Child Abuse in All Parts of Town: When Will This Reality Finally Be Recoginzed?

Over the past two weeks, there has been a big story out of Texas where a YouTube video was published by the daughter of a Texas judge, showing him beating her (it's graphic and I'm not posting it here, you can read more about this case and all the horrid details here).

Texas Judge William Adams may have had his career destroyed by this video - but he's not going to be charged with child abuse, in all likelihood.  Why not?  The statute of limitations has expired. 

Meanwhile, everyone is talking about the Penn State scandal - where a respected coach has now been charged with child sexual abuse after allegedly preying on young boys for years.  You can read the Grand Jury transcript describing what happened to six victims here.  

Bigger deal in the Penn State scandal is the cover up:  not only did a graduate student who testified that he saw one young boy being sexually abused in the Penn State showers by this coach not go to help the boy, he ends up on the Penn State coaching staff.  Oh, and did he tell anyone about what he saw?  Yes.  He told his dad, and he told head coach Joe Paturno ("JoPa")

So, now the PennState beloved and revered head coach is in a big scandal of his own.  And it's rumored that there's another shoe that's going to drop here, the story is bigger than what's being reported even now - and it's a big, big story already.

Here's my point:  I know from my years as a volunteer working with kids as well as serving as attorney/guardian ad litem in the local CPS Court that the abuse and neglect cases that get dealt with in the system are almost 100% from the lower (lowest) socioeconomic levels of the community.

Once  -- ONCE -- I remember an investigation into child abuse that was in the more affluent part of San Antonio.  What happened?  Zip. 

There are lessons to be learned from the Texas Judge YouTube video and the PennState Scandal.  We need to learn them.

Kids are neglected and abused in all parts of town, but it's still a big taboo in our society to consider this kind of evil exists at higher socioeconomic levels.  Why?  I don't have all the answers here.  Social stigma?  Peer pressure?  Powerful people?  Approval?  Money? 

I don't know all the whys and wherefores.  I do know one thing.

This needs to stop and one good thing that can come from these two news stories is a wake up call that child abuse happens everywhere, not just on the other side of the tracks. 


Texas Border Shootout Near McAllen - and Other Texas-Mexico Border News This Week

News today out of the Texas Valley is the latest shootout at the border.  This time, it's near McAllen and one Texas rancher told reporters he saw men in helicopters shooting other men down on the ground.  Let's hope all that happened on the Mexico side of the Rio Grande.

For local news coverage, read this story in The Monitor.  

Also in the news: the border agents at McAllen's Hidalgo-Reynosa International Bridge popped the trunk of a car going from Texas into Mexico because the driver was acting really nervous when they stopped him (that's routine, there on the bridge).   Looking down into the trunk, the agents saw a young man in handcuffs with duct tape over his mouth.  

The driver has been arrested for kidnapping and the kid (nope, that guy in the trunk wasn't an adult) has been checked out by doctors. 

Third story.  Last week, down in Mathis (which is pretty close to Corpus Christi and not really a border town at all) on a Farm to Market Road (FM 666 -- spooky, right?) a shiny Lincoln SUV was cruising along when it was spotted by U.S. Border Patrol and signaled to pull over.  Choosing instead to speed off, the Lincoln didn't stop -- and the 20 year old Mexican national who was driving didn't stop for a Border Patrol agent who stood in the road trying to flag him down. 

The kid, only 20 years old, was seen as a threat to that agent and the agent shot him - the guy in the road shooting the guy behind the wheel, killing him. 

Lots of agencies are investigating this incident -- the FBI, Homeland Security, etc. -- and it's not clear what if anything was in the SUV that day. 


Child Abuse Caught on YouTube Video of Texas Judge Beating Daughter: Child Abuse Doesn't Just Exist In the Poor Sections of Town

From my years working as an attorney/guardian ad litem down at the Bexar County CPS Children's Court, I learned that lots of folk are caring and concerned, but they just don't want to think about kids getting abused or neglected so they ... well ... don't.

Which is why Hillary Adams not only videotaping her father, Aransas County Judge at Law William Adams, beating her with a belt, but having the courage to put that video on YouTube is not only courageous but important.

Because no matter how disturbing that video may be -- and yes, it is graphic and disturbing and horrible -- it's important for people to be aware that child abuse is a very real problem in this country.

And it's not just happening in the poor sections of town.  It's happening everywhere.  Like here, in the home of a prominent local family in Rockport, Texas.

I'm not embedding the video here on my blog, because it is so ugly.  While I thought not doing might in some way be a disservice to Hillary Adams, there is the concern of protecting minors from this stuff.  

Mind you, this teenager was born with cerebral palsy and she's in trouble for downloading stuff off the web in violation of copyright laws.  Yep, illegal music downloads ... something that may be against the law, true, but something that teenagers are prey to doing all the time.

Right now, this story is breaking.  Corpus Christi TV is reporting that a criminal investigation has begun; that the Aransas County Courthouse is getting death threats against Judge Adams, and that Judge Adams has confirmed to the media that he is the man in the video.

This is a very bad thing, what is on this video.  However, if Hillary Adams' experiences can serve to enlighten people to the realities of child abuse exisiting in all socioeconomic levels, then good can come of this.


Herman Cain, Politico, and the Sexual Harassment Claims Story Continuum

Right now, I assume you've heard about the Politico story about two women who settled sexual harassment claims involving Herman Cain, and got some kind of payment in exchange for not pursuing the matter further and for keeping their mouths shut about the whole thing in the future.

It's causing a lot of controversy. 

Here's the thing:  first of all, I'm betting we are all going to know the gory details sooner or later, confidentiality agreement or not.

Second, after the facts are known, I am not at all sure that this will mark the end of  Herman Cain.  Some think it will (or that it should).  

Maybe it will if the facts are analogous to the case of Judge Samuel Kent.  I don't know that it will if the facts are analogous to those of Justice Clarence Thomas.

Justice Thomas survived those televised hearings with Anita Hill’s testimony about the Diet Coke, among other things. Sure, some sordid details.

Didn't matter.

However, it was a different story for federal district judge Samuel Kent once all the facts came to light in his case.   There was testimony of years of aggressive sexual misconduct on the part of Judge Kent provided by two of his female employees to the House Judiciary Committee as part of his impeachment hearings (there was a criminal proceeding in Texas, too). 

Former Judge Kent sits in home confinement right now, after serving all but three months of his 33 month sentence in a federal jail cell -- far far away from where Justice Thomas sits today up in Washington.

Bottom line:  IMHO, if the Cain story is closer to Kent than to Thomas, and that story is revealed to the public, then I agree, he’s a goner.    However, right now, with just the Politico story … I don’t think Herman Cain’s campaign is doomed.  At all. 


DNA in the Amanda Knox Case: Experts Refute DNA Evidence Successfully

Wired has a great article today detailing the problems found in the DNA evidence presented by the prosecution in the Amanda Knox murder trial, written by John Timmer for Ars Technica and entitled, "Courtroom Science Drama: The Saga of Amanda Knox’s DNA."  

One of their experts is Dr. Lawrence Koblinsky of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.  You may have seen him on TV.

Point being that the DNA evidence used in the Knox trial not only served as a major tool for the prosecution to have Amanda Knox found guilty of murder, it was also a key factor used by her defense team on appeal to achieve her release.  Arguments post-conviction included not only that Italian law enforcement may have compromised the DNA evidence during their investigation, but also that DNA evidence found on the murder weapon (a knife) was miniscule and irrevocably tainted in the attempt to amplify that tiny amount into something bigger and therefore, easier to analyze. 

