Reflections

We have arrived at the final blog post. It feels like it’s been forever and no time at all, all at the same time.

This project was a nebulous thing. I thought for a long time about how to describe it in this post, how to properly quantify the experience of its undertaking. And even as I’m writing this, I’m not sure how to encompass it in words, but I will do my best.

In research, nothing is what it seems. You may go in with a very specific idea of what you think you’ll find and how you’ll find it, but in truth, nothing was clear cut about the process, at least for me. That doesn’t mean, however, that I didn’t gain anything: there was much to learn within the chaos and in the end I am extremely glad that I did this project.

Academically, I was able to gain knowledge and understanding of our court system, some famous cases through the years, and also of the way constitutional issues play into the media and its effect on the courts.

Personally, though, I gained a lot of really valuable research skills. When I took on this project, I already had a pretty solid idea of what I expected to learn. In my head, I had already tailored the results that I expected and built up my project around these results. This turned out to be a big mistake. When my results were contrary to what I expected, I felt lost, and like I had failed in my research. But this is in no way true. If your hypothesis is contradicted, you have still made an important research discovery, and your research still means something, as long as you lean into it and explore the reasons for your discoveries.

My final product, as mentioned, is a short story. It’s still in the workings, and I’ve had to revise the themes and such after hitting the snag of contrary research and having to pivot a little bit. It will be on display at the Senior Project Showcase, and I will also upload it online. I will be presenting my findings on Wednesday, May 23, from 7:30 to 7:45 PM.

I had an awesome time helping out at the law office. HUGE thanks to my advisor, Amy Carlson, for giving me this opportunity, and for helping me out along the way. I also have to thank my teacher advisor for meeting with me and giving me guidance, as well as our lovely Senior Project coordinator for her endless influx of emails as well as support. It’s been an amazing experience and has definitely expanded my horizons in terms of future research in my college career and later on.

My advice to those of you that are interested in doing a senior project is this — don’t expect anyone to hold your hand through the process. In the end, this is YOUR project and YOUR research, and the biggest part of the growth you can achieve through the process is to work through it as best as you can on your own. It sounds scary, but you can DEFINITELY do it, and you’ll wind up with an extremely rewarding project when you’re done. Good luck!

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Conceding…?

Hey guys! Posting my blog entry a few days early because I have a college event through the weekend and I won’t be able to post on Friday as I usually do.

I want to take this post to talk about a bit of a dilemma that I’ve been having. I wasn’t very keen on talking about this because I was afraid that bringing it to light would mean that I was giving up on my project. But after a lot of reflection I realized that there was no other choice. And maybe leaning into this project flaw is the only way to go.

The problem is this – In the 4 cases I studied, none of the verdicts seem to indicate that the media has interfered with jurors’ decision making skills. And given that my project revolves around this interference, I’ve been having issues deciding how I should present my information and what kind of theme I should include in my short story.

But I thought back to the science fair projects of my middle school days. I thought back to what I was taught about hypotheses. I was taught that sometimes, your hypothesis is wrong. In this case, my hypothesis was simply wrong. I realized that the reason my presentation seemed so disjointed was that I was leaning away from this truth instead of towards it.

What I learned was that it’s okay that I was wrong. I’m sure I can still draw some very interesting conclusions from what I have gotten, and create a short story that shows my work.

The Return

Hi guys!

Much of this past week was spent creating and tweaking a practice presentation for next week. The real thing is coming up in a month or so, and I want to make sure my presentation is both engaging and informative.

In this blog post, I want to talk about the long standing relationship between fiction and law. Contrary to how it might seem, I didn’t decide to write a short story as my end product just to dodge the task of a long and dry research paper (although that was certainly part of it.)

After a discussion with my advisor, I realized that the disciplines of law and fiction are closely interlinked. Lawyers write fiction and read fiction in large amounts. Many are highly successful authors. In return, there is a neverending flow of courtroom fiction out there. Courtroom fiction is also some of the bestselling fiction out there, which on a side point feeds into my idea of the highly sensational red carpet courtroom– we crave the drama of a juicy case.

So in a way, my decision on this as my final product is paying homage to the great lawyer/author double threats of our time and beyond, but it’s also a bit of a rag on the way that we like to sensationalize courtroom events. I hope that when I finish the story this subtlety will shine through.

Thanks for reading as always!

