Good Question: When Is The Evidence Good Enough?

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Prosecutors in Florida had a pile of circumstantial evidence that led many to believe that Casey Anthony was guilty of killing her 2-year-old daughter Caylee. However, a jury found her not guilty. So, what kind of evidence is enough?

“She didn’t report her daughter missing for a month. That’s the strongest evidence against her,” said Stephen Simon, a professor at the University of Minnesota School of Law.

But there was no direct evidence: no eyewitness, no confession. Also, there was no real physical circumstantial evidence: no DNA, no fingerprints.

“Circumstantial evidence cases are hard. They require more evidence, they require better evidence because you have to anticipate,” said Simon.

It seems like nearly every big-time trial is full of circumstantial evidence, and that’s not because most cases that are charged are circumstantial.

“About 85 to 87 percent of the cases are resolved by plea, which means, OK, you got the evidence,” said Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman.

“The cases we end up trying are the ones with the longest sentences and the ones with the most circumstantial evidence,” he said, because the ones with the solid, direct evidence end up with plea deals.

According to Freeman, about 65 percent of cases have confessions, so there is direct evidence in those cases.

So, how is a jury to sort things out in a trial with circumstantial evidence?

Some types of circumstantial evidence carry more weight, “Things like a fingerprint, DNA, something that is very, very unique,” said Simon.

“If we have DNA, we don’t usually have a lot of trouble,” echoed Freeman.

So, conviction can be very difficult without unique physical circumstantial evidence.

“The juries are anguishing over their job. They’re so concerned they’re making the right decision,” Simon explained.

And the expectation for direct evidence has gone up, according to Freeman.

“Juries say: Where’s DNA? Where’s blood? Where’s the handwriting analysis? They want that. We work hard to come up with that, because that’s what they’re expecting,” he said.

For a juror, they have to reach one of the highest standards for conviction in the western world: guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

“The jury did their job,” said Simon. “You can’t convict this person because she’s not a nice mom.”

  • userguy

    Circumstantial evidence cases require better evidence because you have to anticipate? Nothing about that makes sense. If you had better evidence, it wouldn’t be circumstantial, and the whole point of evidence is so that you don’t have to anticipate or guess – things that almost certainly lead to reasonable doubt. It’s like Yogi Berra is practicing law now…

    • what is this world coming to?

      You need to skip in a colorful parade man.

    • Jeremy Pettit

      Circumstantial evidence is more like alleged evidence. They couldn’t show how Caylee had died nor if chloroform was actually used. There was no hard evidence of a murder. Very hard to prove anything without a cause of death, similar to trying to prove a murder without a body.

    • Dawn

      One of the problems is to many people today watch CSI and other shows and think that cause of death has to shown and they want DNA or other evidence linking them. I believe in this case DNA would of surely but washed away and if any of DNA was left in the car it would of clearly would of been lost in the heat of the trunk.Not to mention she could of tied to clean it. It was never brought up in trial but the clothes of Casey’s in the car was washed by Cindy Anthony because she said they smelled terrible which could of clearly had evidence on them. Some dont realize the state doesnt have to prove cause of death just that a crime had accured and in this case murder. There was enough evidence in this case in my opinion. A killing is ruled excusable when it is determined that the killer did not act with negligence (which would be a type of manslaughter). Thats why I was personal ly surprised they didnt at least give her that. Even if it was a accident as defense claimed the cover it up by lying and the manner the body was found would still be seen as manslaughter. This jury seen it as all or nothing.

  • Bonaventure

    If Casey was a black girl who fails to report her daughter missing for a month or who goes partying while her daughter is missing or who changes stories everytime she is questioned, the evidence would have been good enough. If this is good to aquit then why was the OJ case any different and why do we still think today OJ did the crime. This is pure fun. God alone knows the truth and the person that took the life of innocent Caylee shall live to asnwer to God and not man

    • billy

      insane in the membrane

    • mll

      OJ is black and the evidence wasn’t good enough to convict him. I’m confused by this comment. At what point was this trial about race. Stop trying to make what happened about something that had nothing to do with the case. Be thankful you live in a country where you have the right to a jury of your peers and that there are men and women overseas dying to protect these rights.

    • JamieinMN

      You’re just a pure racist is all…..

    • Racially motivated

      Bonaventure: If Casey were a black girl she would likely already be in jail using your logic.
      Maybe she too would have stuffed a mink coat in her underwear for three days in jail like your hero Stefanie Moreland who was just convicted.
      You really should be reading books and working on your GED instead of being on the internet.

