How HBO’s "The Night Of" Gives You Power
It is possibly the most memorable line of the show. John Turturro’s character, John Stone, walks across the front of the courtroom and says, “What I see is what happens when you put a kid in Rikers (Island Correctional Facility in New York) and say, ‘Okay, survive that while we try you for a crime you didn’t commit.’” That “kid” is Nazir Khan, the main character in last year’s HBO miniseries The Night Of. This moment comes at the end of his murder trial.
If you didn’t see it, the 8-part miniseries details the murder of a young woman and the corresponding trial of Nazir Khan, a Pakistani-American college student. It takes you from the night of the murder to the end of Khan’s trial and shows you all of the legal elements in between. It is fiction, and therefore some liberties are taken. However, since most people get their knowledge of our country’s criminal justice system from either the media or personal experience, this is one form of media that will be eye-opening to some.
Alarming Scenes from The Night Of:
“Innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt” is a high standard for prosecutors to meet. The HBO miniseries, however, shows how that standard can be lowered. Early on, there is a series of scenes in which Khan is being questioned by a police detective, who is hoping for a quick and easy confession from a scared kid. It is not until a low-level defense attorney named John Stone finds him in prison and decides to represent him that the police cease their questioning.
Actually, that’s not true. Even after Stone instructs him not to talk to the police – something that this blog also recommended several months ago, twice – the detective still tries to coerce information from him. It is all very deceptive, and it gets worse when the detective tries to use Khan’s medication as leverage. It shows how much room police have to get information from suspects during their investigations.
It gets worse. The audience gets a first-hand look at the work of the lead prosecutor. In one particularly troubling scene, the prosecutor meets with the doctor who will be called to testify about the wounds of both the murdered woman and Khan. She asks him if a cut on Khan’s hand could have come from the knife slipping while executing the murder. She gets him – without quite actually using the words herself – to practice the testimony he will deliver in order to make her case stronger. A few episodes later, he delivers those lines the exact same way during his testimony, even though he has not come to that conclusion himself.
The defense hires its own forensics expert (from its own budget), and this expert later delivers his own intriguing testimony. The show does a great job of showing how hard it is for a defense team to match up to the resources (not to mention the relationships) of the prosecution. By the end, “innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt” suddenly looks like a toss-up proposition.
Back to Real Life in Central Virginia:
Fiction is not real life. New York is a long way from Central Virginia, and no one is implying that local prosecutors and medical experts are colluding to win cases in this area of the country. The difficulty of the defense attorneys in this show, however, is applicable to the real world.
With the proliferation of cable TV, podcasts, and more, the public has gotten to see the system from additional angles. Podcasts like Serial, documentary series like Making a Murderer, and fictionalized series like The Night Of have appealed to wide audiences. It is why this blog has highlighted many of them as case studies to make you more aware of your rights.
Knowledge is power. With this HBO show last year, more knowledge was given as to how the system works from start to finish. It was a bonus that it was entertaining, too.
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