With an abundance of true crime and legal documentaries available today, there are plenty of shows that have a strong focus on the legal procedures in unique cases.
We’ve compiled a list of four true crime and legal documentaries that take a deep dive into the legal procedures of different types of law.
If criminal defense peaks your interest, this is the documentary for you. The story focuses on the controversial death of Kathleen Peterson after she was found bloody and (seemingly) beaten at the bottom of her staircase.
Police and detectives arrive at the Peterson home and immediately believe Kathleen has been murdered by the only person home at the time of her death: Michael Peterson. When asked what happened, Michael claims he found Kathleen that way after coming inside from relaxing next to the pool.
The Staircase takes you on the journey of the defense to try and show the jury that there is too much doubt to convict Michael Peterson of the murder of his wife. Viewers are invited to watch the entire case preparation as well as the trial and the appeals process.
In preparing for the case, David Rudolf — Peterson’s defense lawyer, brings in various expert witnesses to show the holes in the prosecution’s case.
One of the experts on the defense side argues that it is totally possible (and likely) that Kathleen actually fell on the staircase while she was attempting to go up them and sustained multiple head wounds from the fall. Rudolf also brings in a world-renowned blood spatter analyst who shows the jury why the scene was so bloody in nature.
The audience is brought on a truly bizarre ride in determining whether Peterson did, in fact, murder his wife, or whether the seemingly impossible is true: Kathleen fell down the stairs and hit her head multiple times in the process. To make matters worse for Michael, there is another case from a decade earlier that shows he was involved in another woman dying on her staircase.
This documentary is an excellent choice for those incoming 1Ls who are interested in pursuing a career in criminal defense. Viewers are able to witness exactly what goes into trial prep and courtroom proceedings, as well as appeals processes.
When we think about true crime, it usually doesn’t involve a hostage robbing a bank with a cane gun and a bomb chained around his neck. Evil genius perplexes the viewer from start to finish. What starts off as a bizarre bank robbery ends up turning into an interwoven string of murders by an “evil genius” named Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong.
Brian Wells, a 46-year-old pizza delivery man in Erie, Pennsylvania, walked into a bank on August 28, 2003. He was carrying a make-shift cane gun and had a bomb chained around his neck. He passed the bank teller a note instructing them to fill the bag with cash, grabbed a lollipop, and casually walked out of the bank.
Police were called and promptly arrested Wells, after which the bomb detonated and killed him. Police later determined that Wells was sent on a deadly scavenger hunt that went horribly wrong.
Evil Genius takes the viewer on a prosecution and investigation-focused journey that attempts to answer whether Wells was a hostage or a willing participant in the plan, who built the bomb, and who was the evil genius behind the entire heist.
This documentary is a great option for those incoming 1Ls who are interested in a career in prosecution.
Abducted in Plain Sight
Abducted in Plain Sight might be one of the most bizarre true-crime stories you’ll ever come across. In a story filled with strange twists and unbelievable parenting decisions, this documentary interviews a victim who was abducted and sexually assaulted by a trusted neighbor.
Viewers of this documentary are taken on the disturbing journey of victim Jan Broberg and how she was sexually assaulted by her neighbor, Robert Berchtold.
The most difficult thing to comprehend in this case is that Jan was kidnapped by Robert twice. You’ll often be asking the question, “How could the parents let this happen a second time?” The documentary tells the story of how this happened to the victim two times, as well as capturing Robert and whether or not he faced prosecution for his crimes.
Abducted in Plain Sight is a great documentary to watch for incoming 1Ls due to its inclusion of so many different aspects of crimes: grooming, kidnapping, sexual assault, extortion, and neglect.
Hot Coffee was born out of the famous and controversial winning lawsuit of Stella Liebeck, who sued McDonald’s for $2.9 million for serving coffee that was too hot. The documentary was released during a time where many thought that there were too many frivolous lawsuits in the United States and that there was a strong need for tort reform.
Filmmaker Susan Saladoff, a former trial lawyer, tackles this idea and argues the importance of our 7th Amendment right to a jury trial in civil cases.
This is an excellent documentary for future law students due to its focus on specific cases and examining how the law was applied to each. This is an especially good documentary for those interested in pursuing a career in torts.
The plaintiff in the McDonald’s case spilled the coffee on herself after holding the cup between her legs in the car, so how was McDonald’s determined to be at fault? It will leave viewers questioning whether there is a need for tort reform in the U.S., or whether that would infringe upon our 7th Amendment right to a jury trial.