Was justice served in Casey Anthony case?
Published: Sunday, July 10, 2011
Updated: Sunday, July 10, 2011 15:07
Shock and awe summarized the sentiments of my co-workers, half of whom were stuffed into one room, as they listened to the verdict in the Casey Anthony trial. I too could feel anger and disappointment welling up inside of me because of the decision.
Eventually, however, this anger turned into a question that, on the face of it, is absurd, but upon further reflection, is immensely interesting and important: was Anthony's acquittal necessarily unjust?
This question is interesting even if we assume that Anthony was guilty. The answer hinges on what we mean when we say "unjust." This, of course, raises a timeless question: what is justice? This "simple" question has perplexed philosophers for ages, and being a student of philosophy, I'm naturally interested in such questions.
This question is not just for those who have their heads stuck in the clouds. It is a question for legal and medical experts and for entrepreneurs and their employees, all of whom must determine what is just from their own unique perspective. It is also a question for citizens of a nation that fought for its independence because its motherland was "deaf to the voice of justice," and for human beings everywhere who recognize their dignity. This is a question for you and me.
So, let's ask: what is justice? To attempt to settle this question in this brief opinion piece would kind of be like trying to find parking in Garage B at noon during the first week of UCF's fall semester, but we can at least examine two answers to the question. One view is often called the "retributive view" of justice. Another view is often referred to as the "rehabilitationist view." I suspect that if the second view is correct, then it is possible that Anthony's acquittal could be just, but I am getting ahead of myself. Let's unpack what these views entail first.
We have all heard this before: an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. This is basically the retributive view of justice. In this view, justice is about satisfying lex talionis, "the law of retaliation." If you kill a member of society, society kills you. On this view, Anthony's acquittal wasn't just because, if she did kill her daughter Caylee, she did not "pay the penalty" for her actions. Since this view is so common, many readers at this point might say, "There! Question answered. I should be pissed about Casey's situation."
But wait, is lex talionis really a good idea? Do we really think that if, for example, a criminal rapes someone, that the criminal should be raped? Should a torturer be tortured? American University professor of philosophy Jeffrey Reiman, by the way, made this point in "Justice, Civilization and the Death Penalty." It's unlikely that we actually think that these punishments are good ideas, so perhaps justice isn't as simple as we thought. This point certainly does not spell doom for any (modified) retributive theory, but it may make us wonder if there is another way of looking at justice.
The gist of the rehabilitationist view is this: exercising justice is about making us just individuals. Sometimes it's necessary that we punish individuals in order for them to become just. Think, for example, about a parent disciplining a child. A child may be placed in time-out if he or she takes a toy from another child. This act is intended to teach the child not to unjustly take from others. In the rehabilitationist view, then, punishing criminals out of justice works the same way as punishing a child to teach them proper behavior.
I am not sure which of these views is correct, but now I am finally in a position to say what I've wanted to say all along: If the rehabilitationist view of justice is correct, and if Anthony has become a just person through her experiences in jail and in court, then perhaps we can find justice in her acquittal. It is tempting to think she is an egotistical moral monster, and there is no chance that these events had any influence on her.
But I am almost certain that we do not know this for certain. We do not have eyes that can peer with perfect perspicacity into a person's psyche. Only time will tell, but I, for one, would much rather hope that justice has been served, and Anthony has been transformed into a better human being than to let those initial feelings of anger and disappointment prevail.