Setting the Scene

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about how I should set the scene of my short story. What time period should it take place in? Where should it take place?

To answer this question, I looked at the different settings that show up in my 4 main research cases, to see if I could draw some inspiration from them.

– People v. OJ Simpson: This case was decided in 1995. The murder itself took place in the Brentwood Area of Los Angeles.

– People v. Casey Anthony: This case was decided in 2011. The family in question lived in Orlando, Florida.

– People v. Aaron Burr: The odd one out! This case was decided in 1807. Obviously, the media was a lot less widespread than in the other trials and today. This, however, allowed the people in power to create a bit of a “press bottleneck” in that every available newspaper reported bad things about Burr. Took place in New York City.

– People v. Martin Shkreli: A 2018 case. Took place in Brooklyn.

Looking at the range of cases I’ve gathered, it seems that the story would be best set at a fairly modern time and in a decently big city. I don’t know if it’s necessary to scope out an exact city and county to write the story — it’s hopefully something I can keep ambiguous. However, it’s good to have a vague idea of the time and place. I feel confident enough now to start my story drafting.

Non-Media Bias

Hey guys! Back for another post. This time I’d like to focus on an interesting conversation that I had with my advisor.

My advisor is the kind of guy who always knows a guy, and this time was no exception: he was able to reach out to an attorney he knows on my behalf. This attorney brought up the interesting quandary of trials that require a change of venue.

The principle is simple: sometimes you are stuck with a client who has received staggering amounts of negative press from local media. In that case, you are faced with the choice of whether to pursue the case in your locality or choose a different court area.

It seems like a simple choice to just pack up your bags and move for a clean slate. But the issue is that if you’re looking for areas untouched by bad press, normally you’d be looking at “law and order” counties, or more rural areas where conviction rates skyrocket.

My advisor’s lawyer friend told him that in a vast majority of the cases in which he is presented with this decision, he chooses to forgo the change of venue and keep the case in a location tainted by bad press.

This was interesting to me, because it shows that in a lot of cases media bias is considered more manageable than juror bias that stems from other sources. It reminded me to take caution in separating media bias from other outside bias and how much of a challenge it would be. It’s something that I will be focusing on as I put the spotlight on other cases.

Next week, I think I will take some time to shore up my short story writing skills. My advisor has offered to help me find some books that can help me. Looking forward to it!

Back on Track

Hey guys!

I was pretty sick for a couple days still this week, but I managed to get better in the middle of it and am scrambling to make up the hours that I missed.

I have selected my final list of 4 cases that I will focus my research on (outside of the theoretical work that I’ve been slogging through). Here they are, with quick explanations.

People v. OJ Simpson: The one that started them all. This case is often the first that comes to mind when you think about high profile “red carpet” courtroom cases. It would be amiss if I didn’t investigate this one.

People v. Casey Anthony: A case that involves a mother on trial for the murder of her kid daughter. This case is notable for the sheer amount of public outrage that swelled against the young mother but also for the fact that it ended in acquittal. Definitely an interesting case.

People v. Aaron Burr: Aaron Burr is best known for being the man who shot and killed Hamilton in a duel. His trial, interestingly, was plagued by the issue of not being able to find impartial juries, because the newspapers were so critical of him. A good case to examine the effects of the times.

People v. Martin Shkreli: This case was brought to my attention by my good friend over at fastreact.wordpress.com! Martin Shkreli, or Pharmabro, is on trial for something completely unrelated to his price hikes of essential drugs, yet his jury selection transcripts show that he receives a huge amount of animosity stemming from that action.

It took me a while to refine, but in the end I am pretty happy with this list. I’m excited to begin doing in depth research on each of them! I want to look at everything, from courtroom transcripts to jury selection transcripts to external media attention. I hope to unearth some great details that I can draw inspiration from and incorporate into my story.

Thanks for tuning in! See you next time.

Setbacks

This week I was, unfortunately, sick and bedridden. My head is still ringing a little bit, so I didn’t get much reading and research done (and any that I did was highly ineffective. I don’t remember too much.) I will have to double my efforts as soon as I get better to make up for lost time. A lot of people seem to have been getting sick lately! Take care of yourselves.

I thought that I should scrounge together an update anyway. And I have spent some time this week thinking about the story that I want to write at the end.

