Unless you have been living under a rock for the past two months, chances are you have heard of the Netflix show; Making A Murderer. The docu-series was released shortly before the Christmas holiday and quickly captured the imagination of the country. The show focuses on a man named Steven Avery, who served close to two decades in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. The series picks up in 2005, two years after he was exonerated. It began as Avery filed suit for 37 million dollars against Manitowoc sheriff’s department for allegedly bungling the 1985 rape case that led to his incarceration.
Just days after the initial depositions Avery was arrested again, this time for the murder of a 25-year-old woman named Teresa Halbach, a young photographer who was last seen visiting Avery. The ten-part series take place over ten years and follows the arrest and trial of Avery and his young nephew, Brenden Dassey. The case sparked countless online articles, social media posts and news reports as more and more people became enthralled by the case; everyone questioning if Steven Avery really killed Teresa Halbach.
Lessons From Making A Murderer
This story highlights a new twist on a not so new genre, the “true crime” genre of entertainment. Making A Murderer is not the first to weave a compelling tale out of a real life crime. In recent years stories like Serial, Snapped and The Jinx have pulled people into some of the country’s most gruesome crimes. Prior to these shows were the weekly drama’s CSI and Law & Order, both of which offered fictional stories, “ripped from the headlines.” In fact, since the 1920’s true crime has captivated and titillated the public turning wrongdoing into ratings.
Lately, the genre has shifted from recounting compelling tales and rehashing gory murders into something different. In a court of law, despite the claims of many a prosecuting attorney, there is very rarely a simple case with a foregone verdict. The very tenets of the justice system are predicated on the idea that a defendant is innocent, until proven guilty by a court of law. The idea that the accused will see their day in court, and all will be revealed there.
All that seemed to change with the advent of the 24-hour news cycle and the introduction of social media and the fervor that it brings for “trending” topics. Each and every fact is consumed and analyzed in the moment, publicly. People play armchair detective as they speculate on evidence and alibis, almost as if it were a game to be played. This is highlighted in the countless conversations surrounding the Steven Avery and Brenden Dassey trial and subsequent documentary. Everyone seems to have a theory. Everyone has an opinion on Avery’s guilt or innocence.
As a defense attorney, I find the popularity of this case to be a double edged sword. I think at times, the push to find a new twist on the story can have disastrous consequences. Evidence shared with the media isn’t required to follow the same rules of admission as they are in the court of law. Nuance can often be lost in a three-minute television story and constant media coverage can make it difficult to find an impartial jury. Intense media coverage can often be devastating for a defense attorney.
On the flip side, what the Making A Murder docu-series showcased some of these very complaints. The filmmakers were able to capture the media frenzy along with what may be some police malfeasance. With the Dassey story, the series does an excellent job of highlighting the tricks that investigators can use when interrogating a suspect. From the onset it appears that investigators targeted Steven Avery as the culprit; operating as if it was more important to garner a conviction of the man than to ascertain the absolute truth in the case. The series points out the dangerous consequences of a system of justice based on the presumption of guilt rather than the presumption of innocence. More than anything, the series shows how important it is to have a defense attorney on your side, every step of the way.
If you are in need of a defense attorney, contact the Deimer Law Firm for a free consultation.