Notes on the Serial Podcast, Season 3

Based on the first episode, I get the impression this season will be more informative (in a sociological way) rather than entertaining. The subject itself, the way the criminal justice system typically operates, is also not a very cheerful, especially since a realistic depiction is the goal. Based on the first episode, they’ve seem to have done that. Listening to it made me think of my experiences in courtrooms. What I heard was familiar and not really pleasant.

Here are a few more specific comments about the first episode, which serves as a baseline, an example of when the system works fairly well. The journalist narrating the program, Sarah Koenig, pushed back against the claim, made by the defense attorney, that the result was a good one for his client (or something to that effect). Koenig, at the end, made a valid point by cataloging the difficulties and hardships the defendant had to endure, in spite of a relatively good legal outcome.

While I understood her argument, based on my understanding of the nature of government and large bureaucratic systems, I could also understand the defense attorney’s thinking. My sense is that while individuals operating within the legal system can exercise judgment and agency, like many other government systems, they’re constrained quite significantly by many rules, procedures, norms, and laws. I think this is way to provide fairness and consistency. The point, here, isn’t entirely consistent with the first episode, as the episode shows variety of different types of courtroom experiences based on the different judges, applying their individual approach. Still, I would argue that the judges are still quite constrained–far more constrained than scenario where judges had almost total power to decide guilt or innocent as well as the consequences. But giving judges this kind of power would have obvious drawbacks.

Within our existing system, I think outcomes that would satisfy Koenig probably do occur. In this scenario, had the police officer handled this situation differently, I think a fairer outcome would have occurred. But the type of decision the officer made, which we could say wasn’t a good one, also wasn’t unreasonably bad. Or, I will put it another way: I think eliminating errors in judgment like this would be extremely difficult, if not impossible.

Additionally, people who have the most favorable outcomes (which are not entirely fair) likely have the most resources. That is, they can hire a really good lawyer. Part of the problem in the system has to do with limited time and money, for people in both law enforcement and the judicial system. A high number of cases will lead to less than ideal outcomes, given the limited resources and time. But when an individual can hire a good lawyer, one who can apply considerable time and expertise, than that individual can have a favorable outcome. Conversely, those who can’t afford or don’t have a good lawyer will likely experience a bad outcome, or less than ideal. In a way, that was the case for the defendant in the first episode, although she seemed to have a good lawyer. But had she been able to afford an even better one, maybe the results would have been a lot better.

There’s more to be said, but I don’t have the time and energy to keep expanding on this. I have a feeling the issues I’m bringing up with occur again in subsequent episodes.

3 thoughts on “Notes on the Serial Podcast, Season 3

  1. I thought Anna wasn’t completely innocent, and maybe the punishment overall didn’t fit the crime, but to think she was completely innocent and didn’t deserve some kind of punishment would be wrong, imo. She didn’t start it, which is why it was unfair, but she probably could have handled the situation a whole lot better. She seem to escalate the situation, as Sarah says something like, “Anna clearly goes for the girl’s throat.” Then when people are holding her back and with the cop there, Anna goes wild and accidently hits the cop. Then she seems belligerent once she is arrested. Any of those three things goes another way, she might not have been arrested. Add to that, that Anna had a record, which gives her less of a chance to win a trial, it all adds up to her being leniently (according to the system) punished.

    1. What kind of punishment do you think she deserved?

      She could have handled the situation better, but you could say that about the people who slapped her butt. If I recall correctly, it occurred seven times–she told them to stop and exploded at the end. At that point, didn’t the woman at the end of the bar come over and get in her face? If so, that woman could have handled the situation better as well. Her outburst didn’t seem premature, and you could argue it was kinda reasonable, even though you could say she could have done things differently. I would also include her inadvertently hitting the cop and getting belligerent with them afterward.

      In addition to wanting to know what you think would be an appropriate punishment, do you think the amount of time and money spent on adjudicating her case was worth it? To me, it seems like a waste.

      Add to that, that Anna had a record, which gives her less of a chance to win a trial, it all adds up to her being leniently (according to the system) punished.

      I do understand with this point of view, and I tried to acknowledge this in my original post. Given the circumstances and the processes and rules that dictate the way government functions, you could say the outcome was lenient and favorable. But I think if you gathered ten reasonable, fair minded individuals to determine a consequence, it would be less than what she received.

  2. Episode 2: “You’ve Got Some Gauls”

    I forgot I had listened to most of this about a week ago, and now I can barely remember any comments that I may have had, besides being horrified by the comments by a judge that seemed out of control–out of control ego that is.

    I guess the only thought that I have is that voting for judges doesn’t seem like a great idea. My sense is voters not only know so little about the qualifications for the position, but they don’t have enough information on the individual candidates.

    I also still don’t understand the reason the press doesn’t try to provide the information above.

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