      • Dawn

        Whether you like to believe it not they have a point. Just as if Casey would of been a male this jury would not of came back with a not guilty verdict. Just because you dont agree doesnt mean you have to insult someone like your so much more educated. Real mature.

  • Michael

    It is a provoking question to ask, but sitting in as a jurist is a more difficult than one would think. The prosecutors and the media would like everyone to believe they had a solid case, but the latter has a responsibility that is never easy when you are talking about circumstantial evidence. The court also sets a guideline for convicting someone and when the jurists are given instructions to that effect, all the evidence must play into the restrictions that have been set forth. Then you need to be able to get 12 other very different styles of people to agree on the verdict. Sounds easy, but it is a daunting, unnerving task that will change the way you view our courts after having been an active member of the club.

    • Drunken Dissed Orderly

      A JURIST is completely different from a JUROR.

      You need to make that distinction here.

  • Benjamin

    she lied, she had a dead body in her trunk, she didn’t report her child missing for a month. I don’t get it? Before DNA people were convicted of murder by trial. Something is wrong with our judicial system. I think technology has evolved in such a way that it is preventing people from making a rational decision. Casey, as a parent was responsible for her child, and she failed as a parent. I don’t think she really cares about anyone but herself. Soon the jurors will see this when she is making tons of money on T.V. shows. And it will effect the jurors for a long time also. Blame it on Casey, and then let her walk free.

  • Disgusted

    It seems to me like the jury wanted to be able to say CA was guilty beyond a shadow of a doubt. But “reasonable doubt” is the measure, and this jury failed.

  • Willow

    I wonder if the prosecution had gone for a lesser charge like manslaughter and life in prison, would the jury have convicted her? The death penalty seemed too problematic on a circumstantial case. To me, I couldn’t put a potentially innocent person to death and live with it when there wasn’t enough evidence to convict her beyond a reasonable doubt, either. That is why I think the the jury voted not guilty, because they sought the death penalty.

    Casey now will either have to live off her fame or get plastic surgery and change her name, because who in their right mind would give her a job after this?

  • Reasonable

    A reasonable person would have convicted her of manslaughter, at a very minimum. I just don’t get it. “Disgusted” said it well; they may have thought they were doing the ‘technically correct’ thing given the circumstantial evidence, but they failed humanity.

  • MominMN

    As sure as the sky is blue, I’m sure that Casey Anthonly murdered her daughter! This jury FAILED, imo there was reasonable doubt to her guilt. I’m SICKENED by this verdict!

    • This is scary

      Mom: Why are you sure ?

      You are sickened which is evidence you are emotionally motivated, but please tell us why you are sure she did it? I’m listening.

  • just sayin

    Well MILLIONS of people all agree she is guilty… Now she’ll just have to walk the rest of her ROTTEN life, with difficulty – as everyone around her will know WHO she is and WHAT she did.

    If there is a God – she will not pass, but good luck out in the world free again.

    • Jim

      Millions of people didn’t spend weeks analyzing the evidence like the jury did, so millions of people don’t really know what they’re talking about.

      There is no god.

      • Drunken Dissed Orderly

        Yeah what total BS for people to say that there is some “god” who is going to punish her after she dies.

        Who gives a rip what happens after she dies? You really think she’s going to be in chains by a lake of fire being whipped and tortured by a goat-legged man with horns and a tail for a million years?

        You really think that, people????

  • Tom

    So the question to these jurors is if you don’t think that Casey killed her daughter then who do they think did?

    • Jim

      I’m sure they have no idea. The jury’s job wasn’t to find justice for the little girl, the jury’s job was to try Casey Anthony.

  • Bubba Gump

    What most of you fail to realize is the burden to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt is on THE STATE. The defense has to prove nothing. With that said, a verdict of not guilty does not mean she did not do it, it means the STATE failed to PROVE to the jury that she did do it. Read that again.

    As for who really did it? That is not up to the jury to decide. That is up to law enforcement to figure out and gather up enough evidence to bring to the prosecutor who then decides not only whether or not to charge the case, but whether or not they can prove it.

    I thank God that we have the judicial system in place that we do, because if the system ran based on what many of the above say and think there would be a whole lot of truly innocent people in prison for crimes they did not commit.

