Thin Blue Line- the Bias Involved

Noah Caruso A Band

Bias has played a prominent role throughout time in the development of people and society. While not everyone likes the idea of acknowledging bias, it is there. Bias exists everywhere, most notably in the courtroom. In  Errol Morris’s The Thin Blue Line, he explores the arrest of two men, Randall Adams and David Harris, for the murder of a police officer and the impact of bias and human error. Bias was used throughout the trial to determine the murderer based on the likelihood of an individual committing murder at a certain age.

While interviewing a private investigator that had worked on the case, she explained the reasoning behind the arrest of Randall Adams instead of David Harris, the more likely suspect to have committed the murder. She states that Adams was the “convenient age” for the arrest. Harris was only sixteen, and unable to be charged with the death penalty, while Adams, twenty-six, was able to be tried as an adult and given capital punishment. This presents the bias that all juveniles are innocent, that adults are more likely to be in the wrong and influence the juveniles. It is easier to convince a jury that a twenty-six year old man had committed murder than a sixteen year old boy.

While the age was convenient to prosecute Randall Adams, the evidence was not. The stories given by both Harris and Adams were the same, though Harris’s was two hours ahead of what actually happened. Crucial pieces of evidence were overlooked and suppressed for the sake of conviction by the prosecution. The prosecution was faced with two options: give a somewhat suspicion man jail time, possibly death, or prosecute a juvenile and have no repercussions because of the laws restricting punishment.

Not only did age play a part in the conviction of Adams, but where he was from as well. David Harris ran away from home with his parent’s gun, and stole a neighbor’s car, but was still a native to the town where the murder was committed. Randall Adams, however, had come to town only a few days before meeting Harris on the road, and sharing his motel room with him. Having a murderous sixteen year old from your town making headlines across the country is not desirable. This gave the prosecution even more reason to pin the murder on Adams. They were biased towards not only the youth of Harris, but where his roots are.

Adams was convicted for the murder of officer Robert Wood and sentenced to death. When an officer is murdered, authorities want the worst possible punishment for the murderer, in this case death. The death penalty was unable to be given to a sixteen year old, and they would not see the punishment fit for a murderer of a fellow member of the law. False witnesses were brought to the courtroom to testify against Adams as well as false evidence. Three days before his execution, Supreme Court Justice Lewis R. Powell Jr. granted a stay of execution, instead sentencing Adams to life in prison without a new trial.

Through the investigation by Errol Morris and his documentary, he was able to collect enough evidence to make a case that Adams was innocent and Harris was the one who committed the murders. Being that Harris was now older and able to be tried as an adult, there were no biases toward him and no evidence was suppressed in favor of Harris. While Harris was never charged with the murder of the police officer, Adams was granted freedom. After his release from prison, Harris was convicted of breaking and entering, attempted kidnap, and attempted murder. He was sentenced to death by lethal injection, with nothing interfering in the case or conviction.

This case and wrongful conviction is a clear representation of the unjust and corrupt court system, something Morris tries to demonstrate in all of his films. The film exploits the bias, though not always noticeable, that is present in society, not just the courtroom. Great measures were taken to ensure the conviction of the man the authorities wanted- an adult male from Ohio who is able to be charged with the death penalty, something they felt was deserved for the murder of another police officer. They crossed the thin blue line, the willingness to blur the truth in favor of justice and defense of their fellow officers. They wanted a death for a death, something that is unable to be given to a sixteen year old, and they let bias sway them into doing everything in their power to convict the wrong person.

Bias exists in the courtroom today as well, sometimes more noticeably than others. Whether there is more bias today as opposed to the time period of the murder is debateable. Aside from bias being based on age as it was in the case of Adams and Harris, bias is more based on race, gender, and as of late, sexual preference. Laws are being put in motion to prevent bias from affecting the conviction and defense of a suspect in the court of law, especially in extreme cases like Randall Adams.

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