Making a Murderer: Oh-So-Many Talking Points

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Category: Civil Rights, Constitutional Law, Criminal Law & Process, Evidence, Judges & Judicial Process, Legal Ethics, Legal Practice, Legal Profession, Popular Culture & Law, Public, Wisconsin Law & Legal System
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635874987555624158-XXX-IMG-NETFLIX-MAKING-A-MUR-1-1-VGCTGMDU-78432434As the winter break winds down, it’s definitely worth your time to start binge-watching Making a Murderer, a recent Netflix documentary on a real-life criminal case. A very close-to-home criminal case, at that.

The documentary, filmed over 10 years, follows Steven Avery, who was convicted in 1985 of sexual assault. He maintained his innocence and, indeed, 18 years later DNA evidence exonerated him. After he was released, he sued Manitowoc County for his wrongful conviction. It looks as though that lawsuit starts digging up some very unsavory conduct among officials in Manitowoc County.

But then—Avery is arrested for the murder of photographer Teresa Halbach. Several months later, his nephew Brendan Dassey is also arrested.

I’ll stop there with plot. If you’ve been around Wisconsin, you’ve probably heard of the case. If you’ve been on the Internet in the last couple of weeks, you’ve almost surely heard of it. But you must watch it.

For law students, there’s so many teachable moments. For everyone, there’s so much to talk about.When you’re watching trial scenes, notice the experts on the stand. Consider (though it isn’t shown) how the lawyers had to lay a foundation for their testimony. Listen, too, for how the expert witnesses express their opinions. Notice the way the questions get thrown at witnesses, and how those questions differ whether the witness is on direct or cross examination. Notice the boxes upon boxes of documents and exhibits the lawyers haul with them. Consider the hours they’ve put into the case. Notice how each side (for whatever trial) develops and expresses its theory of its case. And consider how that theory seems to differ between Steven’s murder trial and Brendan’s.

Notice, too, the conduct of the attorneys, particularly Brendan Dassey’s first court-appointed attorney. Consider the difference between what attorneys can do and what they perhaps should do.

There are all sorts of layers here; there are criminal trials, civil cases, depositions, and appeals. There are issues of the criminal justice system, generally; of social class; of education (or lack of it); of appearances. Above all, there are people. Real people. And you see them over the course of a decade. It’s hard to come away from the series without some opinion.

So, post it here. What do you think about Making a Murderer?

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