Some minor moments in life stun you. Today I learned that the moon looks upside down in the southern hemisphere. Having lived in Buenos Aires for almost a year I am embarrassed that I either never noticed or just forgot.
The surprising verdict in the recent Casey Anthony trial got me thinking about what specifically frustrates me about our legal system. I only had a hazy sense of dissatisfaction at first, but after reading an op ed in the Wall Street Journal by Harvard Law School professor Alan Dershowitz, I knew exactly what my core complaint was. In Dershowitz's piece entitled Casey Anthony: The System Worked, he essentially argues that like it or not the system would rather see ten guilty men go free than one innocent person be jailed, and since evidence was weak, the jury did its job by resisting public pressure and producing a verdict they felt was legally right. He goes on to say that, "[A] criminal trial is not a search for truth. Scientists search for truth." And there it was, my greatest complaint about our legal system. The legal system is not scientific, it is wholly satisfied arriving at erroneous judgments, so long as the flawed conclusions reached involved everyone playing by the court's rules. And that's just not right. Why can't we have a legal system that has as its primary mission the discovery of the truth, and the assignment of punishment based on that truth? To my mind this fundamental flaw in the legal system is exactly why the system (the courts on every level up through the Supreme Court) allowed grievous injustices like slavery and segregation to remain "constitutional" for so very long. The courts had no interest in ascertaining whether or not black people were equal to white people and thus deserved equal protection, they were satisfied merely enforcing and interpreting the rules (legal precedents as well as social constructs) they inherited.
A scientific court system which seeks truth above all would presumably operate very differently from a traditional court system. Whereas under the current system Casey Anthony was found "not guilty" and cannot be tried again should new evidence be found (see the law regarding double jeopardy), a court system whose goal was truth would retain the ability to try her again, should significant new evidence be found (or significant new scientific interpretations of old evidence be available). Further, a scientific court system would likely not be restricted to binary verdicts of guilty or not guilty, and likely would allow verdicts that reflect the far more complicated and ambiguous realities of the world. Perhaps in the Casey Anthony trial the jury would have been able to recognize the probability of her guilt while acknowledging the inability to feel entirely satisfied that she was guilty, giving a verdict which simultaneously allowed her to go free while placing serious restrictions on those liberties (such as preventing her from having more kids or being around children).
We experience a world full of the riches that the scientific method has allowed, the ubiquitous Internet, the computer, the various medical miracles that save incalculable lives every day, why do we deny ourselves the application of its wisdom when it comes to the law, and instead accept the capricious fates it offers, full of deception, contradiction, and injustice?