My wife and I bought a 60″ flat screen Sharp Aquos TV in late 2014. It replaced a literally-old-enough-to-vote, hand-me-down TV that I got from the parents of a buddy of mine. That big, bright, beautiful picture is turned on pretty much all day on NFL Sundays, but honestly, it doesn’t get much use otherwise. We’re not anti-TV militants or anything, we’re just busy. We’ve got two little kids at home, I work full time in addition to running LTP, I’m preparing to launch a weekly LTP podcast on February 1st… We’ve got a lot going on in life. Making time for TV just isn’t worth it most days.
That changed the instant we watched Episode 1 of Making A Murderer on Netflix. OH. MY. GOODNESS.
If you haven’t heard, Making A Murderer tells the story of Steven Avery – a Wisconsin man who spent 18 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. Shortly after being exonerated, he was charged with murder in a separate incident. He was found guilty (as was his nephew Brendan Dassey) of murder and is now serving a life sentence in prison. Yet as Making A Murderer explains, the murder charge against Avery was rife with questionable evidence and suspicious circumstances.
Was Avery framed for murder? The storyline of Making A Murderer certainly suggests that he was. It’s so abundantly obvious in the docu-series, right? So how in the world did the jury find Avery guilty of murder? That question bothered me a great deal – particularly because I live in Wisconsin. What the heck is going on in my state’s criminal justice system? My gut told me that Making A Murderer must have omitted evidence that didn’t support its narrative. So I did a little research. And indeed, that’s exactly the case.
Is Avery guilty? I don’t know. Maybe, maybe not. The answer to that question isn’t germane to this post. What I’m particularly intrigued by today is America’s reaction to the Making A Murderer docu-series. And I’m reminded to be thankful for the 6th Amendment.
Today’s Online Ignorance Is Brought To You By…
After watching Making A Murderer, hundreds of thousands of Americans took it upon themselves to ignorantly sign online petitions urging President Obama and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker to pardon Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey. At the time of this writing, one online petition at Change.org has gathered nearly 360,000 signatures. It reads:
There is a documentary series on Netflix called “Making a Murderer”. After viewing it, I am outraged with the injustices which have been allowed to compound and left unchecked in the case of Steven Avery of Manitowoc County in Wisconsin, U.S.A. Avery’s unconstitutional mistreatment at the hands of corrupt local law enforcement is completely unacceptable and is an abomination of due process.
Steven Avery should be exonerated at once by pardon, and the Manitowoc County officials complicit in his two false imprisonments should be held accountable to the highest extent of the U.S. criminal and civil justice systems.
A second online petition at Whitehouse.gov has over 120,000 signatures. It reads:
Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey should be given a full pardon by President Obama for their wrongful conviction in the connection to the murder of Teresa Halbach.
Based on the evidence in the Netflix documentary series “Making a Murderer”, the justice system embarrassingly failed both men, completely ruining their entire lives.
There is clear evidence that the Manitowoc County sheriff’s department used improper methods to convict both Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey.
This is a black mark on the justice system as a whole, and should be recognized as such, while also giving these men the ability to live as normal a life as possible.
I describe the choice to sign these online petition as ignorant for two reasons: first of all, President Obama cannot pardon Steven Avery or Brendan Dassey because their cases are not federal cases. The online petitions are problematic right out of the gate. Petition signers are ignorant of relevant law.
But secondly, and more importantly, my hunch is that most people who signed these online petitions didn’t do any additional research about the Steven Avery case. They watched Making A Murderer, took it as gospel truth, and signed the petition. They are unaware of any additional information relevant to the case – and there is much. Petition signers are likely ignorant of that information.
Admittedly, I have no specific evidence to support my hunch – maybe I should apply for a job with the Manitowoc County Sheriff’s Department – but just look at how the petitions read. “After viewing [Making A Murderer], I am outraged…” “Based on the evidence in the Netflix documentary series Making A Murderer…” Neither petition references anything except for the information presented in Making A Murderer, as if information not presented in the docu-series is irrelevant to the case.
Ignorance isn’t stupidity or evil. It’s just not knowing. Yet ignorance is capable of causing real harm in our society, because when people are ignorant, passion rules over reason. After watching Making A Murderer, (likely) ignorant people are passionately calling for the pardon of two men convicted of murder by reasons of a well-informed jury. As if that’s not disturbing enough, consider the flip-side of the coin: Would these same ignorant people passionately call for the imprisonment of a man found not guilty at his trial if a new docu-series effectively presented the state’s case against him? Probably yes. Ignorance very easily leads to mob rule. Hilarious in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Terrifying in real life.
The 6th Sense
Thankfully, America’s criminal justice system isn’t subject to mob rule. The 6th Amendment guarantees your “right to a public trial without unnecessary delay, the right to a lawyer, the right to an impartial jury, and the right to know who your accusers are and the nature of the charges and evidence against you.” It doesn’t prevent corruption or incompetence from making its way into the criminal justice system, but the 6th Amendment does provide an opportunity for reason to make its way into criminal trials.
Is it perfect? Of course not. Just look at Steven Avery’s first conviction in 1985. An impartial jury found him guilty of a crime he definitely did not commit. And – according to Making A Murderer – an impartial jury erred again when they found Avery guilty of murder in 2007. Yet, unlike petition signers, the juries’ decisions were made based on reason after hearing arguments from both sides in the case. Whether juries are right or wrong in their ultimate decisions, I think we’ll all agree: trial by jury is a heck of a lot better than “BURN HER!” ignorant mob rule. Because it’s awfully difficult to do your thing in life when you could be swept away by an angry, ignorant mob at any moment. Thank you 6th Amendment!
Do you agree that trial by jury a good thing? If it failed Steven Avery twice, do you think it should be replaced? What do you suggest replacing it with?