Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Cold Take: Serial

I finally listened to Serial, a few years late now. One of the big things I got out of it is that I don't want to talk about “reasonable doubt” in a case where I'm not on the jury.

To talk about reasonable doubt is to implicitly question the jury's decision. It seems unfair to do that after listening to a podcast about a trial. I didn't see the whole trial! And I saw a lot of things that weren't in the trial, which were presented because they might indicate the wrong verdict was reached.

But even if I had watched a video of the whole trial and nothing else... both sides in any jury trial prepare arguments to convince the particular jury in the courtroom. In this case that meant a majority-black jury from Baltimore; the podcast audience is a global audience of NPR listeners. There's a whole episode of the podcast called The Deal with Jay, Jay being the prosecution's star witness, where host Sarah Koenig asks, “What's the deal with Jay?” She was never quite sure what to make of him, the inconsistencies in his story, or the lies and evasions he gave before admitting his role in the crime and testifying for the prosecution. So in this episode she talked with a juror, Stella Armstrong, about how she understood Jay. Stella explained, “We all have somebody in our life like that, you know, that you may know, a cousin or a relative, who, if something goes wrong, you think you can call to help you.“ The implication was that “something” was something outside the law. In this case Jay testified that Adnan, the defendant, asked him to help him cover up a murder he committed. Sarah replied that she didn't know anyone like that.

OK, I don't think I know someone like that either. Forget covering up a murder — if I commit a murder (I will try very hard not to commit a murder!) and ask you to help cover it up, don't mess around with that, slap me in the face and drag me out to face justice! But for stuff that isn't so grave... I don't really know who I'd call off the top of my head. Most of the people I'd call for advice would probably say stuff like, “Don't do anything stupid.” Some of that is a mark of privilege, that the law generally works for people like me (I've jaywalked as much as anyone...). But this trial wasn't put on for myself, Sarah Koenig, and a jury of NPR listeners. If it had been, both the prosecution and defense would have had to present somewhat different cases!

So for me, in no way am I in the position of someone asked to do what the jury is doing. I'm listening to a podcast. I just speculate about stuff.

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