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Making a Murderer Better System: And Justice For All
By: Aaron J. Burke

Many of us have fond memories of proudly chanting the Pledge of Allegiance in grade school—right up there with the joy of belting Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA” in school plays while donning hand-painted U.S. flag T-shirts.

Sure, we studied some of the Pledge’s concepts in law school, but when was the last time you actually thought about the meaning of the words? Have you ever wondered what might happen if we all took time out of our busy schedules to make those words ring more true?

Humor me and truly read it:

I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

Powerful, right? Without going into the long history of the Pledge or getting sidetracked by esoteric discussions, I think the vast majority of us are able to nod along with most, if not all, of the ideals listed in that short refrain. But I want to call your attention to that last phrase, that little part about “justice for all.” I think deep down inside, most of us want to believe in it. We hope for it. We want to live in a country where our children can depend on it.

The recent spotlight on seemingly unjust investigations, prosecutions, defenses, and convictions only affirms my opinion that the vast majority of our fellow Americans have an innate understanding that everyone deserves Justice (with a big “J”), from the richest hedge fund manager to the poorest beggar on the street.

However, if you have read the news or picked up a TV remote lately, you have seen, read, or heard true crime stories like “Making a Murderer,” “Serial,” “The Jinx,” etc. They are truly fascinating, and our collective reactions to those stories are more fascinating still. At the time of my writing, there exists a petition with more than 520,000 signatures calling for the exoneration of Steven Avery (from “Making a Murderer”). Clearly, the show angered or frustrated a lot of people!

However, I think nearly all of that collective anger and frustration has been misplaced. Exoneration may or may not be justice in Mr. Avery’s case. No one watching Netflix from the comfort of their couch can intelligently make a determination as to his guilt or innocence. We simply do not have enough information, and we do not know the truth.

So, where should we pour our anger and frustration at perceived injustice such as this? At belittling the investigative agencies involved? At shouting about the innocence or guilt of a man or woman based on our limited review of evidence presented by a TV or radio program? At asking the president to pardon the convicted?

I would entreat you to use your frustration or desire for change to educate yourself, and then the general public, about the causes of wrongful conviction. Then, go out and get involved in efforts to make policy improvements to the criminal justice system. After all, if we do not understand the causes of the vast majority of wrongful convictions, how can we ever hope to prevent them?

Enter the Texas Young Lawyers Association and our “And Justice For All” project, an interactive website designed to address the primary causes of wrongful convictions and what judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, investigators, and the general public can do to help decrease their number. We hope that this website will offer substantive information to those who are frustrated with the system, but also offer suggestions for those who want to turn their frustration and anger into concrete actions to improve our system—and make those words “and justice for all” ring a little bit more true each time our children stand up and proudly say the Pledge of Allegiance.

Please visit for more information on how to get involved.

Aaron J. Burke, is an attorney at Hartline Dacus Barger Dreyer LLP in Dallas, Texas.

Views and opinions expressed in eNews are those of their authors and not necessarily those of the Texas Young Lawyers Association or the State Bar of Texas.

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