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.