The "Making a Murder Effect"
Growing up I loved the show Law & Order. Not SVU, not Criminal Intent. I loved the original 90s TV drama. The reason? I liked seeing the two-parts—investigation and prosecution.
Because of this affinity, I find myself asking jurors during voir dire (the process of selecting jurors) what legal drama, if any, they enjoy. The response is mixed. Recently, a juror mentioned the show Philly. Until that point I had never heard of it. I later discovered it was a short-lived series that co-existed with Law & Order, but the premise surrounded a young frazzled criminal defense attorney looking to make a break in the hectic courtroom of Philadelphia.
Without knowing all the reasons Philly did not get a warm reception, I have to believe that the age of Law & Order, Cops, and Unsolved Mysteries made it particularly difficult.
Today, both a prosecutor and a defense attorney will tell you stories of being adversely and unnecessarily setback by the “CSI effect.” This “effect” is essentially that jurors give undue weight to scientific evidence or the lack of scientific evidence. Studies have shown that shows like CSI have likely created this hurdle.
Today there seems to be a growing phenomenon, particularly as shows such as Netflix's Making a Murderer and the hit podcast Serial increase in popularity. On top of these shows, groups like The Innocence Project have touted multiple exonerations based on a fresh view of old cases.
More and more, jurors are skeptical of allegations brought by the State. While this may be dubbed the “Making a Murderer Effect,” I see it as something that should be embraced.
When jurors come in with an eye of skepticism towards the government or law enforcement, it should not be seen as unearned deference towards the accused; rather, it is the reinforcement of the basic legal principle that under the U.S. Constitution those accused of a crime must be proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Any phenomena that gets jurors to embrace this principle is a positive step forward.
In fact, I will list a few additional films that I hope change the public's perspective of the criminal justice system:
1. 13th (Netflix)
2. Into the Abyss (Werner Herzog)
3. The Central Park Five (PBS, Ken Burns)
4. FRONTLINE: Death by Fire (PBS)
5. The Confession Tapes (Netflix)
6. American Experience: The Perfect Crime (PBS)