My prediction: the Amanda Knox case will serve to publicize the weaknesses in DNA evidence and more criminal defense attorneys - both at trial and on appeal - not only will spend more time and effort challenging DNA evidence, the likelihood is increasing that their efforts will be worthwhile. 

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DNA Evidence Can Be Faked - So Why Do We Continue to Consider DNA Infallible?

DNA is easier to fake than fingerprints at a crime scene, according to scientific experts, and this is something that's been public knowledge for several years now.  Read the 2009 article in the New York Times, for example; written by Andrew Pollack, entitled "DNA Evidence Can Be Fabricated, Scientists Show," it's got lots of details.  Or go peruse the research paper written by Dr. Daniel Frumkin in Genetics, a source mentioned by Pollack in his coverage. 

Why Don't We Know That DNA Evidence Is Not 100% Trustworthy?

No one talks about this much, and I wonder how many people really know that we cannot trust DNA just because they do it on TV.  Heck, in one Law and Order: Special Victims Unit episode, even the TV cops found out that the DNA in their case had been faked.  (If you're interested in watching, that was episode 9 of season 11, entitled "Perverted." Watch it here.)

Faking someone's DNA is easy to do, and it doesn't take all that much skill or education.
  Apparently, all an evildoer would need is the saliva sample of one person - which they could get off a tossed coffee cup or drinking straw or fork or spoon (well, you get the idea), or from a hair sample, again something that could be pulled from the trash.  Then, through a process called "whole genome amplification," the evildoer can create fake DNA samples of that person which evildoers, being what they are - evil doing - could use to cause all sorts of mayhem. 

But that's not the whole story.  It's even easier that this for the sinister scientist who wants to fake someone's DNA.  If they don't have that tossed coffee cup or hair from a comb, no problem.  DNA can also be faked if they can get access to the person's DNA profile, stored somewhere in a computer database.  They can cook up some fake DNA using the info on the database as their recipe.

So, why aren't we being told about this?  We all need to know that DNA isn't infallible, that we shouldn't automatically trust DNA evidence. 

Why?  Well, I'm just as concerned about overzealous prosecutors as I am about outlaws taking advantage of this opportunity.  Seems to me that it is only by greater public awareness that this can happen (and that questionable DNA evidence can be tested to see if it has been faked) that an evildoer trying to plant DNA evidence for sinister purposes can be thwarted. 


Troy Davis and Judge Moore: What Was the Evidence in this Case?

Troy Davis was executed by the State of Georgia, despite all the controversy surrounding whether or not this man was innocent of killing a police officer, long ago, in the parking lot of a fast food restaurant.  Since the execution, I've read all sorts of stuff on the web about this case - from Ann Coulter to Alec Baldwin - and it's left me wondering: okay, what WAS the evidence in this case?

Earlier, I posted what I understood to be accurate - that the majority of the eyewitnesses had recanted and that there was no physical evidence presented by the prosecution at the trial where Troy Davis was convicted.  Was this true?  (No.)

Also, I wrote that the United States Supreme Court had done something very unusual when they sent the case down for an evidentiary hearing before a district court judge (Judge William Moore of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Georgia, Savannah Division).  As I recall, this was the first time that the High Court had done this in around 50 years.  The federal trial court judge would serve as a fact-finder, grading the papers of that Georgia jury. 

Interesting - a single federal judge given the opportunity to overturn a state jury.  Think about that, it's a big deal. 

So, after pondering all this, I went to the very long opinion that Judge Moore issued in that unusual hearing, and I have posted it at Google Docs for anyone who wants to read it (it's almost 150 pages, and it appears in two parts):

Judge Moore's Opinion re Troy Davis Part One;
Judge Moore's Opinion re Troy Davis Part Two.

The evidence that was considered in the Troy Davis case is presented at the beginning of this opinion.  After that, an analysis of that evidence under a "clear and convincing" standard is given; a standard not as stringent as that of "beyond a reasonable doubt," as discussed on page 80 of the Pattern Jury Instructions of the Eleventh Circuit.  (Judge Moore spends significant word count explaining the burden of proof he believes applies in his determinations.)

Bottom line, it is this opinion that I think everyone should be reading before they consider the words of political commentators - Judge Moore obviously wrote this opinion with the expectation that many eyes would be reading and reviewing his work. 

  • Was there physical evidence?  He discusses shell casings found at the scene of the crime.
  • Why wasn't he swayed by the eyewitnesses who recanted?  He goes into detail, witness by witness, regarding what they said then and now.

Did the State of Georgia execute an innocent man?  I don't know.  I do know that I learned something from this opinion and I wish I had read it, in all its details, long ago instead of reading a lot of the other stuff out there on this case. 


Institute of Medicine Report Sketches Basic Insurance Package: Can Americans Afford $458/Month in Individual Premiums?

Media reports, like the article published today by the Associated Press entitled "Feds to design health insurance for the masses," are giving various takes on the new 300-page report released by the Institute of Medicine.

You can read the full report online, for free, at the Institute of Medicine's website (or buy a copy for yourself).  The report, Essential Health Benefits" Balancing Coverage and Costs (2011), has been compiled by independent experts with the goal of providing a framework for the Obama Administration on how to create a basic benefits package that covers "essentials" and yet remains affordable.

The cost?  At the low end, they are talking $5500 (high end is $7000) in annual premiums for individual coverage.  Take the lowest figure, $5500, divide it by 12, and you've got a monthly premium (for an individual, not a family) of $458.00.

This week, there was another big news story:  48.5% of the American population received some type of help from the federal government in the months of January through March 2010 according to the latest Census.  That's right at HALF of the American households, a year and a half ago. 

CNN points out that 46,000,000 Americans live below the poverty line and that employment is right around 9% right now.  CNN's Jack Cafferty writes, "Here’s my question to you: How long can we go on with almost half of Americans living in households that get government assistance?"

So here's what I'm wondering:  Can Americans afford $458/individual premium added to their monthly budgets each month?  (No, according to these other numbers, Americans cannot make this payment.) 

Before we even get to the constitutional issues or the political finger-pointing, shouldn't this be the first question?  


Twitter, Facebook, Google Information Share With Government As Well As Advertisers: Just So You Know

In a recent article written by Georgina Prodhan for Reuters, "Internet firms co-opted for surveillance: experts," there's lots of information regarding the number of eyes that are reading and accessing e-mail and online social media sites for their own reasons.  Seems that at the Internet Governance Forum held in Nairobi last month, the growing interest of law enforcement in monitoring personal information on the web was discussed. 

Today in America, there is no cohesive federal law that protects information that is placed upon the Internet in the same way that federal laws protect things like telephone conversations, where longstanding privacy regulations govern wire-tapping access.  What you say on your phone is protected; type it into Twitter, and it's not.  Same sentence, two different venues.  And your favorite internet sites keep all your stuff going back at least two years. 

Privacy really took a back seat after 9-11.  The Patriot Act (amended in 2006) not only expanded the types of records available to government scrutiny, but it made it a lot faster and easier for the government to jump privacy hurdles with things like subpoenas and search warrants.  For more on the Patriot Act, check out information collected by the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Electronic Privacy Information Center.

The Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) (18 USC § 2511) is on the books, but it's a swiss cheese statute, filled with exceptions to privacy and still very much open to interpretation by the various federal appellate courts.  Check out the discussion of its weaknesses at PrivacyRights.Org, where they point out such things as: 

  • Your Internet Service Provider (think Time Warner or AT&T) can turn over private emails to the government if one of the parties to the emails gives their okay, and the other party does not get notice of this.  Sender or receiver: if either one gives the ISP their okey dokey on the release of the communications, then the emails will be disclosed. 
  • Your employer is free to read whatever is found in the company e-mail.  Send from your business email, you do not have an expectation of privacy. 

