Jury Summons

Jury Summons

Friday, October 24, 2014

How to Get Away With Murder's Impact on Public Opinion of the Judicial System


ABC’s hit new show How to Get Away With Murder is a scintillating drama where "[t]he brilliant, charismatic and seductive Professor Anaalise Keating gets entangled with four law students from her [criminal law] class 'How to Get Away with Murder.' Little do they know that they will have to apply what they learned to real life, in this masterful, sexy, suspense-driven legal thriller."According to IMDB the show is about "[a] group of ambitious law students and their brilliant criminal defense professor [who] become involved in a twisted murder plot that promises to change the course of their lives."

How to Get Away with Murder is the new legal drama on television this season. It is the show that will shape the way a new generation views attorneys, the legal system, and juries. In the most recent episode "We're Not Friends" that aired on October 23, 2014 Professor Keating taught her criminal law class and the law clerks at her office about jury selection. She began her class with this simple statement: "All people have secrets. Take this into account when you pick a jury." Professor Keating then explains that emotional cases are "not based on evidence but the emotions of the jury. In emotionally driven cases, jury selection isn’t science. It’s the art of human study." 

Throughout the episode many assumptions are made concerning the type of jurors Professor Keating wants on her case. For example, they want jurors who distrust authority because police testimony is vital to the prosecutions case. Since the "media is busy portraying the [defendant] as a psycho killer [Professor Keating] spends a good amount of her voir dire time ensuring that the jury members aren't Nancy Grace fanatics, are willing to see police as something other than heroes 24/7, and are generally sympathetic to her client. [According to Above the Law,] this actually makes sense for a criminal defense attorney."

Professor Keating assigns each law clerk to watch specific jurors throughout the trial. Reminding them that in order to win, their defense must speak personally to each juror. One juror is dismissed after talking with one of Professor Keating's law clerks about the case using a dating app. In another morally questionable moment, a law clerk places an article about jury nullification on a bench near a juror. This ultimately results in a mistrial. 

Throuhout the episode, attorneys use questionable moral judgement, law clerks engage in discrete jury tampering, and jurors are made to look like emotional bafoons that lawyers easily manipulate. This is a show that Americans are watching and this is a show that is shaping the way Americans view the legal system and specifically jury service. Although lawyers cannot change the way they are portrayed on television, smart lawyers are aware of the preconceived notions that the media is creating.

Popular television shows often create public opinion. For example, due to the CSI effect juries demand more evidence.  What will be the impact of How to Get Away With Murder? Is it creating unrealistic expectations for jurors? Do jurors feel vindicated or manipulated? Whether good or bad, this show will have an impact on the way the public views the legal system, which means this show will have an effect on jurors. The effect How to Get Away With Murder will have on the public is still unclear, but it is clear that this show will have an effect on the public. 


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