Tonight’s episode of American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson felt more like an episode of Serial, and I loved every minute.
Here’s the thing (and I’ve said this before), this show isn’t so much about whether or not Simpson is guilty. Rather, the show serves to highlight the issues in the country then and now, the relations between people and the court system at the time that led to Simpson’s exoneration.
And tonight’s episode, titled “A Jury in Jail,” dropped the most poignant bomb yet because it shows the trial, at its core, was utterly flawed because the jurors weren’t in a position to adequately do their job and make a just decision.
Rather, the jury members themselves lived in a prison of their own during the eight excruciating months the trial dragged on for.
And they weren’t just up in some cushy hotel sipping Mai Tais between arguments. They were strictly monitored.
Not only were these the days before Facebook, Netflix and iPhones, but jurors weren’t even allowed to watch TV or read books unless they had been preapproved by officers and deemed “appropriate.”
The only reason I can begin to imagine how torturous that must have been for these people is because the show did such a brilliant job of showing just what a hell it was to be so disconnected from the world.
By the time these poor people were actually expected to make a decision about Simpson’s guilt or innocence, they had been through more than any people should expect for doing their civic duty.
Juror turnover was rampant. Apparently, one guy was dismissed because he once took a picture with Simpson. Another was excused after it was discovered he was arrested for kidnapping. And a woman was dismissed because it was revealed that she had lied about being the victim of domestic violence.
As if that didn’t add to the paranoia these jurors must have felt, it was all enhanced with rumors that there were cameras filming them in their hotel rooms and reports that white jurors were being treated better than the black ones.
It got so bad that Judge Ito put the trial on hold for a couple of days after the jurors revolted.
The scary part of this jury spotlight is that it doesn’t appear this case caused much change in the juror treatment during a trial. The United States still has relatively the same process of selection and sequestering for jurors in high-profile cases.
It definitely doesn’t inspire much hope that the 12 people selected because they were deemed to be in their right mind will still be in that state of mind months later when they are expected to make a decision about a person’s life and the lives s/he may or may not have affected.
Personally, it makes me scared for the state of our court system. And it could also explain why so many people are wrongfully convicted and, as Simpson proves, maybe vice versa. According to The Guardian, 4.1 percent of death row inmates in the United States are innocent. Meaning about 200 people currently incarcerated are sentenced to die for crimes they didn’t commit.
Maybe we should stop putting the focus on the evidence so much and start looking at the system in place to convict. While 4.1 percent is far from a majority, it’s enough to suggest some big changes are needed. And The People v. O.J. Simpson gave me enough food for thought tonight that I think those changes may need to start with jury selection and treatment.