As the lawyers prepared for final arguments in the capital murder trial of Casey Anthony, Orange County Chief Judge Belvin Perry Jr. hit the defense with a major ruling barring them from making a key argument to the jury: that Casey had been sexually abused. Perry ruled that there was no evidence to support the allegation and therefore defense counsel Jose Baez would be prevented from even mentioning it in his closing.
Baez has been criticized for some of his actions in the trial, including his suggestion that Casey was abused by her brother, Lee, and her father. This was the critical lynchpin in Baez’s explanation of Casey’s odd behavior after the disappearance of Caylee.
Baez said in his opening statement that Casey Anthony’s brother, Lee Anthony, abused her, but “it didn’t go as far” as the abuse by her father. However, Perry ruled that there are “no facts in evidence or reasonable inferences that can be drawn … that either Mr. George Anthony or Mr. Lee Anthony molested or attempted to molest Ms. Anthony.”
I agree with the view that Baez was unable to show any evidence of such abuse. Indeed, I thought the argument was pretty weak and counterproductive. However, there is a broader question of the increasing limitations imposed by judges on criminal defendants. The failure to show such evidence tends to destroy your credibility with the jury and the prosecutors are able to show the jury that the defense failed to deliver as promised. The concern with these rulings is that judges are increasingly tailoring cases to bar arguments that were once left to the jury to weigh. With the recent changes in states like Michigan to allow judges to summarize evidence, this trend raises serious concerns over the influence and bias of judges. When such arguments are barred, it is very difficult to deal with the issue on appeal since courts rule that the defense cannot show that the argument would have clearly produced a different outcome if allowed. In this case, the defense was allowed to raise the allegations in the opening statement but was then barred from directly discussing it in the closing, including an explanation of how the evidence supports the claim. Indeed, I would think that the prosecution would want to stomp on the issue in light of the failure to back up the allegations.
This is a trial for the life of Casey Anthony and the prior view was that she should be allowed to make her own case. I tend to favor this view, though I find this a difficult question in this case due to the lack of evidence and the failure of Anthony to take the stand. I think that there is a good-faith basis for the ruling in light of the utter failure to present evidence to support the claim. Yet, if this is her view, shouldn’t she be allowed to voice it to the jury? I can understand and support the court barring some arguments that are racist or discriminatory, but when does a court do too far in preventing a person from stating her case to a jury of her peers?
What do you think?