True crime shows are impacting real life

Posted at 11:30 PM, Feb 03, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-03 23:30:56-05

They're entertaining stories.  The Serial podcast, and shows like HBO's 'The Jinx', and 'Making a Murderer' on Netflix invite us into the investigation, to a side of the legal process we don't often get to see.

Experts say true crime series are such a hit because of increased awareness of social issues, and an eroded trust of police departments.

We spoke with Criminologist Jeffrey Ian Ross over Skype.

"I think over the past year with respect to the shooting of Michael Brown in Missouri, the death or Eric Garner in New York City, also Freddie Gray in Baltimore, people are questioning the criminal justice systems, perceptions, narrative of the events that took place when individuals were stopped, questioned, arrested and also police officer testimony," said Ross, a University of Baltimore Professor.

Both the first season of the Serial podcast, and the 'Making a Murderer' documentary have moved from the media to real-life.  Adnan Syed was granted a hearing after the story of his case was downloaded about 75-million times.  And nearly 500,000 people have signed a petition to free Steven Avery after the release of 'Making a Murderer.'

People are pushing for more transparency, and it could leave a lasting impact on the system.

"There's increased demands for accountability and it will have a sort of multiplier effect throughout the criminal justice system, not just simply in law enforcement, we're gonna see this in the field of corrections," Ross said.

Serial and ‘Making a Murderer’ highlight inconsistencies in the widely accepted version of events, and can make people aware of the distortions that can happen in the legal system.  But Ross warns, we never really get the full story.

"Just like a defense lawyer and a prosecutor can shape the evidence, in other words, choose what evidence he or she or the team wants to present to a jury and to a judge, so does a director."

The truth is usually complicated, so we'll probably never know what really happened.