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.

Casey Anthony Trial Defense Costs - How Much the State of Florida Has to Pay

Judge Perry, in a public hearing last year, approved the court clerk's determination that Casey Anthony was legally indigent.  By being declared "indigent" under the law, Casey would become eligible for her legal expenses to be paid by the State of Florida.  However, the defense did not request that her attorneys' fees be paid out of the state's pocket according to the media sources I reviewed today.  (Good summary provided by CBS News.)

One year later, according to Orlando's WESH-TV, the defense had spent $80,000 and was asking for more.  (Story here.)

That was back in March.  Who knows what the total is today. 

Two thoughts here:  first, death penalty cases are expensive to try.  You've got a guilt phase and if the defense loses there, then you've got a penalty phase - where death is debated.  Sentencing is a new ball game and there are different witnesses, etc. and with that a new set of expenses. 

Second, another good thing coming from the Casey Anthony coverage is the education of the American public on what it means, budget-wise, when an indigent is facing the death penalty.  The taxpayers are paying for BOTH SIDES of the case -- attorneys' fees and legal costs.  The fact that Baez isn't being paid by the State of Florida here, nor his death-qualified co-counsel, shouldn't be considered as what usually happens.

Some states try and cut these costs with Public Defender Offices, some have appointment lists of outside, private attorneys who are eligible to defend death penalty cases.  Either way, it's tax money.

The Psychology of Casey Anthony - I've Invited a Psychologist to Post

I want to understand what is going on with Casey Anthony and her family, and I know that several readers have written, voicing similar interests.  So, I've sent an invitation to an expert in narcissism and asked for a guest post.

Hopefully, we'll have that input by Friday evening - if not, I'll send out another invite to an expert in narcissism or sociopathy, etc. and (fingers crossed) either way, we'll have an expert giving us details on this issue.

Personally, I pondered on this issue a couple of years back, as fodder for character studies in my personal writing and I posted about this at my fiction writing blog (here).

For me, I don't believe that Casey can be considered without looking at her family, particularly her mother.  There's something sad and bad about their relationship - but I'll wait to hear what the psychologist has to reveal about all this.

Reading one reader's comment here - Anonymous on June 5th to Who Is Jose Baez? post - I think she may know more than the rest of us about the family dynamic in that house, e.g., that Casey became a liar as a means of escaping the overwhelming power and control of her mother.  That makes sense to me.  

One other thing:  I wish that I could look at Casey Anthony and consider the possibility of a mother killing her child as a bizarre, unique instance - but I can't.  One of the biggest shocks that I had when I worked the local CPS Docket was the parents, particularly the mothers.  There were some that were blind to their children, they did not care.  I learned that a maternal instinct is not a given in humans.  Some chose drugs, true.  Some, however, just did not love those babies - and "blind" is the closest I can get right now to describing their lack of perception.