How "Law & Order" ruined American justice

The most insightful comment comes from one of Avery’s defense attorneys, Dean Strang, who muses forlornly about the “unwarranted certitude” that permeates everyone in the system “that they’re getting it right.” He’s including everyone – cops, prosecutors, jury, judge, even defense attorneys — who participated in Avery’s arrest, conviction and incarceration.

So where might this misguided arrogance come from? Watching, you can think many things: expedience, self-interest, conspiracy, or even pure evil.

But maybe there’s another explanation. The cops, the prosecutors, the DNA experts, the jury are all behaving with certitude because — that’s how it’s been portrayed for decades – including on Law & Order. There’s a gut-level faith in people in uniforms, in robes, in the jury box, because they’re on the side of “The People.”

Avery’s lawyers have filed a new petition for a retrial, based not on guilt or innocence, but on legal procedural failures. To some this will reinforce the accusation that the series is biased and trying to free a killer. But the series’ point is about the process: the rush to judgment, the bending of rules to prove a case. Nobody should feel comfortable endorsing that brand of justice. As the White House response to the petition noted, “President Obama is committed to restoring the sense of fairness at the heart of our justice system.”