I watched Law and Order from this past week just now. On DVR, as I watch almost all of my television. The show ended with something it almost never does - a not guilty verdict.
Law and Order almost always ties things up with a neat, tidy guilty verdict, or a neat, tidy (if strong-armed) guilty plea. That always bothers me. Not just for the legal ramifications or fairness ramifications, but even from a purely television enjoyment perspective. What's the fun if they always win? What fun is it to wait for the verdict if you always know what it will be in advance, and you pretty much always do.
It also bothers me that you never see them display any bit of doubt about the guilty verdicts at the end of the show. Sure, they've changed their minds about guilty verdicts halfway through the show (or even at the beginning of the show) only to then nail someone else with a guilty verdict by the end, but you never see doubt at the end of the show. Now maybe this isn't entirely unreasonable, as that seems to often be the attitude expressed by prosecutors and maybe there is a certain need to feel that way to be able to continue to do that job. But this week, when there was an actual not guilty verdict, and there was clear room for reasonable doubt, you'd have thought at least someone could entertain the possibility that maybe they were wrong and the jury got it right. Even better, from my perspective, would be if they admitted that they thought the defendant did the crime while at the same time conceding that the evidence did not support it beyond a reasonable doubt so, in the end, the jury verdict was right and they agreed with it. Because that would be a great way to really show the standard in action.
You aren't supposed to acquit someone based on finding them innocent. You are supposed to acquit someone because the state did not meet its (on paper) very heavy burden to show beyond all reasonable doubt that they are guilty. I wonder how many juries actually take that to heart and conclude that someone very likely did the crime but that, because of reasonable doubt, vote not guilty. I suspect it is very few, but then I'm just guessing, based on my understanding of human nature. I suspect a jury that would actually be willing to do that would be a jury no prosecutor would ever want to face. But these are just suspicions. It would be interesting if there was actual research on this question. And maybe there is something - if anyone knows of it, I'd be glad to read it.
I enjoy Law and Order. I've watched the show probably since its inception in 1990. I've watched it on reruns. I've watched so many episodes (and there are so many) that I've probably watched many more than once, each time seeing them as if it was the first time due to my lack of memory about the details of the show.
But what I like about the early segments of the show is totally absent from the later ones. In the early segments, you see cops arguing about who might have done the crime, and they disagree. By the end, you see the prosecutors and cops all in agreement, along with the judge and jury. As if they really can know. On top of that, you often see prosecutors doing all sorts of unethical and potentially illegal machinations to get their guilty verdict. For once, I'd like to see them disciplined and the conviction reversed based on that, but then again, maybe it is realistic that this never happens, just like it pretty much never happens in real life.
It would be nice if they showed unethical behavior by police (like testilying) and prosecutors (overcharging and cutting deals that basically deprive a defendant of a trial for nothing) or just the system itself crushing poor defendants, just like in the real world. But I guess it isn't that kind of show. I am thankful that there is such a show out there, Raising the Bar, which just had its first season. That was excellent, though it only began to scratch the surface, and it seemed to pull its punches a lot. Still, it was a great start and it is still on the air for a second season (so I understand), so maybe there is hope for it to pull less punches for season two.
4 years ago