The Monitor's View

In Casey Anthony and Dominique Strauss-Kahn cases, lying isn't trivial

Juries are essential to catch lies. Justice relies foremost on honesty. Only then can law enforcement catch rapists and murderers.

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A Florida jury didn’t deliver the verdict against Casey Anthony that many Americans wanted. Instead of finding her guilty of murder, it found only that she had lied to police about her daughter’s disappearance.

The 12 jurors should be given credit, however, for delivering that critical degree of justice. In another current high-profile case – the rape charge against Dominique Strauss-Kahn – a New York grand jury was not able to detect the lies of his accuser about what she was doing after the alleged rape, according to prosecutors.

Lying to law enforcement, whether it be police, a judge, or a jury, should be seen as a very serious offense. Society survives only if people generally trust each other, in daily transactions, but especially in matters of law.

As many lying politicians learn only too late – think Nixon and Watergate, or Bill Clinton and the Lewinsky scandal – a coverup can be worse than the original crime in the public’s eye. That’s especially true in those two cases because a president appoints the US Attorney General.

Truth-telling is the essential ingredient of law enforcement. Without it, criminals could not be convicted. The integrity of the system relies on the integrity of individual witnesses, while it is the job of police, judges, juries, and forensic researchers to detect the lies of a suspected criminal.

In many aspects of life, lying is often excused, even permitted. Who doesn’t forgive the family who sheltered Anne Frank by lying to the Nazis? But in a democracy, the court of justice demands a high moral standard against lying – so high that even celebrities such as Martha Stewart can go to prison for lying on a financial matter.

Public trust of legislators and presidents is so low that we should celebrate when the third branch of government, the courts, can bring out the truth and shatter a lie. Juries are sequestered to ensure they are not tainted while judges are given exalted seats and clothed in special robes to remind us – and them – of their special role as truth detectors. A polygraph machine still doesn’t have as much weight as does a unanimous jury verdict.

Honesty holds its own special power to create a moral, law-abiding society. Those who mislead law enforcement, as Ms. Anthony did, deserve a punishment designed not only to deter them from lying again but to dissuade others from doing so.

Only then can justice be served in the case of other crimes, such as the murder of a child.

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