A recently released Netflix documentary, Making a Murderer, chronicling the events surrounding the murder convictions of Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey, has sparked outrage across the nation and internationally in response to what is depicted as corrupt, unethical or inept actions taken by law enforcement, prosecutors and the Wisconsin Department of Justice. Many viewers have reported feeling anger, suspicion, and fear after viewing the film, characterizing the convictions as a miscarriage of justice.
Whether you are guilty or not, there is certainly cause for alarm if you are accused of a serious crime. Everyone is potentially subject to the mistakes, prejudices, incompetence or, even, the willful misconduct of those working in the legal system. This vulnerability is dramatically underscored by the highly publicized exoneration of innocent convicts, including Avery, following decades of incarceration due to DNA forensic science. Why were these individuals convicted of a crime they did not commit?
The question has prompted a closer look at failures in the system, which reveals many contributing factors. Wrongful convictions are commonly attributed to causes such as eyewitness misidentification, false confessions or admissions, government misconduct, unvalidated or improper forensic science, informants and inadequate defense. If the two convictions of Avery and the single conviction of Dassey raise disturbing questions among viewers, no wonder. Astoundingly, ALL of these ‘established causes of wrongful conviction’ are present in their case.
The documentary has raised a red flag for viewers across the nation and in other countries. Many have expressed disbelief and shock that this eerily-convincing, convoluted tale of corruption and self-promotion could play out in the United States. The verdicts aside, the larger concern for many seems to be that something is clearly amiss in our administration of justice in the state of Wisconsin and, by inference, the entire country when looking at the way this case was handled. Cries for changes in the law and court reform are emerging as a result.
Sources: “Making a Murderer by Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos.” Online video documentary. Netflix. Accessed December 27,2015.; The Innocence Project.org, accessed December 27, 2015.