Steven Avery's case aside, the Netflix documentary exposes just how corrupt our justice system can be
No matter what kind of water cooler you congregate around these days, proverbial or otherwise, it is very likely that you have at least heard of the ten-episode documentary from Netflix called Making A Murderer. The very stylish and well-made film is broken down into ten segments, each roughly an hour long.
Making A Murderer begins by focusing on the release of Steven Avery from prison after nearly two decades for a crime he didn’t commit. Convicted of raping and assaulting a woman who was running along the beach, Avery was finally able to come home after DNA evidence proved his innocence. Not too long after Avery gets his life back into some semblance of order, he is arrested again, this time charged with a new, and very brutal murder.
This documentary is some good television. The story telling is first rate. But this isn’t meant to be a review of the series. It’s an indictment of our judicial system and how it is decidedly slanted in favor of the rich and educated among us. If and when you get the opportunity to watch the show, it becomes clear in the first episode just how problematic it can be for certain people in certain walks of life to receive the justice they deserve.
Watching too many television shows about the bad guy defendants going up against our good guy judicial system has given the American people a very slanted view of how we handle our criminal cases. Nobody wants to believe that the State has the wrong person in custody. Nobody wants to believe that, in this day and age, the wrong person could be convicted of a crime. With science being what it is, we just can’t see how jurors could get things so wrong. Though all we have to do is remember the OJ trial to see the flip side of injustice.
What is pointed to repeatedly in Making A Murderer is how the State decides on its case and then seems to make the evidence fit their view of how things went down. Avery is fortunate to have very good counsel representing him, but even with all of their expertise and brainpower, they are constantly crawling uphill, battling the complete opposite of the presumption we should all enjoy as citizens of this country. Namely, that one is presumed innocent until proven guilty.
Several times during the course of the proceedings leading up to the trial and during the trial itself, the prosecution and police interview minors without their lawyers present, telling them it’s best to just speak to them. Then the police call them liars when the minors don’t tell them what they want to hear.
Searches of private property are performed without counsel present for several days in a row. There are even statements by the sheriff’s department and the prosecutors themselves claiming that the defense has the burden of proving Avery innocent.
For example, often during the course of the trial, the prosecution doesn’t present certain evidence because they don’t have enough to make a concrete case. They do, however, make accusations, and when the defense pokes holes in their theories, the prosecution comes back with another “what if” scenario. It is clear from the get go that, according to the prosecution, Avery is guilty until proven innocent.
This is troubling for a number of reasons. It’s troubling because that is not our system of justice. We do not assume someone is guilty until they go to trial and the defense can build a case to prove them innocent. Beyond a shadow of a doubt is how the prosecution must prove guilt. Steven Avery was not afforded this protection.
It is also troubling because of the way police are allowed to interrogate suspects, especially suspects they know don’t understand their rights. Steven Avery’s 16-year-old nephew becomes caught up in the case relatively early on, and it’s very clear to the viewer that he is incapable of understanding the magnitude of the situation. The police interview him four different times and clearly coach him to say what the want to hear. In fact, they don’t just coach him, they tell him what he needs to say. It’s infuriating to watch, but just like the most devastating car wreck, you can’t look away.
“Making A Murderer” has been criticized for being bias, but all you have to do is watch a portion of what’s been cut together for the show to understand that the prosecution couldn’t possibly have made their case beyond a reasonable doubt. You watch a section and you think, if the judge allows this line of argument from the defense, there’s no way in hell they can convict him. But hold on to your copy of “Twelve Angry Men.” You might need it to cleanse your judicial palette.
We are a society that sometimes goes to sleep when trying to reach out to the poor and uneducated among us. We believe the systems we have in place almost run themselves, taking care of the undervalued. They look good on paper, so why do we need to watchdog them? We need to keep watch on our justice system, because if we don’t, there will be documentaries like Making A Murderer every week on Netflix.