Law Enforcement Using Internet Intel More and More:  It's Incredibly Cheap and Easy to Monitor Google, Yahoo, Facebook, etc.

According to the Reuters article, there's a cost benefit here,too.  Seems that a police officer can sit at his/her desk and monitor Microsoft information as well as Facebook data at no cost (since these two powerhouses will provide their information about an individual for free, upon request).  It's extremely cheap to get the info from Google, too:  Google is reportedly charging $25 (Yahoo, $20). 

Sounds good if they are looking for child pornography, illegal gambling sites, or terrorist activities right?  However, what if they're not? 

Protecting Your Privacy on the Internet Is Your Job:  Privacy Laws Do Not Exist to Do This For You

Can you -- or should you -- consider that anything you put out there on the web is private?  Maybe, maybe not.  For suggestions on how to protect yourself on the web, consider the suggestions made at PrivacyRights.org in their Fact Sheet 18: Online Privacy - Using the Internet Safely.   Here, suggestions are given on protecting yourself and your family in your electronic mail communications, as well as internet browsing, online banking, online shopping and bill pay, as well as social media communications (Twitter, Facebook, etc.). 

Image:  By Joyson Noel at en.wikipedia [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons this is a photograph taken by an agent for the Federal Bureau of Investigation of Albanian-American mobster, Alex Rudaj,outside Jimbo's Bar in Astoria, Queens, New York, on April 15, 2003.


Psalm 46: Read what President Obama Recited

 President Obama read from the Psalms as part of the ten year commemoration of 9-11 this week: holy scripture to Jew, Muslim, and Christian alike.  Here it is from my Bible (I took out the numbering for easier reading, it's just in there for organizational purposes).

Title: God Is Our Fortress  
Directions: To the choirmaster. Of the Sons of Korah. According to Alamoth.1 A Song. 

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah 

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns. The nations rage, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts. The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah 

Come, behold the works of the Lord, how he has brought desolations on the earth. He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear; the burns the chariots with fire. “Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!”  The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah


Read the Juror Questionaire in Dr. Conrad Murray Criminal Trial Re Death of Michael Jackson

Looks like we've got another case where there may be so much media coverage that the danger of a trial by media exists. Celebrity sites are following this one, and misinformation is being provided (for example, there is no charge in this criminal trial of the civil tort of gross negligence). 

Whether or not Dr. Conrad Murray committed a crime in the death of Michael Jackson is going to trial over in California this month, and right now the parties and the judge are involved in the jury selection process.

Like the Casey Anthony trial earlier this year, state prosecutors will have the burden of establishing beyond a reasonable doubt; here, the key issue is whether or not the doctor is criminally responsible for the death of Michael Jackson.   Dr. Murray is charged under California state law with involuntary manslaughter and he could face 4 years in prison and the loss of his medical license if convicted.  (Read the complaint in full online here.

For more information on the crime of "involuntary manslaughter" as it will be given to the jury in the formal jury instructions, go here for details and also consider the following:
However, evidence of imperfect self-defense may support a finding of involuntary manslaughter, where the evidence demonstrates the absence of (as opposed to the negation of) the elements of malice. (People v. Blakeley (2000) 23 Cal.4th 82, 91 [96 Cal.Rptr.2d 451, 999 P.2d 675] [discussing dissenting opinion of Mosk, J.].) In such a situation, the court should also instruct the jury in involuntary manslaughter.

Given the outcome of the Anthony case, and the scrutiny that those jurors still undergo today both in the international media and from the American public at large, it's no surprise that the California case has focused upon who jury selection -- however, this questionnaire is considered by many to be unusually piercing in its investigation into the individuals that will take on the role of juror.  Don't expect to see this kind of thing the next time that you're called for jury duty. 

Who would have created this questionnaire?  It would be approved by the judge after conferring with the prosecution and defense.  They, in turn, will probably have conferred with their jury selection consultants on the issues to be addressed in the questioning.   It's 30 pages long and filled with lots and lots of interesting queries (read it here): 

Click on Image for Full Text


Great Overview of the Foreclosure Fraud Mess by Florida Atty General's Office

A detailed spreadsheet that gives a great overview of how all this foreclosure fraud mess happened, with concrete examples, was prepared by June M. Clarkson, Theresa B. Edwards, and Rene D. Harrod of the Economic Crimes Division of the Office of the Florida Attorney General.  It's being used in court cases in other states, successfully, in foreclosure fraud lawsuits. 

This visual report, “Unfair, Deceptive, and Unconscionable Acts in Foreclosure Cases,” is easy enough to follow even without any accompanying discussion and I particularly like it for the screenshots it provides of the actual documents involved.  For example, you can see how there were so many different handwriting signatures for "Linda Green," because they give you screenshots of several of them.

It's really quite impressive, and all the more interesting given that two of these assistant attorneys general were later fired from their jobs.  Of course, there's talk that these firings were politically motivated and right now, there's an investigation into their being let go.

Meanwhile, here's their report for you to consider for yourself:

Click on the image to review the full document.



Full Text of Balanced Budget Amendment Bill - S.J.Res. 10 With Latest Updates: House Votes Next Week

Below is the full text of the bill proposing that the federal government have a balanced budget.  Maybe you, like me, think it's a good idea to read this thing. 

What is a balanced budget amendment? 

Balanced budget amendments are not new, a federal version has been debated for years -- and all but three of the states have their own version of a balanced budget requirement, imposed either by constitution or by statute (the three that do not are Wyoming, North Dakota, and Alaska according to the Austin American Statesman). 

In sum, these balanced budget laws (or amendments) state that the government cannot spend more than it takes in; in this proposal, each year the President would have to provide a proposed budget to Congress (who has the purse-strings) that demonstrated no plan for the feds to spend more than the federal income. 

The 2011 Balanced Budget Amendment - Details

For more information on the current proposed bill for a Balanced Budget Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, read through the links provided here by Thomas.gov

Note that this proposal not only seeks a Balanced Budget but it also establishes caps on spending at 18% Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and it fights against an increase in federal taxes by requiring an overwhelming Congressional vote approving any tax hike.

Shown below is the version of the bill that was accurate as of the date of this post (you can download a pdf from the Government Printing Office here). 

The House of Representatives will vote on this bill during the week of July 18, 2011.  If the House approves this bill, then the next step will be to send the proposed amendment to the 50 states for their ratification: 

1st Session
S. J. RES. 10

Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of the United States relative to balancing the budget.

March 31, 2011



Interview of Psychologist Who Examined Casey Anthony for Mental Illness Including Personality Disorders

In tandem with today's Guest Post, thought I'd add this short post, too, as it regarding the same topic: questions regarding psychological issues that have arisen during the Casey Anthony trial coverage.

Here is the link to the five minute interview by Nancy Grace of William Weitz Ph.D. who was brought in by the defense back in 2009 to evaluate Casey Anthony and his discussion as a psychologist of those findings, including sociopathy as well as various personality disorders:


Psych Today's Dr. Karyl McBride Answers Your Casey Anthony Trial Questions

As promised, guest blogger Dr. Karyl McBride answers your questions today regarding some of the psychological issues that have arisen during the course of the Casey Anthony trial.

Dr. McBride is the author of Will I Ever Be Good Enough? Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers, published by Simon and Schuster and available as either a paperback or e-book. She will be hosting her annual workshop (for therapists and narcissist survivors) this fall at the Inverness Hotel in Denver, Colorado on October 7 - 9, 2011 (details here), the "Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers Workshop."

You may listen to her recent interviews regarding the Casey Anthony trial at her website, which include (1) June 9, 2011 - HLN's "In Session" with Mike Galanos and (2) June 20, 2011 - HLN's "Issues With Jane Velez Mitchell." 

