These pages are generally above following the likes of the Casey Anthony trial, but now that it’s over, I call to your attention a very wise editorial by Alan Dershowitz in today’s Wall Street Journal in which Professor Dershowitz explains why the result in the trial was correct. The whole is well worth reading, but here is one part I particularly like:

A criminal trial is never about seeking justice for the victim. If it were, there could be only one verdict: guilty. That’s because only one person is on trial in a criminal case, and if that one person is acquitted, then by definition there can be no justice for the victim in that trial.

A criminal trial is neither a whodunit nor a multiple choice test. It is not even a criminal investigation to determine who among various possible suspects might be responsible for a terrible tragedy. In a murder trial, the state, with all of its power, accuses an individual of being the perpetrator of a dastardly act against a victim. The state must prove that accusation by admissible evidence and beyond a reasonable doubt . . . .

This daunting standard finds its roots in the biblical story of Abraham’s argument with God about the sinners of Sodom.

One reason I like this passage is that it takes up an argument I have been pressing recently in these pages, namely, the difference between law and morality. When the question is no longer, What should I do? , but What should we, as a society, do? , and moreover, to answer that question we set up procedures and officials and enforce their decisions, including against people who may disagree with them, all manner of new considerations become relevant. This is why there is, and should be, a big difference between what’s moral and what’s legal. But go read Professor Dershowitz, because he says a lot of smart things on this topic.

Articles by Robert T. Miller


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