    At the end of the day it is up to the jury to decide of all of the elements of the crime have been proven BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT. After weeks of testimony it only took them 11 hours to ALL decide the state did not prove it. Think about that. 12 people (plus one alternate who has spoken out) heard all of the evidence presented (not what they read or heard on a two minute news recap at the end of the day) and they ALL came to the same conclusion quite quickly. That sends a pretty clear message.

    You anger should be towards the state for over charging a case with junk science and lack of PROOF.

    • shirpa

      Thank god there is still one other person apparently in this state whos not a total f-ing moron. Thank you for having a thought in your head, it makes me sick sometimes to see so many examples of how stupid people in this state are. Your thought process is a refreshing change.

  • Yep

    Society will forever label her a murderer. She will be shouted at and scowled at her whole life. She will 0probably make millions from killing her daughter through movie and book deals to help ease her pain though.

    • Reality check

      YEP: People like you may label her a murderer, no doubt. For the sake of the rational world please don’t confuse your emotionally misguided associates with society.

      • Yep

        Has nothing to do with emotions and everything to do with what was presented at the trial. She clearly did it but because of the way the legal system works here she gets away with it. If she said on national TV today that she killed her daughter and how she did it there isn’t anything they could do about it. You can’t tell me that isn’t messed up.

        • Reality check

          Another emotional response that side steps my point. Clearly did it huh? Who told you that, Nancy Grace? Did she scowl or make a big face to convince you?
          What does you comment about her getting on National TV have to do with my point? Pure emotion friend.

  • red

    what pain? She can go back do what she always wanted to do PARTY and enter most beautiful body contests.

    • Drunken Dissed Orderly

      She is a horse face with back acne as shown in her new tattoo picture. People who are finding this woman attractive probably also think Sarah Jessica Parker is good looking, but she isn’t… Where are your standards, people??

      • red

        I was just saying that she had entered this sort of contest before and yes she is ugy. So is is Sarah

  • JimmyNotGary

    Don’t worry folks, Dexter will take care of it.

  • Skol

    I’l take a stab at that question. Answer: WHEN you’re anywhere else BUT the U.S. Here, “Reasonable Doubt”= “Anything’s Possible”.

  • Jaylee1700

    Her own defense was that Caylee drowned in her and the grandfathers care and that they both covered it up by putting duct tape on her head and throwing her in swamp. The grandfather has denied this. Even so this is Casey’s own defense. If your child dies in your care in a drowning and you don’t call medical to report it. AND have that child evaluated by a medical professional. Isn’t that a crime?? Isn’t then dumping her body in a swamp a crime?? To me is sounds like she is admiting to involuntary manslaughter. This is her story. It is infuriating to me.

  • Bubba Gump


    She was not charged with involuntary manslaughter, or any other crime that would fit the circumstances described. And, the judge gave instructions to the jury that would not allow them to consider a lesser offense that was not charged. They could only consider those offenses charged. That really handcuffs a jury in a serious case such as this will some really sketchy circumstantial evidence.

    Again, the prosecution waaaaaay over reached on this case based on the evidence they had. There were charges they should have considered and that would have likely brought a conviction, although the prison time would not have been that great. They charged this as a capitol murder case with the death penalty. In Florida there have been many cases where the crimes alleged to have been committed were at least as deplorable, or even more so, and the death penalty has not been sought.

    They also tried to use junk science that was laughable at best and that had not been tried anywhere else in the country. In most states it is a huge hurdle to overcome to get in evidence that is not generally accepted in the scientific community as being extremely reliable. Had she been convicted of murder there were all sorts of reason to appeal and her conviction would have likely been overturned.

    In the end a young girl is still dead and we don’t know how she died or who is responsible…beyond a reasonable doubt.

  • Bubba Gump


    Thank you for the kind words. I have always tried to look at things from many angles and use common sense and my vast experience at life when I try to wrap my head around things such as this. IChecking my emotions at the door is sometimes helpful, too. I also know a thing or two about the law.

    Do I think Casey Anthony was a good mother based on what I think the definition of a good mother is? No. Do I think she is one messed up lady with a lot of bagged from her past. Yes. Do I think she had something to do with either the death, or disposing of the body after the fact? Yes. Do I think so beyond a reasonable doubt? No. I too would have found her not guilty based on the evidence presented and the burden of proof the prosecution has (I followed the case quite closely).

    I believe there is way more to the story than we will ever know and it all revolves around the family…and I believe that George Anthony is in this way over his head, but that is just a gut feeling that does not hold water a court of law.

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