For more details on Dr. McBride's background and expertise, please review the biographic details provided in my earlier post.  What follows are Dr. McBride's answers to the questions sent to her, which were culled from both Backseat Lawyer comments as well as emails that I received regarding psychological questions/concerns.

Question:  In families with a narcissist, what other mental illnesses are found - aren’t they all ill from living with the narcissist and being controlled by him? 

Dr. McBride:  Narcissistic families are a dysfunction all to themselves. There are unique and insidious factors to the family that looks good on the outside, but has emotionally harming behaviors and reactions happening on the inside, in the dark, and behind closed doors. The cornerstone to maternal narcissism is the inability to love unconditionally and a lack of empathy.

Narcissistic parents do not tune in to the emotional world of their children. Instead, everything is all about them...the parents. The children are there to meet the needs of the parents. There are many ramifications to the children... so many, I could write a book about it! Ha! See book details at www.nevergoodenough.com . The most damaging to the children is growing up with nagging self doubt and a feeling of not being good enough.

Question:  What is the difference between a narcissist and a sociopath and a psychopath?

Dr. McBride:  Not all narcissists are sociopaths or psychopaths of course. But most sociopaths and psychopaths are also narcissists. How confusing is that, eh? Psychopaths can't form human attachment, have a lack of empathy, masked by an inability to appear normal. They have no remorse and these are the people with a criminal mind who do bad...really bad things.

Sociopaths are people with social behavior that is extremely abnormal and they are interested only in their own personal needs and desires without concern for the effects of their behavior on others. They can also be criminals.

There is an interaction between genetic predisposition and environmental factors much like addiction in sociopaths and psychopaths, but it is thought that psychopaths leans more towards heredity while sociopaths lean more towards environment.

I don't think there is enough research out there to confirm. The debate continues on nature versus nurture. What makes it even more confusing is that trauma effects the brain.

Question:  Is being a liar or a gambler sometimes a born trait? 

Dr. McBride:  Addictive personalities have a predisposition but turning into a gambler is mostly related to environmental factors. Lying is a learned behavior in my opinion. Can you imagine looking at a new born baby and knowing that this precious little one is sure to be a liar. It doesn't make much sense to me.

Question:  How can a mother not cry about her missing child but go bar hopping and being in “Hot Body” contests? 

Dr. McBride:  Oh, talking about Casey Anthony here? I do not believe we know all the details of this case. See my Psychology Today post on the family dynamics theories. I always worried that Casey's behaviors were trauma related and best explained in that way. I still wonder why the litigation did not bring forth more psychological testimony or assessment.

Question:  I would like to know if it does not seem strange that there has never been any comments from friends or relatives of the Anthony family... except Casey's fly by night 'friends' who we've seen in court. Why no one else is sitting in the courtroom with George and Cindy for support. Where are the siblings of George and Cindy? Or neighbors or parents of Lee or Casey's childhood friends, teachers – anyone who can say something about what life was like in the Anthony household? 

Dr. McBride:  This is such an interesting point! In narcissistic families, there are few friends. Narcissists don't make emotional connections with people. We don't know if this family had narcissistic dynamics, but if there were, this all makes a whole lot of sense to me.

Additionally, the family members of narcissistic families are rarely close and connected. They were not taught to be close, but rather pitted against each other in competitive ways. Ughhh!

Question:  Do narcissists kill? Isn’t that what makes the difference between a narcissist and a sociopath like Ted Bundy? 

Dr. McBride:  Many people have narcissistic traits and we could never say that narcissists kill.

Question:  Is Lee Anthony the scapegoat in this dysfunctional family? 

Dr. McBride:  Again, good question and thought. We don't know anything for sure. But, with the dynamics we saw and then looking at narcissistic family dynamics, it looked that way.

Question:  What about Cindy Anthony? No one talks about her but she lies too and there’s something not right about her. It can’t be just one mentally ill person in that house. What if Cindy is a maternal narcissist? 

Dr. McBride:  I don't want to diagnose anyone without knowing them. We can only do hypotheticals. But the mother-daughter strained relationship makes sense if we have a narcissistic family and an incest family. The engulfing behavior of the mom in this family makes more sense too.

Question:  How do we know if we are working with a narcissist? I think I know someone just like Casey! 

Dr. McBride:  A narcissist is someone who exploits others, has no empathy or interest in others, is all about themselves, can be grandiose, haughty, arrogant, has a sense of entitlement and is jealous of others or thinks others are jealous of them. I think one way to tell is if they are able to give and take and do reciprocity or if it is always about them when they invest in something. The biggest key, however, is that lack of empathy.

Question:  Can narcissists change? Could Casey Anthony have been helped if she was in therapy long ago or she unreachable?

Dr. McBride:  We don't know if Casey was or is a narcissist. Narcissism is a spectrum disorder and one can have traits without being a full-blown NPD. I think it is very difficult to assess what went wrong in this case and with Casey.

I can make a case for the defense though when I look at all the dynamics. If so, then Casey does not look like she appeared on television. Hard to explain, but if you read the blog post on Psychology Today it will make more sense.

I don't believe in diagnosing people we don't know, so please understand that my postings here and on my blog are using the case to educate about dysfunctional families and not to take a stance or diagnose this family. There is much here that we will never know or understand because there are too many unknowns, secrets and lies.


Casey Anthony Book Deal: With Her Deposition in the Zenaida Gonzalez Case, How Much Is Left to Sell to a Publisher?

The real Zeniada Gonzalez filed her civil lawsuit against Casey Anthony back in September 2008. Last week, Ms. Gonzalez's lawyer, John Morgan, lost no time after the infamous Not Guilty verdict in the murder trial -- he promptly served Casey Anthony with a subpoena to have her deposition taken in Zeniada's civil suit.

Unless there is an agreed-upon delay, the deposition is scheduled to take place in Mr. Morgan's Orlando law offices on July 19, 2011.

Zenaida is suing for defamation, seeking damages for the harm she has experienced after her name was used as "Zanny the Nanny" - something that Casey Anthony admitted in her criminal case was a total fabrication.

That deposition will be transcribed by a court reporter. Maybe it will be videotaped. Casey Anthony will be sworn in - just as if she was taking the witness stand in a courtroom - and everything she says will be part of this civil defamation suit.

So, here's my question: with that big fat deposition coming down, how much will be left for any book deal? The deposition will be public record, it's the taking of testimony in a court case, and unless there's a gag order it will only be a matter of time till the depo will be online for anyone interested to read.

Add that to the fact that double jeopardy has attached, and Casey Anthony cannot take the Fifth on any question that might tend to incriminate her in Caylee's death (she cannot be tried twice for that crime), and that deposition testimony should be pretty interesting.

if it's acceptable under Florida law and Florida ethical rules, as well as the court reporter (in Texas, court reporters are paid for extra copies), maybe Zenaida would consider placing that deposition transcript for a small price on Amazon - and let the proceeds go to an appropriate charity that would honor Caylee. If that's okay to the Court, the Bar, etc. and I don't know that it is (maybe it could be if there was a Court Order in place that gave the okey-dokey).

I'm not sure that this flies, but I like the idea of sales of Casey's words going to honoring Caylee Marie.


Child Advocates Are Needed - Would You Be a Good Advocate for a Child Involved in an Abuse or Neglect Case?

Child Advocates are trained volunteers appointed by the courts to champion children who have been removed from their parents' home because of allegations of abuse and/or neglect. 

These kids range in age from toddlers to teens about to "age out" of the system and they are placed in any number of caretaking locations:  in group homes, in foster care, in orphanages, in special treatment facilities.  Each has his or her own unique history, personality, etc. - but I haven't met a child in a CPS case yet that wasn't scared, worried, and in need of loving support.

