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.