I watched the opening arguments in the case of the People of Minnesota vs. Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer on trial for the death of George Floyd last May. Compared to the hours of drama you can watch in reruns of “Law & Order” or “Perry Mason” or “The Practice” or “Inherit the Wind” or any number of TV series and movies, it was pretty dull stuff. No outbursts, no attorney jumping to his feet to holler “Objection!”, no tearful confessions from the witness stand. Just a methodical presentation of each side of the case by the prosecution and the defense, followed by the first witnesses. MSNBC was carrying it live, but I’m pretty sure that by the afternoon, most viewers switched over to watch a rerun of something else that was more dramatic.
Good. That’s as it should be. While a trial is drama at the core — a presentation of evidence in an adversarial setting in a setting that bespeaks a theatre and puts the fate of the defendant in the hands of a selected audience who will vote on the outcome — justice itself cannot be theatre, and the jury shouldn’t be swayed by the irrelevancy of dramatic effects. That doesn’t serve the case of George Floyd or Derek Chauvin, and while we have made courtroom drama one of the basics of our entertainment, it can’t be how we arrive at a just resolution.
In a way, you have to laugh at how the papers and especially the cable channels are building up the tension and excitement for this trial (I’ve lost count as to how many “trials of the century” I’ve been through) only to find out that it is dull, plodding, methodical, and excruciating in its detail. But in reality, the duller and more pedantic it is, the more it is likely to arrive at the truth. And that is all that matters.