Den of the Cyphered Wolf

Thursday, October 27, 2011

In the Defense of Defense: I Love Hang 'em High McCoy But...

You know how every couple of blog posts I have to give a disclaimer that I'm a lefty at heart. Guess what?

While I hate Law and Order: SVU, I actually dig the original. I just found it on Netflix and have been treating myself to a few hours of watching "Hang 'em High" McCoy do his thing.

And it reminded me of a point I made in an old ethics essay for a class.

The importance of the presumption of innocence. I "imagine" that that lawyers don't argue guilt or innocence because they have a personal stake in it, but because the certainty of what happened is in question for a jury and they need to hear arguments of both guilt and innocence. That is my snooty way of saying that for a lawyer it shouldn't matter if your client is guilty or not. The truth of the matter is you don't know and you can't know. The best we can do is let a jury decide what probably happened and live with whatever they say.

In most of the episodes of Law and Order what happened is left ambiguous so we can be entertained watching the cops work through case. Just as if we were a jury we don't actually see the crime.

Despite that, because the show is told through the eyes of the prosecuting attorney the audience knows all the suspects are guilty. Hang 'em high McCoy! But do we? Nope. The best we can do is let both the defense and the prosecution present their case and let the jury vote.

In real life, that's what is supposed to happen they vote and you have to have faith that the system worked. The prosecution presented their evidence, the defense presented their evidence, the jury looked at both and came to a reasonable decision.

But because the show follows the prosecution the defense attorneys come off as slime. Their job is keep the criminal out of jail thus subverting justice. That is not their job. They are all part of a system to see justice done and both the prosecution and the defense ultimately have the same job within that system. To present a reasonable depiction of the unknown truth so a jury can come to a reasonable conclusion in the service of justice.

P.S. The ethics essay mentioned argued that the media bonanza surrounding the Menendez case interfered with the presumption of innocence. Don't look at me like that. The research was easier. I had video and all sorts of documentaries.

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It was finals week and I was working on that minidocumentary. (Stop with the shameless plug.)

I'll write another blog post about it later but I hate the writing in SVU. Half the time the entire point of the episode is to make a ludicrous ill informed argument and the other half is to deal with horribly written melodrama. It all adds up to make a show that I just a can't take seriously.

P.P.S. I'm not naive I just wrote how I feel the justice system should work I'm wholly aware that sometimes it doesn't happen that way.

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