Casey Anthony Trial: Competency Hearings, Constitutional Wrangling

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Red Huber / Reuters

Casey Anthony waits in court with her attorneys Cheney Mason (L) and Ann Finnell (R) before the start of her murder trial at the Orange County Courthouse in Orlando, Florida June 27, 2011.

Earlier in Casey Antony’s murder trial, judge Belvin Perry, Jr. extended hearing hours and held sessions on Saturdays, hoping to move the trial along. It was worth a shot.

Murder trials, especially high profile ones, take a long time. The trial of O.J. Simpson, perhaps the biggest legal circus of the last half century, took eight months from opening statements to verdict. And given the attention surrounding Casey Anthony and the Thunderdome scuffles between would-be spectators, it was in everyone’s interest, especially the state of Florida, to get this thing moving.

But hopes for weekend progress were dashed when Anthony’s defense lawyer, Jose Baez, requested that Casey be examined by state psychologists to determine whether she was mentally competent to proceed. On Monday morning, Perry told jurors that “the defendant is competent to continue to proceed,” and that the psychologists’ reports would be filed, but remain under seal.

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And then the latest twist: according to local Orlando media, Ann Finnell, a death penalty specialist, filed a motion for a mistrial based on a recent ruling that Florida’s Capital Sentencing Statue violates the Sixth Amendment, the right to a speedy and public trial, the right to counsel and the right to confront witnesses.

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A week ago, a judge in Miami ruled that the death sentence in a 1991 murder case violated a Supreme Court ruling on the Sixth Amendment because the death penalty is an “enhanced sentence,” requiring “enumerated aggravating factors.” According to the ruling, aggravating factors can include a victim less than 12 years of age and anything the court perceives as heinous, atrocious or cruel.

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Casey Anthony stands trial for killing her two-year-old daughter, which falls well within the age factor, and it’s a safe bet that jurors would see a mother killing her child as heinous, atrocious and cruel. But the law is complex, and Finnell’s motion requests that a new jury be seated, which would require the trial to begin again, as they say, at the very beginning.

It’s unclear how the mistrial motion will proceed. After a short meeting with lawyers, Perry resumed court and Baez called witnesses testifying about the forensic science in the case. A late start, but plenty more to come.

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