Here’s the basic idea: former big celebrity, fallen from grace, kind of a jerk, gets accused of murder and arrested. An overly optimistic and justice minded fresh out of law school attorney gets stuck on the job. The attorney is forced to realize the futility of the case as the story goes on.

Part of me wants to give the story a happy ending, but I just can’t manage to see it that way. I also think that the most effective way to get the message across would be to end the story in tragedy. Sorry, characters-whom-I-have-not-named-yet.

Sorry again for the short update. But I do feel a lot closer to kicking this sickness, so as soon as I recover I’ll be back, guns blazing.

Thanks for reading!

Interlude

Time for another update already! There’s less to report on than I would like this time, since practice for my driving test has been keeping me pretty busy.

I mentioned that I would come up with a final list of cases, but I unfortunately can’t produce something like that just yet — it proves to be a pretty herculean task. (Especially if you’re easily distracted by juicy case stories, like me, and end up trapped in an endless Wikipedia spiral.)

I’ve enlisted help from both my faculty and off-campus advisor regarding case selection, so I should be done with that shortly.

Meanwhile, the story portion of the project occupies my mind more and more. My faculty advisor suggested that I read a novel by attorney and author Scott Turow, who is dedicated to the reality of the courtroom process. It seems like a perfect fit. I’m not interested in writing a John Grisham legal thriller, as fun as that sounds. I hope I can learn a thing or two from him.

Sorry that I didn’t have too much to say this week. Next week’s update should definitely be more robust. Thanks for reading!

“There is no such thing as justice.”

This is the, ahem, inspiring and optimistic sentence with which Richard Gabriel begins his book, Acquittal. (Well, there was a hackneyed Shakespeare quote before it, but because I pretended not to see it, that’s where the book began for me.)

Welcome back to my blog! This post, as promised, will contain some thoughts on the book which I finished this week. I have absolutely no intention to turn this into a book report, so I’ll be brief, but the book has been both interesting and helpful for my research.

The framework of the book is Gabriel’s theory of 4-faceted justice (You might be thinking: what? You just said there was no such thing as justice. That confused me, too, but I guess he meant that there’s no one definition of justice).

The four justices according to Gabriel are:
– Justice: The Law. The aspiration of Justice and the thing that instills in us the fear of punishment.
– justice: The actual justice system. Paperwork, paperwork, paperwork. The decidedly unglamorous machinery of our court system.
– JUSTICE!: News, entertainment, and commentary tossed up in a blender. Shocking plot twists, excruciating suspense, and Hollywood drama. JUSTICE! sells.
– imaginary justice: The justice of jurors. The illusion of reality that jurors construct in their minds through what they have learned — both within the courtroom and beyond it. Ultimately fallible.

I found this an interesting way of looking at the issue. It’s definitely something I will use to categorize my specific findings about cases (which I am beginning to pick out.)

Gabriel goes on to discuss many famous cases through these lenses. I found his analysis of the Anthony case (a parent on trial for the murder of a child) and the Spector case (a famous songwriter/producer on trial for the murder of an actress) especially interesting. Next week, I’ll be focusing on selecting a final list of cases to read through, analyze, and draw inspiration from.

Shakespeare aside, Acquittal was a great read. Highly recommended.

Thanks for tuning in! See you next week.

Dive Right In

Happy Lunar New Year! I hope this update finds you all in good health and good fortune.

First off, this week I cracked open Richard Gabriel’s Acquittal. It’s a deeply interesting read that I’d recommend to anyone, and I’m honestly so thankful it isn’t crammed full of legal lingo that would take me years to decipher. Gabriel talks not only about jury proceedings, but also about the general public opinion of cases versus court verdicts, which is useful for my needs. And he does it all while not being boring in the least. Godsend, really. If anyone ends up picking it up, let me know what you think.

I also began work at the law office. It’s quite different from the glamorous law firms you’d see in crime dramas and movies! There are only two attorneys at the firm, and it has a really interesting family-like atmosphere. Everyone is scary smart, resourceful, and multitalented (some of the things they dabble in are beer-brewing, cross-continental cycling, snake caretaking, and game-console building, to name a few) though, and I really feel honored to be working here. There’s a lot to learn.

I hope to finish Acquittal next week, and I’ll post more fully formulated thoughts about it then. This first week, I needed to find my footing, and one can only hope that the sailing gets smoother as the weeks roll by.

Thanks for tuning in!