Warning: Spoilers for Making a Murderer ahead.
1. At every stage in the criminal justice system, poor people in the United States, disproportionally people of color, receive less justice than anyone else.
When a criminal charge is filed against a person, a fair defense requires a committed and passionate lawyer with adequate training and resources to fight the awesome power of the State.
Anyone who watches Netflix's 10-plus hour series, Making a Murderer, concerning the Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey cases in Wisconsin, will see how Steven Avery's trial lawyers, zealously fight for their client's interests at every turn, personifying, at its best, the constitutional right to effective counsel. By comparison, viewers see 16-year-old Brendan Dassey's first lawyer announce to TV reporters immediately after his appointment that his client is guilty, only later to be removed by the judge for, among other things, allowing, in his absence, detectives to interrogate his intellectually and socially immature client -- yielding statements that would later be used to convict him.
Early on in the series the viewer learns that Avery is only able to afford to afford his lawyers after receiving a lucrative settlement in a civil case filed against the Manitowoc Police Department in Wisconsin (for railroading Avery in an earlier sexual assault case in which he was innocent, costing him 18 years in jail).
Not all "paid" or "private" lawyers are good attorneys, and not all "court-appointed" lawyers and public defenders are bad. However, it is a sad but true fact, as Making A Murderer ably illustrates, that the quality of justice in this country directly correlates to the amount of resources a defendant has. And, because, in the United States people of color are uniformly paid less, hired less, and have less, justice is, unfortunately, not colorblind.
Making a Murderer is filmed in Wisconsin where the population is overwhelmingly white, but it is important to remember that it is people of color in our criminal justice system, who, at every turn, disproportionately suffer the negative effects of race and class on our criminal justice system.
2. Police officers, prosecutors and other people in authority are not inherently good -- or bad.
Making a Murderer successfully shows that police officers, prosecutors and other public officials are no different than any other people: Some of them are "good" people and some, are very, very bad. It is important for us as private citizens, to remember this, whenever we interact -- during a traffic stop, when called for jury service, etcetera -- with people in authority.
3. Criminal defendants -- like victims -- have innocent family members who are deeply affected by the level of fairness in our criminal justice system.
The heartbreak, isolation and desolation of the Avery and Dassey families as they are forced to navigate the criminal justice system seeps through each of the 10 episodes in the series. With over 2 million people in jail in America, Making a Murderer reminds us of the many other millions and millions of families -- sons, daughters, parents and so on -- affected each and every day by their loved ones incarcerations.
Stephen Cooper is a former federal and D.C. public defender. He writes full-time and lives in Woodland Hills, California.