In the Courtroom, Narratives Carry the Day, Not the Facts

Rabia Chaudry’s words here on our judicial system are just too important not to be read and shared by everyone.  Please take a moment to read and digest these words; they speak a profound (and disturbing) truth about how our court systems really work.  

We like to think that “just the facts, ma’am” and “the letter of the law” are what drive and guide juries as they make their decisions in courtrooms around this country.  But the truth is much less comforting.  Humans are narrative creatures- we understand things through stories.  It’s why we dream, literally.  All the “facts”- stimuli we experience through our five senses throughout the day- are processed and stored while we sleep.  Instead of (like a computer might) placing these various and diverse events into their storage compartments, our brains create stories wherein all those crazy events collide and converge in a way that (to our dreaming mind) actually makes some sense.  That’s narrative.  A whole bunch of disparate points of information, disconnected and various, that our mind makes linear, coherent (at least apparently), and digestible as a story (dream).

A similar process, if you will, occurs during a trial that can span days and weeks, even months.  The is juror absorbing all of this (often complex) testimony, exhibits, facts, opinions, this and that, is expected at the end of that long process to (basically from memory) decide what the “truth” is… what really happened, beyond a reasonable doubt.  Because we are not computers or machines, our brains want there to be cohesion and so usually whichever side (prosecution or defense) that can do the best to win the narrative war, wins the case.  The problem with this reality is that the narrative (of either side) may or may not very well coincide with the actual reality of what actually happened during the “crime.”  Sometimes, too often I’d purport, the narrative first concocted by the investigating police and put into their report gets either embellished or honed by the prosecuting attorney, thus carrying forward whatever narrative it is into trial- whether or not the actual facts of the case are substantively and accurately reflected therein.

Understanding this process, it’s easy to see how this narrative, this story then, in many ways becomes the case itself.  Competing narratives, not the facts of the case- which story will win the imagination of the jury- ends up defining the adjudication process.  This is our judicial system in a nutshell.

I encourage you to listen to this episode of Undisclosed on your own.  Consider the great metaphor (to this very point) that Colin Miller refers to in the beginning of the podcast, highlighting a scene from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Pointillism.

Studies actually show that at the end of the day it’s not facts that convince people.

Facts don’t change minds, and facts don’t even help people make them up-

it’s stories, narratives- that’s what people rely on- and in the courtroom-

whoever tells a better story, whoever creates the best overall impression of what may have happened,

wins.

…Even if the facts contradict that narrative.

And once there’s a conviction the battle gets harder, because the chances are winning an appeal are often slim to none.

– Rabia Chaudry – Undisclosed Podcast – S2, Ep. 22 “The Trial”

 

*****

Tezi and I discuss criminal justice reform often.  Join us in helping to raise awareness of wrongful convictions and the distressing shortcomings of our criminal justice system.  We do believe that improvements can be made, that reforms can help people, especially those already or soon-to-be caught up in the system.

Our Twitter account.

Our Instagram dedicated to Wrongful_Convictions

32 thoughts on “In the Courtroom, Narratives Carry the Day, Not the Facts

  1. Pingback: Buy generic cialis

  2. Pingback: Purchasing viagra on the internet

  3. http://topnoad.noads.biz/?p=137

    My partner and I absolutely love your blog and find most of your post’s to be what precisely I’m looking for.

    Does one offer guest writers to write content for you personally?

    I wouldn’t mind creating a post or elaborating on a few of the subjects you
    write with regards to here. Again, awesome website!

    Reply
  4. Pingback: Cialis kaufen

  5. Pingback: Viagra purchasing

  6. Pingback: Cialis online

  7. Pingback: Cialis vs viagra

  8. Pingback: Viagra tablets australia

  9. http://www.ob3tb.com/?p=1468

    Hey there just wanted to give you a quick heads
    up. The words in your content seem to be running
    off the screen in Safari. I’m not sure if this is a
    format issue or something to do with web browser compatibility but
    I figured I’d post to let you know. The style and design look great though!

    Hope you get the issue resolved soon. Thanks

    Reply
  10. Pingback: Viagra or cialis

  11. ob3tb

    Today, I went to the beachfront with my children. I found a sea shell and gave it
    to my 4 year old daughter and said “You can hear the ocean if you put this to your ear.” She
    put the shell to her ear and screamed. There was a hermit crab inside and
    it pinched her ear. She never wants to go back!

    LoL I know this is completely off topic but I had
    to tell someone!

    Reply
  12. Pingback: Cialis generic

  13. Pingback: Cialis coupon

  14. Pingback: Cialis prices

  15. Pingback: writeessay

  16. Pingback: Generic cialis

  17. Pingback: Buy cialis

  18. Pingback: Cialis kaufen

  19. Pingback: vioglichfu.7m.pl

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *