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Does Ferris Bueller Need a Criminal Defense Lawyer?

There was a fun article on the NPR webpage yesterday about summer teen movies and how they are, basically, movies about a crime spree. I have to admit, my knee-jerk reaction to just about any teen movie is to mentally chronicle the crimes that are being depicted, going back to when I first saw Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Perhaps that reveals something deep about my chosen career path.

Regardless, there is, I think, an important lesson in this observation. When we watch these movies, such as Ferris Bueller’s day off, the audience’s reaction is not “Arrest the Scofflaw” but, rather, sympathy with the main character in the movie. Why is that? Why do we, as audience members, forgive criminal conduct when it’s done in the name of teenage fun?

This is an important question for people accused of a crime because the only meaningful difference between a moviegoer and a juror is whether the person was compelled to learn about the subject of the movie or trial. So why does the audience root for the person committing a crime when watching these movies?

If you have questions about how federal criminal charges are different than state criminal charges, please visit this page on Maryland federal criminal charges or Washington DC federal criminal charges.

The answer, I think, is not terribly deep. It’s because people watching a movie sympathize with the person in the movie. They’re disposed to sympathize with him or her by the nature of the movie (and there’s some self-selection there, folks probably wouldn’t shell out $10 to watch a film that was sympathetic towards, say, Stalin). By contrast jurors are disposed not to sympathize with the person accused of a crime (for the most part).

Another part of it, of course, is that the person’s life is put into context in a movie. Often, in a criminal trial, the lawyers forget or are unable to show the jurors who the defendant is as a person. When the only thing the jurors hear about is the one regrettable day in that person’s life, they’re less likely to cast a sympathetic eye toward him. As I’ve said before, it’s important to have people sympathizing with you.

Much of this is forced on criminal defense lawyers by the rules of evidence and how narrowly the elements of most offenses are construed by the courts. But I think the real lesson of Ferris Bueller is that people will root for you and sympathize with you if they understand a little bit about you.

Also, life moves pretty fast. You don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.