Will “Making a Murderer” Help the Defense in Jury Selection?

The Netflix documentary Making a Murderer has created quite a stir since it’s release this past December. The series tells the story of Steve Avery, a Wisconsin man who was wrongfully convicted of a rape he didn’t commit and freed after 18 years. Avery sued the Manitowoc County Sheriff’s Office for millions of dollars after he was released. Then, after three damaging depositions were taken from officers in the Mantowoc Sheriff’s office, Avery became the prime suspect in the murder of Teresa Halbach. The series covers Avery’s trial and the trial of his nephew.

Avery’s defense attorney’s theory at trial was Avery was framed by law enforcement officials who hated Avery and believed him to be guilty. To insure a guilty verdict they alleged officers planted Avery’s blood in the victim’s car and planted the victim’s car keys in his room. Accusing the police of planting evidence is a difficult burden but Avery’s lawyers did a great job of raising reasonable doubt. Despite their best efforts Avery was found guilty and sentenced to Life with no chance of parole.

The public’s reaction to the series is very interesting. Overall people who have watched the series either believe Avery is innocent or at the very least there wasn’t enough evidence to convict him. Many people fully believe officers in  the Manitowoc Sheriff’s Office planted evidence. What will be interesting to see in criminal trials in 2016 is how this series and other exonerations that have been in the news will affect jurors.

Prosecutors have always had a great advantage because the great majority of the public supports law enforcement. In every criminal trial jurors are reminded that every criminal defendant is presumed innocent, however most jurors go into a trial believing that the defendant must have done something or he wouldn’t have been arrested. Prosecutors also benefit from the public’s support and trust of law enforcement.

With the furor created over the Avery case, the jury pool may be more open to the defense and less trusting of the police. It will be interesting to see if jurors bring the case up during jury selection. Criminal attorneys should use the Avery case as an example and get jurors talking about these issues. Prosecutors may use the case to find out who in the pool doesn’t trust the police and will use that information to remove jurors for cause or use one of their ten strikes to keep them off the jury.

The bottom line is perhaps the Avery case will even level the playing field a little more in a criminal trial.

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