Child Advocates visit the kids, building rapport and relationship, bonding with them.  They also attend meetings with the attorneys, case workers, therapists, parents, and the like - and they appear in court at the counsel table (here in Bexar County, CASA volunteers set in the chair next to the child's attorney(s)), giving their own reports and recommendations to the judge.

It is a proactive, important job and there aren't enough people taking on this responsibility.  A good Child Advocate can really change a kid's life -- I've seen it happen on more than one occasion.  Child Advocates make a difference. 

I think that some of the readers here on Backseat Lawyer have left comments that suggest they would be great Child Advocates -- and that they might just be interested in getting involved.  If so, I leave these links with you for more information and  please feel free to contact me if you have any questions:

National CASA
CASA - San Antonio


Casey Anthony - What Happens Now?

Well, the Casey Anthony jury verdict was returned today and yes, I'm surprised that the jury found Not Guilty on all the felonies.  From the news coverage, I'm right there with the majority of the country: there's even media alerts on the large, growing number of celebrities who are tweeting their shock at this result.  

A copy of the complete jury charge is here (not the verdict, I'm sure that will be uploaded to the web shortly). It's this that the jury had with them in the jury room to guide them in their decision-making, together with the exhibits and their recollection or notes of witness testimony. 

Reading through the counts within that charge, I understand that the jurors did not find a sufficient connection in the "act" or "criminal act" to find beyond a reasonable doubt that Casey Anthony was guilty of that particular crime.   And I understand that their perspective is different from the judge, the defense, the prosecutor (as I've posted about earlier). 

The jury did the right thing: if they did not think that the State of Florida provided evidence beyond a reasonable doubt that there was guilt, then "not guilty" was where they should have come down.  

It's not like the jury voted that she is innocent of her daughter's death.  Not guilty and innocent are two different things. 

In my view, this didn't have anything to do with Jose Baez's antics but dealt solely with the prosecution's evidence, which was almost entirely circumstantial in its attempts to connect the mother to the crime.  No DNA, etc. was a big problem for them - apparently, an insurmountable one. 

I'm sure that we'll hear interviews and probably read books written by some of these jurors, giving us more details than we really need on the why and the how of their deliberations and their decision.   I imagine some of those deals are being ironed out while I type this.

Speaking of book deals and things, I imagine that Casey Anthony will financially benefit from these events.  I imagine that Jose Baez and his team are making deals for books and movies and all sorts of things.  Maybe Cindy is going to write a book, too.  Heck, maybe River Cruz will be on Amazon in time for Christmas.

What I'm interested in watching now is how the public is reacting to this surprise verdict, and how disrespect has grown for our system of justice; how a trial by media does impact a case; and I'm also concerned about some fool seeking vengeance on behalf of Caylee - because I fear that there are those out there that are that incensed that Casey Anthony will walk free. 

Finally, today reminds me of one of the reasons that I stopped working the Children's Court.  Without revealing details, I can share that I was involved in a case where a prostitute had her children taken from her by CPS and she fought long and hard to get those kids back.  She earned the respect of everyone in the case, and we all believed that she had taken this life event as an opportunity to change her life: to have an apartment with ivy growing in the kitchen window, a regular job, her kids in school, her own car and a normal family life.

Her family was reunited and the case was closed.  Everyone - the attorneys, the therapists, the ad litems, the case workers, the judge - counted this case as a victory.  Victories aren't seen too often in Children's Court.  We all took this case to heart because so many of the CPS cases are so sad - we all needed this to remember that sometimes things do work out well. 

Then, about a year later, we were told that this woman had been arrested in another state, high on drugs and she had almost killed her youngest child.  She didn't fight the charges, and she'll spend the rest of her days behind bars.

Today, I think about that case and that pretty little girl who was about the same age as Caylee when she was almost killed by her mother and I remember the lesson from that case. 

It's not always over when the judge closes the case.  The justice system isn't omnipotent nor omnipresent and its power is intentionally limited.  Life continues after the lawsuit is done.

I worry that this tragedy isn't over with, and I hope and pray that I'm wrong. It just seems in my gut that there's another shoe that's going to drop, and I'm hoping this is just my personal reaction based upon that old CPS case. 


Is Casey Anthony Crazy? The Legal Issue of Mental Incompetency and the Defense of Insanity

The Casey Anthony trial continues to do its excellent job of educating the American public on nuances in the legalities that apply to us all - and of which many citizens are not aware.   This weekend, there was the review of Casey Anthony's mental condition after the defense moved on Saturday morning for psychological evaluations of their client.

Seems that two forensic psychologists and one psychiatrist spent time with Casey Anthony over the weekend, and this morning, based upon their opinions, the trial continues.  She wasn't found mentally incompetent by the experts.  Sure enough, all the talking heads are spending the day discussing incompetency - not only the circumstances of why and when this happened in the Casey Anthony trial, as well as what "incompetency" means overall.

Incompetency is an Issue Many of Us With Face at Some Point

It's difficult for the law to draw lines on where an individual has a mental illness or deficiency sufficient for the courts to intervene in their freedoms.  And judges are asked to makes these calls every day - legal incompetency is an issue that millions of Americans have had to face - either from themselves, or for loved ones.

Personally, I've seen the difficulties of a probate judge determining whether or not an elderly person needs to have a guardian of the person or a guardian of their estate, or both -- particularly when that elder does not want someone else making personal care decisions or taking control over their finances.  Legally incompetent ruling, and that elder loses their control over their lives and/or their money. 

I've also seen the state seeking to terminate the parental rights of a parent for their child because the parent is mentally incapable of caring for a child.  Testing is done, opinions are given and then, no matter how much that parent loves their baby, their right to parent is legally ended. 

And, yes the government can do that.  Being a mother or father isn't an absolute right: the government can take your child from you.

Hopefully, there's a family member who steps in, taking on the role of parent.  If not, that child goes into foster care because the court has found that it's in the best interests of that child to be with foster parent caretakers than their mentally incompetent bio parent. 

Being mentally unable at a sufficient level to take care of yourself or another person usually means that it's obvious.  Elderly parents with dementia need guardianships.  Paranoid schizophrenic mothers may need help to care for their babies. 

Sometimes, it's a close call and there may be an expert fight in a courtroom, because experts disagree on the competency of someone.  Those are the hard cases for the judges, when the experts don't jive on the psychological status of the individual. 

So, if Casey Anthony seems strange because she is so stoic at the defense table and then something bizarre happened on Friday (who knows what), then it was the right call for the attorneys to get evaluations of her mental competency.  Here, the question is whether or not Casey Anthony is competent to assist her attorneys in her defense. 

Maybe she had a psychotic break, maybe something else happened.  It was their duty to do so - and it was the judge's duty to stop everything until that issue of competency was resolved. 

Their issue would be akin to one where a probate judge was being asked for a guardianship: is she legally competent? 

