Law is alive. Listen.
December 3, 2015 8:50 AM   Subscribe

Life of the Law is a scrupulously fair podcast that tells stories and asks questions about the place where the law and everyday life intersects. As part of its commitment to making the law accessible, each episode comes with a full transcript. Life of the Law has covered a variety of topics ranging from pregnancy and motherhood in prison to rules about where cops can live to the hidden costs of traffic stops to the reason lawyer ads get so ridiculous. You learn useful tidbits, too, like the secret power of jury nullification and how difficult it is to legally sell weed in "legal" states. Not all the episodes are so weighty, though; Life of the Law has also been known to cover things like history of legal humor.
posted by sciatrix (14 comments total) 45 users marked this as a favorite
Just stepping in to agree that this is a really fascinating podcast and worth listening to (even despite recent Mefi/meta discussions about fewer people stopping to explore podcast FPPs)!
posted by nightrecordings at 9:03 AM on December 3, 2015 [2 favorites]

I learned about jury nullification a couple years ago, and now feel weirdly bummed that that knowledge probably means that if I am honest in jury selection I will probably never sit on a jury. On the other hand I have weird enough views and enough lawyer family members that I probably wasn't going to be on a jury anyway.
posted by Wretch729 at 9:19 AM on December 3, 2015

I adore Life of the Law. The episode where Nancy managed to get on to Death Row, in particular, made the hairs on my arms stand on end it was so good. Given what a big coup that was I'm kind of surprised the episode isn't more famous somehow (although I'm not sure what or how exactly I am expecting?).

Oh and the one about conjugal visits was also really interesting. I had no idea how that worked.

In my mind this podcast and Criminal go together somehow. They're both on my "listen to new episodes before anything else" shortlist.
posted by shelleycat at 10:37 AM on December 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

You shouldn't feel bummed. Jury nullification is a disgusting, anti-democratic concept that's just veiled mob rule.
posted by Sangermaine at 10:39 AM on December 3, 2015 [2 favorites]

To be fair, democracy is more or less veiled mob rule, which only seems preferable to the alternatives that generally boil down to monarch or small-group rule.

Not that I'm saying jury nullification is a great thing
posted by kiltedtaco at 11:06 AM on December 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

I just wish they had a download button on their episodes. The player keeps dying on me.
posted by lumpenprole at 12:48 PM on December 3, 2015

Thanks for posting; these sound really interesting. Looking forward to checking it out on the ride home tonight.
posted by Tentacle of Trust at 3:29 PM on December 3, 2015

lumpenprole, earlier episodes do have download links. The current one doesn't but the URL for it can be inferred from the other download links:
posted by Coventry at 6:54 PM on December 3, 2015

now feel weirdly bummed that that knowledge probably means that if I am honest in jury selection I will probably never sit on a jury.

You shouldn't feel bummed; there's no need for you to be honest about knowing what jury nullification is.
posted by Greg Nog at 6:11 AM on December 4, 2015

You shouldn't feel bummed; there's no need for you to be honest about knowing what jury nullification is.

I don't understand this comment Greg Nog. Obviously this is all a fairly unlikely scenario and as I said there are other things that would likely keep me off a jury anyway, but if a lawyer during jury selection asked me "Are there circumstances under which you would find someone not guilty even if you believed they had committed the crime?" (or something to that effect) I don't see how I could honestly say no. There are (limited) circumstances where I would be unwilling to convict someone of a crime despite being fully convinced they had broken the law as written. I know I am not physically compelled to be honest about that but I don't think I would lie...
posted by Wretch729 at 8:02 AM on December 4, 2015

Jury nullification is a disgusting, anti-democratic concept that's just veiled mob rule.

um what; it's almost the exact opposite of anti-democratic

also, as to this,

even if you believed they had committed the crime?"

I think the kicker here is "the crime" since if you are in a position to consider jury nullification, it stands to reason that even if you think the person committed the requisite acts, such actions should not be criminal. So, it wouldn't be a lie to say that you don't believe the person has committed a crime.
posted by likeatoaster at 3:24 PM on December 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

also, I just...

The idea that is somehow more moral to tell the truth and get kicked off a jury, then to lie and help insure that the accused actually has a jury representative of their peers and therein doesn't face unjust penalties or prejudice, is just... endlessly baffling to me.
posted by likeatoaster at 3:37 PM on December 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

I think your argument about whether a "crime" was committed in the hypothetical case is sophistry: if the person broke the law they committed a crime, that's what the word means. Whether their actions were morally or ethically wrong is a different debate, as is how/if society should sanction them.

Your second point has more validity and is harder to articulate a response to. I guess I'd be interested to hear the opinions of people with more experience and/or a better understanding of the judicial system before I committed to a firm stance, but I can try to unpack my reasoning a bit in response to your bafflement.

There are a bunch of factors in this hypothetical and the weight one gives to different factors presumably would change one's position. I don't like to lie, as a general rule, if I can help it. My personal integrity, even as a cog of a flawed system, is pretty important to me.

As far as I'm aware in jury selection you aren't yet supposed to know much of anything about the case, so how can you know that lying about your opinions or knowledge would do anything to ensure a more representative jury?

Another factor is the extent to which one believes that the judicial system in general is a legitimate and/or functional institution. I do think the United States has many bad drug laws, and that the criminal justice system is flawed by both systemic prejudice and structural inequality.

I'm also wary of arguments that dishonesty is the best way to get palatable results from any system. Take that to its logical conclusion and you might as well collapse the whole system and start from scratch. (I am aware that there are people, some more reasonable than others, who would like to see exactly that.)

Civil disobedience in response to injustice (which is basically what I think likeatoaster's position comes down to) is a legitimate tactic in my opinion but I tend to believe that more effort should be devoted to fixing the legislative and also the enforcement side of things than the judicial; better laws would avoid many problems in the first place. I recognize that this stance offers little comfort to the hypothetical 18 year old who is about to have his life ruined on a bogus drug charge.

I suppose my response can be read as coming from either a very naïve place or from a place of privilege. I'm an upper middle class white guy with little to fear from the law and it's mostly not my neighbors, friends, and family who are hurt by the problems with our justice system. Easy to ramble about personal integrity on an internet forum when I don't have to grapple with the reality of suffering caused by misguided laws and "bad" juries. I've already gone on too long, but I also want to handwave at people like Ta-Nehisi Coates who make very compelling arguments that in many cases what I might call failures of the system are in fact the system working exactly as intended, in a systemically prejudiced way to ensure continued subjugation of a class of people.

So I concede that even the seemingly simple question of what I should say in a hypothetical jury selection is a complex ethical thicket but even as I admit "just don't lie" is a blinkered response, I also assert that "lie for justice!" is also limited.
posted by Wretch729 at 8:56 AM on December 7, 2015

Just wanted to say that I have been giving this a binge listen. Not only is it great, it also led me to this very fine rap song.
posted by Going To Maine at 10:17 AM on December 7, 2015

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