    nothing. How will the defense explain not just why Casey never reported
    her missing – but how did Caylee leave Casey’s care. Even Linda Baden
    said there was no Zanny. How will the defense explain this?

    Reply
    • Apr 19 2011

      Hey artgal… thank you for your excellent comments. Yes, the defense cannot explain away the things you mention…. there is no way they can, in my opinion. I just pray the jurors keep their wits about them and their sanity during the trial and listen to the evidence – all the evidence, which is so clear – to render a verdict that places the blame squarely where it needs to land.

      Reply

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