Here in Texas, the Court of Criminal Appeals has explained why her legally competency is important - it involves not only (1) the right to effective counsel, but also to (2) the right to due process as well as (3) the right to be present at her criminal trial, all federal constitutional protections:

The requirement that a criminal defendant be competent to consult with counsel is not based only on the right to the assistance of counsel. Another right is the presumption of innocence, which is guarantied by the Due Process Clause.22 Requiring that a criminal defendant be competent to be tried preserves the presumption of innocence by ensuring that a criminal defendant can help the defense attorney defend the client.23 A defendant must be able to assist trial counsel because often the defendant possesses the only information that may cast doubt on the State’s case. If a defendant is incompetent, we cannot be sure that the defendant can communicate to counsel the facts necessary to mount an effective defense. It also has been said that the requirement of competence is a byproduct of the rule requiring that a defendant be present at trial, since a trial of an incompetent defendant is virtually a trial in absentia.24 The right to be present is largely based on the Confrontation Clause, although it also has a due process component.25

Legal Insanity is a Legal Defense to a Criminal Charge

Mentally incompetency is not the same as being legally insane.  Legal insanity is a defense to a criminal charge that's defined by the state law. Here is how it's defined under Florida law:

775.027  Insanity defense.

(1)  AFFIRMATIVE DEFENSE.--All persons are presumed to be sane. It is an affirmative defense to a criminal prosecution that, at the time of the commission of the acts constituting the offense, the defendant was insane. Insanity is established when:
(a)  The defendant had a mental infirmity, disease, or defect; and
(b)  Because of this condition, the defendant:
1.  Did not know what he or she was doing or its consequences; or
2.  Although the defendant knew what he or she was doing and its consequences, the defendant did not know that what he or she was doing was wrong.

Mental infirmity, disease, or defect does not constitute a defense of insanity except as provided in this subsection.
(2)  BURDEN OF PROOF.--The defendant has the burden of proving the defense of insanity by clear and convincing evidence.

Casey Anthony has not asserted the affirmative defense of legal insanity.  FYI, prosecutor Jeff Ashton participated in the creation of the Jury Instructions for Legal Insanity as approved by the Florida Supreme Court.


Warehousing Does Happen in Discovery, But It Didn't Happen to Jose Baez

Back in the day, I practiced law during the "Rambo" years - aggressive, litigious days in commercial business litigation where it was pretty much expected that if you went up against some law firms, you were going to be "warehouseed" in discovery.

Which meant that you would be given access to relevant documents in response to your discovery request, and when you went to their offices to review and flag their originals for photocopying, there would be boxes and boxes and boxes -- maybe even rooms and rooms and rooms filled with boxes and boxes and boxes - and you and your paralegal would be left there, with your stickies, to do what you thought best. 

Sometimes, we'd call for the cavalry and have lots of helping hands arrive to comb through everything.  Other times, we'd have an idea of things we were looking for, and we could pick through all those documents with some savvy.

Then, there were times we walked out and took it to a judge, moving to compel and maybe for sanctions. 

It's no different with a hard drive.  Even a personal home computer's hard drive can be compared to producing rooms filled with boxes filled with documents.  You can warehouse with a hard drive.

And with his "phone book" analogy, Jose Baez was arguing this morning that he's been warehoused,  He just didn't use the lingo. 

Problem is: he wasn't.  As the judge pointed out, he didn't just have the hard drive.  He was given target dates that were of interest.  That is like the attorneys on the opposite side of one of my complex business litigation cases saying, yes - here's access to everything, and by the by, we're targeting X and Y if you want to look there. 

Judge Perry has a lot more patience than I do. 


Psych Today's Dr. Karyl McBride Will Answer Casey Anthony Trial Questions as Guest Blogger Here at Backseat Lawyer

Dr. Karyl McBride has graciously accepted my invitation to be a guest blogger here at Backseat Lawyer, to answer questions dealing with the Casey Anthony trial that are best addressed by someone with her level of psychological education and expertise.

Dr. McBride's blogs at Psychology Today's web site at The Legacy of Distorted Love, as well as at her website Will I Ever Be Good Enough? and she will be appearing tonight on Issues With Jane Velez Mitchell.

To read her some of her takes on the Casey Anthony case thus far, check out her posts "Lying is Part of the Fascination of the Casey Anthony Trial," and "Why Are We So Fascinated by the Casey Anthony Trial."

Send Your Questions for Dr. Karyl McBride In Comments or E-Mail Now

I will be sending Dr. McBride a list of questions culled from reader comments and emails that I have received since the beginning of the Casey Anthony trial.

If you wish to have your question answered as part of Dr. McBride's guest article(s), then please send it to me as soon as possible, either in the comments below or by email (reba at rebakennedy DOT com). Dr. McBride's first QnA post will appear within the week, and we are discussing additional guest posts here, as well.

Who is Dr. Karyl McBride?

Dr. Karyl McBride is the author of Will I Ever Be Good Enough?: Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers which has received 4.5 stars in over 75 reviews at Amazon.com. 

Her work focuses upon the study of narcissism and its impact within families, particularly the offspring of narcissists.  Each year, she hosts a national conference and workshop (20 hour CEU letter available for therapists) where her respected five-step healing model for daughters of narcissistic mothers can work toward full recovery and the re-defining of self/finding one's authentic self. 

This year's Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers workshop will be held at the Inverness Hotel in Denver, Colorado on October 7 -9, 2011.

From her website:  Dr. Karyl McBride has been in private and public practice for almost 30 years, based in Denver, Colorado, where she specializes in treating clients with dysfunctional family issues. For the past 17, Dr. McBride has been involved in private research concerning children of narcissistic parents, with a primary focus on women raised by narcissistic mothers. She has treated many adult children of narcissistic parents in her private practice.

She holds a B.A. from the University of Wyoming in elementary and special education, an M.A. from the University of Northern Colorado in counseling psychology, an Educational Specialist graduate degree from the University of Northern Colorado in school psychology, and a Ph.D. from The Union Institute in clinical psychology.

Dr. McBride has extensive clinical experience in the fields of trauma, sexual abuse, domestic violence, divorce and step family therapy, marital and family therapy, specialized trauma treatment in Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR), and individual adjustment issues related to anxiety, depression, and life transitions.  She does forensic consulting and has served as an expert witness in numerous civil and criminal cases involving children and sexual abuse;  has 9 years experience conducting sexual abuse investigations with law enforcement; and she has conducted training for law enforcement in the area of sexual abuse investigations.

Thanks in advance to Dr. McBride and to all of you!!

Jose Baez - Sanctions, Contempt of Court, and Bar Discipline - Judge Perry Warns Jose Baez and Jeff Ashton of All Three: What Are They?

Jose Baez was sanctioned by Judge Perry earlier this year, and today Perry warned from the bench that he'll be considering contempt of court as well as additional sanctions after the trial has concluded ... and by mentioning the Florida Bar, he's brought up the possibility of a grievance being filed against Mr. Baez, too. 

Sure, the prosecution got pulled into the "gamesmanship" warning from the bench, but I doubt many attorneys are thinking that Jeff Ashton is facing serious consequences here: it's pretty clear that Jose Baez is in trouble, and here's why and what it's based upon.  (Not including Baez's lack of experience and not being a death-qualified attorney in Florida).

First, consider where the trial stands.   

Counting jury selection, the Casey Anthony trial has been going on for over a month and here we are, on a Monday morning in the middle of the defense's case, and there's no court this afternoon.  No evidence for a sequestered jury again today, after losing time on Saturday as well. 

The defense has blown up a trial calendar that had been proceeding along on its tracks very efficiently.  This is because the defense experts are being asked on the stand about things that go outside their areas of expertise as well as outside their reports.  Experts are allowed to provide opinion to the factfinder within set boundaries. 

During the discovery process, each side learns of the opposition's testifying experts - what they know, what they've been given and told, and what they are going to tell the jury on the stand and in their written reports. 

This is basic advocacy, no big surprises here that the judge is upset that these basic boundaries are being disrespected and that he's making these warnings from the bench.   He's trying to get control of that calendar back, get the trial proceeding as it should be. 

Second, What's Going On: Hiding the Ball.   

So when the defense experts start flopping over into areas outside their designation and their reports it mucks up the efficiency of things -- and it's not fair.  Just as Judge Perry explained on Saturday, it's playing "gotcha." 

