Checklist Justice on The
by Paul Bergman
The Jury is an hour-long TV drama that debuted in June
2004. Its interesting premise is to focus on jury deliberations
and flash back to events and bits of testimony as jurors refer
to them. The opening episode did not stay entirely true to its
premise. For example, we see the lawyers plea bargaining even
though this of course occurs outside the jurors' presence. And
in what to me was the biggest copout, after the verdict is in
we see what really happened. Nevertheless, the show is a creative
effort to make viewers feel a part of a jury, and it backs the
effort up by inviting viewers to cast votes by phone (and perhaps
website) before the show ends.
first focus on a couple of the dramatic elements. I was bothered,
as I usually am, by the rapid cuts from one juror to another
and from a juror to testimony or to a quick glimpse of events.
As a result, for me the deliberations consisted too often of
exchanges of sound bites and not real opinions. Also, while
the judge, court personnel and attorneys will apparently carry
over from one episode to the next, I understand that each episode
will focus on a different group of jurors. As I watched, it
occurred to me that it might be interesting to see how the same
jurors would react to entirely different sets of facts. That
would enable us as viewers to identify more strongly with particular
characters and to see how jurors' experiences and philosophies
react in a variety of factual settings.
The case about which the jurors
deliberated was carefully constructed so that almost any inference
one juror put forward could be countered by an equal and opposite
inference. For example, one juror mentions that an argument
between the defendant and the shooting victim during a pickup
basketball game furnished a motive for the defendant to deliberately
shoot the victim. Another juror's quick riposte to the comment
is along the lines of "I'd argue all the time when playing
sports- that doesn't mean I was going to kill anyone."
The result for me was that
the show had a checklist feel to it. Need a motive-- check.
Need to be able to undermine the motive-- check. Need the defendant's
fingerprints on the gun-- check. Need to show that it was possible
that the defendant's two friends might have fired the fatal shot--
check. What this checklist approach eliminated almost entirely
was the "value added" of the lawyers. Any decent trial
attorney would package the disparate factual elements into a
narrative structure that explained what happened, why it happened
and how it happened. For example, I don't recall any juror mentioning
how long before the shooting the pickup game argument took place,
and without that information the jurors cannot formulate or accept
a story about the pickup game argument providing a motive for
the shooting. This episode of The Jury, perhaps owing
to its format, is almost entirely narrative-free. Indeed it's
an anti-story, with pieces of testimony and glimpses of events
present only to offset each other.
I also don't recall any juror
saying the words "reasonable doubt." Can the defense
lawyer have done such a bad job during the trial that none of
the jurors talked about reasonable doubt during the deliberations?
Maybe. The defendant was shown testifying, and given the weaknesses
in the prosecution's case I would think any defense attorney
would have walked over hot coals in an effort to persuade the
defendant not to testify. But this was a reasonable doubt case
from the get-go, and the lack of attention to it during the deliberations
reflects the anti-narrative weakness of the episode.
The Jury has potential and I wish it well.
Let's hope the network doesn't file a Motion to Dismiss.
Posted July 8, 2004