Netflix's "Making a Murderer" Is Captivating Everyone

Current Events, Exploring HeinOnline, Fastcase, Law Journal Library, Searching
Shannon Sabo

Thank goodness winter has finally arrived.

Prior to the recent arctic blast, we felt compelled to venture outdoors and actively participate in society. Now, with temperatures in the teens and cars covered in ice, there is zero shame in curling up on the couch and binge-watching Netflix's popular documentary, Making a Murderer.

Spoiler Alert

This 10-episode true crime series from filmmakers Moira Demos and Laura Ricciardi follows the story of Steven Avery, a man erroneously convicted of sexual assault and attempted murder in 1985. After being exonerated by DNA evidence and released from prison in 2003, he was later accused and convicted of the murder of Teresa Halbach.

End Spoiler Alert

Unfortunately, wrongful convictions are nothing new or unusual, and the beginning of this series feels much like a standard episode of Dateline. So why are so many people talking about this series, and becoming enraged by the miscarriage of justice encountered by Steven Avery? Possible reasons:

  • The series was released just before the holidays this past December, when network shows are on hiatus and people have time off from work.
  • The failings of the criminal justice system are so severe in this case that it's impossible not to become terrified: if it can happen to Steven Avery, it can happen to any of us.
  • Unlike Dateline and similar programs, there is no narrator. Viewers are forced to really pay attention and engage more deeply with the case, according to this piece from Slate magazine.

To brush up on the facts of this story before or after devoting 10 of your hours to the documentary, run a search in HeinOnline for "Steven Avery" AND Manitowoc across all subscribed libraries. Results will include both case law* and scholarly articles pertaining to the cases of which Steven Avery is a part. Use the facets on the left side of the screen to limit search results to include only case law:

*Case law results available to Fastcase Premium users.

This case from August 1987 is from the Wisconsin Court of Appeals; this more recent case from 2012 discusses Avery's claim that a search of his home occurred in violation of the Fourth Amendment. Both cases are available in HeinOnline.

The Steven Avery case painted a "clear picture of criminal investigatory dysfunction" which led to subsequent innocence reform, and these ideas are discussed in detail in Instituting Innocence Reform: Wisconsin's New Governance Experience by Katherine Kruse, which appeared in the Wisconsin Law Review in 2006.

A broader search for "wrongful convictions" AND "innocence project" reveals more than 800 articles written on this subject. Sort results by number of times cited by articles to review the most cited material first:

Check out these articles in HeinOnline by Dean Strang, Steven Avery's attorney, and these search results for "Brendan Dassey," Steven's nephew who is very much a part of this case. The documentary also has its critics; this New Yorker article addresses some concerns about the filmmakers' preconceived notions about the case.

If you have questions about searching in HeinOnline, contact our dedicated support team at (800) 277-6995, via email, or chat with us. To learn more about the wrongfully convicted, visit innocenceproject.org.