More on Serial Podcast: The Opposite of Prosecution
“Lawyers gotta learn to tell the story of the expert, you should write about that for your next blog post.” With that my friend went off to order another round of beer, and I began scribbling notes like, “How can I make qualifying an expert less a litany of a resume and more a story?” When I shared my thoughts with him, Chris interrupted me slamming his glass on the table until beer sloshed over the side. “No, no, I meant the story of the prosecution’s expert who testifies about junk science like bite mark analysis and low copy DNA.”
Listening to Episode Seven of Serial, I was reminded of that bar conversation. [Spoiler Alert] The episode introduces us to the involvement of the Innocence Project in the case, and in particular Deidre Enright, Director of Investigations at the Innocence Project Clinic of the University of Virginia Law School. Ms. Enright rattles off all the holes in the case and expresses doubt as to Adnan’s guilt.
A staff member of the Innocence Project thinks Adnan is not guilty? Stop the presses! Who saw THAT plot twist coming!?
Well, Ms. Sarcastic-Pants, Serial makes this a surprising and compelling plot-twist because they Tell the story of the expert. The twist is surprising since it’s preceded by Episode 6, which points out all the bits of incriminating evidence against Adnan. The plot twist is compelling because we learn how Enright got on the case.
Enright is introduced to us, because she’s worked on a case with cell phone towers and maybe she can provide insights about the technical and legal issues on that topic. As they discuss the case, Ms. Enright confesses that her interest in piqued. Then she spontaneously offers to let a team of students review the case, adding that this team includes a young man who has interned with the FBI and will work as a federal prosecutor. Serial’s producer and host, Sarah Koenig seems genuinely taken aback by the offer. A team of law students is assigned to review everything in the case file, starting with the presumption of innocence.
After hearing 23 minutes of exposition on how this team of Innocence Project Clinic students got to the case, and their techniques for reviewing the file, their opinion sounds more valid, and even more surprising. Because we have learned that the Innocence Project asked to review the case themselves, and spent four weeks pouring over the paperwork away from Koenig, we believe them when they tell Koenig that they are not humoring her. They truly believe Adnan is not guilty.
In our own trials, we may not have 23 minutes to tell the story of our experts. We also don’t get week-long breaks between witnesses. Giving some background as to how our experts became involved in our cases, or in their fields of research, however can build a more compelling argument.
Sorry, Chris, I still haven’t addressed how to use storytelling to decimate the prosecution’s expert.