Last Week Sarah Koenig released the first episodes for the third season of the podcast Serial. The tone is very different from the previous two seasons, and promises to be the most enlightening when it comes to criminal justice. Unlike her previous two season which put the spotlight on two very unique cases, season 3 tries to tackle what the system is like for the “average case”. To do that, Ms. Koenig has spent time recording in the Cuyahoga County Court system in Cleveland, Ohio.
In the first episode, Ms. Koenig chronicles a fairly average case involving an alleged assault of a police officer. The defendant’s attorney wants to get the prosecutor to dismiss the case because the alleged assault happened in the midst of a chaotic bar scene, and the video shows the contact to be mostly accidental.
The case is unsurprisingly not dismissed, but instead reduced down to a low-level misdemeanor. The defendant is given credit for time served, and the case is done. Good result for everyone right? Except that the defendant now has another conviction on her record, and is on the hook for substantial court fees that she now must pay on a monthly basis. Not necessarily an easy feat for a young person without an established career. These are the hidden consequences that aren’t alway discussed, and can sometimes lead to a downward spiral financially.
The second episode delves into the paternal practices of a judge who will often berate defendants on probation. He toes a very racist line while imposing unconstitutional penalties such as requiring probationers not to have a child out of wedlock. Pretty appalling stuff. I’ve never seen these specific behaviors, but judges drunk on their own power are common in Travis County and everywhere.
It is my hope that Serial will shine a light on these practices and start a dialogue about the criminal justice system. For too many in our society, the criminal justice system is something that does not affect their lives, and is therefore ignored. It is overdue for these issues to be discussed, both at the national and local levels. Over the next few months, as more episodes are released, I will write more posts that further discuss the themes of the podcast. In the meantime, I would encourage you to check out the first few episodes here: https://serialpodcast.org/