Sure, state attorneys are being pulled into the "game" because they didn't depose these experts - but depositions cost money for one thing, and secondly, if the opinion looks pretty clear - then why spend that time and money?  You are supposed to be able to depend upon the opposing side to abide by standard procedure. 

Baez's accusing Ashton of gamesmanship because the state didn't depose these experts demonstrates an attitude of a bad lawyer:  this is not "catch me if you can."  The State of Florida wants to convict and execute a young woman. 

There is no situation I can think of where it would be more important to make sure all i's are be dotted and t's are be crossed.  In other words, the idea that Ashton is sneaky because he did not depose an expert to make sure that the defense wasn't hiding a ball that isn't supposed to be hidden under established standards of Florida law is ludricrous. 

For example, when Ashton learned that the expert that performed the second autopsy and would be taking the stand to challenge Dr. G's findings was the same man who took the stand in the Phil Spector trial to give his opinion that the dead woman had gone to Spector's house to kill herself, you can imagine that Ashton kinda had a good idea what Werner Spitz was gonna say on the stand. That, and a ONE PAGE expert report.

Did Ashton need to depose the guy?  Did Ashton think "hired gun"?  I know I did. 

What Can Happen to Jose Baez?  Baez faces three different avenues of punishment or discipline.  

Jose Baez is in danger of being disciplined or punished from three different directions:  (1) Florida procedural rules that allow for attorney and party sanctions; (2) Florida criminal law for contempt of court; and (3) Florida State Bar disciplinary procedings where his license to practice law will be at risk of reprimand, suspension, or disbarment.

1.  Sanctions Under Florida Procedure Rules. 

Judge Perry has already sanctioned Mr. Baez once for discovery abuse back in January 2011, ordering him to pay a little over $500 in fines for Baez's intentional disrespect and violation of a discovery order, when Baez was ordered by the court to turn over to the state attorneys details regarding his expert witnesses' testimony, so the state could prepare to depose them.  Under the Florida Rules of Criminal Procedure, Judge Perry could find another willful violation by Jose Baez at trial, and order him under this rule to pay more in sanction fines.


2.  Crime of Contempt of Court For Violation of Court Order. 

Anytime anyone violates a court order, then they are acting in contempt of the court and can be arrested, brought before the bench, and punished with fines and jail time.  Personally, I've only seen one judge mad enough to impose contempt fines and threaten punishment, and that was for a juror that decided not to come to court one day.  Bad mistake. 

Under Florida law, could Mr. Baez be ordered to appear before Judge Perry to show cause why he should not be found in contempt of court for violation of a court order after he's already been sanctioned for discovery abuse, and if he can't prove why he's not at fault, Baez could be ordered to spend some time in jail and pay some money as the fine is defined under Florida contempt laws. 

3.  Florida Bar Discipline - Bar License at Risk. 

Law licenses are not property rights; they are privileges (there's U.S. Supreme Court law on this, if you're interested).   Grievances, or complaints, can be filed with the Florida State Bar regarding an attorney's actions and the agency will then investigate those allegations.  In worst case scenarios, lawyers have been disbarred - losing their licenses to practice law because of their bad acts. 

Lesser punishments are being suspended from practicing law for a set period of time, or being reprimanded - publicly or privately denounced for doing something wrong.  The criteria for deciding what those sanctions will be can be reviewed here, in the Florida Bar's adopted version of the ABA standards for bar sanctioning of lawyers.


It's Never a Good Sign When the Jurors Are Falling Asleep On You

You're giving a presentation at work.   Or, you're in front of a classroom filled with 100s of people, reading your short story.  You're teaching Sunday School.  Heck, you're teaching anything, anywhere to a group of people.

Imagine the message you're receiving if members of the audience, say 30% of them, have fallen asleep while you're talking.  What are you going to think?

Well, presenting your case in a courtroom isn't that different from these other situations.  Although what is at stake is much, much different. 

Lawyer in trial are always monitoring what the jurors are doing.  Are they taking notes?  Are they looking at my client?  If they are, what's on their faces: scowls, smiles, concerned brows?  If they're not, then where are they looking?  Are they avoiding my client?

Some jury behavior is good.  Smiles are good.  Some jury behavior is bad.  Never looking at your client is seen by many attorneys as a signal that things are going very badly for their side. 

However, having a third of the jury (which is what I've heard is happening during the defense's presentation, 4 jurors are snoozing) sleeping during your presentation of evidence is really a big, and bad, deal. 

Sure, this is technical forensic stuff.  However, the jury wasn't sleeping during the same kind of evidence during the prosecution's presentation.  I don't think this can be blamed on dull evidence coming in .....


Different Ways of Looking at the Casey Anthony Trial - Not Guilty Standard

Reading through all the comments left here over the past week regarding the Casey Anthony trial (and thanks again to everyone who has taken the time to leave a comment, it's appreciated), I've been thinking about how different perspectives can be taken on what we are all watching unfold.

There's the viewpoint of the truthseeker: what really happened here? 

Everything gets pondered, and personal recollections and experiences are mined for information that will help explain how this crime could have happened, and why. To be honest, that's me. Maybe you, too. 

But that's not necessarily what anyone's role is there in the courtroom.

First, there's the perspective of the defense attorney. 

This focus is upon getting their client acquitted - and if not freed, then with the least amount of punishment possible.  That's the defense attorney's job.  To defend. 

Second, there's the prosecutor's focus. 

The state attorney is compiling evidence and presenting it to the jury and placing it in the record in order to meet the elements of the crimes contained within the charge (see earlier post on what the state has to prove, and with what Casey has been charged.)  Enough evidence has to be presented to meet the burden of proof - beyond a reasonable doubt.  Not all evidence will be placed before the jury (for example, I'm not hearing anything about how Casey was arrested under an overpass while she was changing cars and possibility trying to run away).  When they rest their case, they should set down thinking "we have given the jury everything they will need when they get those jury instructions, to tie law to facts and come back with the verdict we want."

Third, there's the judge.  

He's protecting the law as it is presented to him.  No objection made to a piece of evidence and he knows it should have been?  He must set there and let the attorney make the error.  Expert provided that he thinks isn't the best choice?  Not his call.  If the law and the precedent has been met, then he must follow state law.  Is the law being followed as the attorneys do their job?  Then the judge is doing his.

Fourth, the jury.  

They are to take what has been presented to them and deliberate with the instructions that have been given to them (hasn't happened yet) to decide whether or not the state has met the burden of proof for "guilty" on the charges they've been given.  They are not deciding innocence. 

No one in that courtroom is considering innocence - they are considering the standard of "not guilty." 

Here's why that is very important to all of us. 

The crux of this proceeding, as any criminal proceeding, is whether or not the government will be allowed to take a citizen and throw them in a cell, denying them freedom for a period of time.  In this case, the government is going one step further:  the State of Florida is asking that the citizen be killed by an executor for the crime that the state is alleging has been committed.

Freedom, life: it's one of the truly great things about our American system of justice that we fight so hard to protect these things.  Not every country does, and we read about that every day.

So, when we are all watching the Casey Anthony trial, I for one want that prosecution to be strong in its case and I want the defense to be stellar in its challenge.  It's not because of Casey Anthony, though it's her life on the line -- it's because I respect the system and what it means to all of us.

Now, as the state is preparing to rest, I'm waiting to see what the defense is going to pull out of its hat.  Mr. Baez and his co-counsel knew the evidence before it came in, so all this "drowned in the pool" and "body was moved" has to have some sort of basis they'll try to present.  Will this sway the perspective of "not guilty" here?

