Questions 23-33 refer to the following information.
Crime stories are as old as narrative itself. Some of the earliest texts we have center on questions of 23 murder, theft, and other transgressions. Still, while people often remember the crimes and criminals themselves, typically these stories will revolve around a separate 24 issue, guilt, and innocence. Courtroom dramas in our own day attest to this correlative fascination. 25
Morris’s story takes up the real-life case of Randall Dale Adams, 26 a Texas police officer was killed by this Ohio man allegedly. Although the evidence in the trial was thin, Adams was sentenced to life in prison. Morris’s film in a sense reopens the case, interviewing many of those involved: 27 many more people than just the defendant are involved in a case. All of the interviewees raise notable objections to Adams’s murder charge, and the film concludes with a sobering message from the prosecutor’s closing statement: the police are the “thin blue line” separating society from 28 anarchy. At least they should be, the film wants us to see, but should this separation come at the expense of a man’s legal rights?
Within a year of the film’s 1988 release, Adams’s sentence was overturned. It’s not hard to see that it was Morris’s film that helped to build the appeals case. Such an event is remarkable, not only because of the relative rarity of a court overturning its verdict 29 (one that peaked in the year of Morris’s film), but also because it was seemingly done outside of the courts.
The significance of The Thin Blue Line is again with us today with the podcast Serial, hosted by journalist Sarah Koenig. The podcast analyzes the records from the 1999 trial and conviction of Adnan Syed, a then-17-year-old high school student, who was convicted of killing his ex-girlfriend. 30 While Koenig’s stated purpose is merely to understand the ins-and-outs of the trial, not necessarily to get Syed’s sentence overturned, she does identify a degree of uncertainty about the trial’s verdict. Unlike Morris, Koenig is not quite convinced of her subject’s innocence as Morris was, but she is equally interested in how the legal system determines that guilt and innocence, often showing how decidedly extralegal matters can play a serious role.31
Image courtesy of Columbia Law School
Morris’s film and 32 Koenig’s podcast both raise some serious questions about the legal system. For instance, how conclusive does the evidence have to be to prove someone’s guilt? And how can questions of innocence or guilt ever be determined by so many imperfect human actors? 33 They both remind us that even though justice itself may be blind, and the U.S. court system prides itself on legal objectivity, such a thing may not be possible, especially as it promises that all of those on trial are innocent until proven guilty.