I don't know yet.  But "not guilty" is all that the defense has to meet -- and that's another way of saying, here's enough doubt to keep you from jumping the reasonableness hurdle.


Casey Anthony Trial Obsession - Why This May Be a Good Thing

Is the country obsessed with the Casey Anthony trial?  Maybe.  TIME magazine thinks so. 

These days, little else besides the Casey Anthony trial appears to be covered on HLN, and other evening news or news feature/talk shows appear to be devoting quite a bit of coverage to this one case in Orlando, Florida.  

I admit to watching more television than usual these past two weeks, and I'm sure that I'll stick with my pattern through to the verdict.  Part of my pondering this whole thing is asking myself why I feel the need to stick with it: it's not like I don't have a gazillion other things to do.  You too, am I right?

However, I don't think that having so many Americans watching the Casey Anthony trial is a bad thing.  In fact, I think it is a good thing for several reasons, including:

1.  Viewers Are Learning How Trials Really Work - Which Helps Lawyers in Future Cases

Trial lawyers have to deal with clients, jurors, witnesses - heck, sometimes even experts - that expect courtroom proceedings to happen just like they've seen them on television.  The attorney's biggest concern is that a jury does not perceive his or her case as weak just because someone looking remarkably like Laurence Fishburne or David Caruso or Marg Helgenberger isn't taking the stand to describe how this fancy dancy lab gizmo can reveal who shot JR in thirty seconds flat. 

Or, that the lawyers aren't numbskulls because they need more than the single file folder you see oh-so-many lawyers bring into the courtroom (and then they don't even open the folder to look inside!).  Oh, oh, oh - and the perfect hair and makeup and wardrobe!  TV lawyers never, ever reflect the reality of real courtroom work.  Trial lawyers work all night getting ready to perform the next day; by that second or third week, no one has perfect hair (or maybe even mascara) at that point. 

So, to the extent that discussions are being had over "junk science" and viewers are watching how cumbersome those objections can be in the Casey Anthony trial and how many paper is really involved, good.  It helps the real lawyers out there - and justice, too.  (I won't discuss the blond attorney's hair, but I think she's doing a fine job of keeping up appearances with everything else on her plate.  Isn't she still wearing heels?  Geez Louise, that's impressive.)

2.  Viewers are Finding Out Why Death Penalty Cases Cost So Much

There is lots of chat right now not only about how much is Jose Baez getting paid (or not), but also about how much the State of Florida is going to have for a final tab in this case.  Viewers are learning the right to counsel that is constitutionally guaranteed to anyone who can prove themselves indigent means that these cases have the government (read that "the taxpayer") footing the bill for work done by both sides as well as all their expenses.  Now, those fees and expenses are monitored (in Florida, it's by the JAC) and the legal fees are far from what a similarly situated criminal defense attorney would get in a private-pay case. 

Still, one of the main challenges to the death penalty in the country today (think California) is the simple fact that it costs so darn much.  In the Casey Anthony trial, viewers are seeing how this works -- and they will soon see, assuming that there is a guilty verdict, how a death penalty case is really two trials in sequential order.  The penalty phase will have its own evidence (witnesses, testimony) as the state puts on its aggravating factors and the defense, its mitigating circumstances, as the decision of whether or not the sentence should be death at the hands of the state is determined. 

So, it's good that viewers are learning the finances of indigent defense, particularly involving the death penalty.

3. Viewers Are Learning About Parents Who Don't Love Their Kids Like People Assume They Do

Right now, I don't think there is enough information out there about mothers who are not automatically loving and kind and protective of their offspring.  Casey Anthony is viewed as something unique, still - and whether or not viewers think she's innocent or a monster, it's still discussion revolving around this one young woman.  I have hopes, though, that this will change.

In my years down at the Children's Court, I saw all too often that mothers (and fathers) are not blessed with an inate need or drive to protect, love, or nurture their children.  Frankly, it was a reality that slammed me in the face, seeing child after child, each beautiful and unique in their own way, discarded or disrespected or victimized in other ways by their BioMom or BioDad.  The mothers really got me - choosing drugs, men, or just their freedom over their babies. 

It happens a lot more than most Americans want to think about: it's easier to think about children starving in Africa or orphaned in Tahiti than it is to consider the overwhelming number of unloved, abused, and neglected kids here in our own backyards.  Here in San Antonio, there are only enough child advocates (via CASA) to assign to 1/3 of the children who have been removed from their parent's care.  That means 67% of the local kids don't have an advocate (they do have a lawyer and a caseworker). 

I hope that the Casey Anthony trial, somehow, sheds a light on damaged mothers - and the children they leave behind.  That, I think, would be the best thing to result from the Casey Anthony trial obsession.


Casey Anthony Trial - Who's On That Jury?

The Orlando Sentinel has a great reference for who is on the Casey Anthony jury, entitled "Bios of the Casey Anthony Jury."

It's a slide show, and appears to be a transcription of notes taken by the Sentinel's reporter during jury selection.  Their identities are being protected until they are released from jury duty - but once they're released, we'll know lots about them.  Remember the OJ Trial?


Circumstantial Evidence vs Direct Evidence

Can we trust circumstantial evidence?  Sure we can.  And we do.  Rather than use my own words to explain why, I'll leave it to the United States Supreme Court in the landmark case, Holland v. U.S., 348 U.S. 121, 140, 99 L. Ed. 150, 75 S. Ct. 127 (1954):

Circumstantial evidence in this respect is intrinsically no different from testimonial evidence. Admittedly, circumstantial evidence may in some cases point to a wholly incorrect result. Yet this is equally true of testimonial evidence. In both instances, a jury is asked to weigh the chances that the evidence correctly points to guilt against the possibility of inaccuracy or ambiguous inference. In both, the jury must use its experience with people and events in weighing the probabilities. If the jury is convinced beyond a reasonable doubt, we can require no more.

For Those That Distrust Circumstantial Evidence, Direct Evidence Isn't That Reliable

There are those that may argue that direct evidence, especially in a murder case, should be the only evidence used to convict.  However, in our imperfect world there usually isn't much direct evidence in most crimes -- and the direct evidence that may be had might not be the most reliable.

Eyewitness testimony is notoriously unreliable, for example - and you can't get more direct that a witness glaring at a defense table, pointing his finger and crying out, "he did it!" 

Meanwhile, the slow and tedious introduction of pieces of circumstantial evidence, as time consuming as it might be, can provide a clear picture of the truth - I like to think of it as a "Lite-Brite" of sorts.  Remember Lite-Brites?  They were toys were white lights were hidden by thick black paper on a screen, and you had oodles of plastic buttons, or pegs, that you pushed one at a time into that black nothingness until an image emerged. 

Perhaps those that distrust circumstantial evidence are more concerned, really, with the burden of proof that the State in a criminal case must meet in order to prove their case.  Twelve jurors must use what they have (from Holland, their "experience with people and events") and determine if there is any reasonable doubt left that the defendant did the crime alleged.

Doubt can remain.  It just cannot be a reasonable doubt. And logical reasoning can occur in that jury room.  If it walks like a duck, and it talks like a duck, you can infer it's a duck.  

Some Believe That Circumstantial Evidence is More Reliable That Direct Evidence

Note:  In fact, there are those in the criminal arena that find circumstantial evidence to be more reliable than direct evidence (especially when we're talking eyewitnesses).   If you are interested in learning more on that issue, I've downloaded Professor Heller's excellent article on this subject, "The Cognitive Psychology of Circumstantial Evidence," 105 Michigan Law Review (2006) at Google Docs.

The University of Michigan Law School is one of the most prestigious law schools in the country, and coming from UT Law, another top tier law school, maybe I should have found a UT Law Review article -- but I like Heller's article here and I think you will, too.