Adam Ruins Justice

Dec 11 2016

In this episode, Adam takes on the justice system, demonstrating why juries simply can’t be impartial and explaining why the prosecution is always better and more well-funded than court-appointed defense lawyers. Here are his sources.


“She had third-degree burns on her legs and genitals, and she went into shock. She underwent painful skin graft operations and her surgeon said it was one of the worst cases he had ever seen. She was permanently disfigured, and she nearly died.”

Keneally, Meghan. “The truth behind the ‘hot coffee’ lawsuit: The elderly woman who became a punchline had 16% of her body covered in burns and McDonalds had ignored 700 earlier complaints about excessively hot drinks.” The Daily Mail. DMG Media, 21 Oct. 2013. Web.

“McDonalds themselves even admitted that at that temperature, their coffee was a ‘hazard.’”

Haltom, William and Michael McCann. Distorting the Law: Politics, Media and the Litigation Crisis. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004.

“In the end, Stella settled for less than $600,000, but that was enough to make McDonald’s lower their temperature and stop hurting people! “

Cain, Kevin G. “And Now, the Rest of the Story…About the McDonalds Hot Coffee Lawsuit.” The Houston Lawyer, Jul./Aug. 2007. Web.

“Corporations that feared getting sued created front groups like ‘Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse’ to turn public opinion against lawsuits. This included companies like Texaco, Pfizer, and Philip Morris.”

Deal, Carl and Joanne Doroshow. The CALA Files - The Secret Campaign by Big Tobacco and Other Major Industries to Take Away Your Rights. New York: New York Law School, 1999. Web.

“And that couldn’t be further from the truth. The number of injury cases keeps shrinking. And the median payout is only around $55,000 dollars.”

Cohen, Thomas H. Tort Bench and Jury Trials in State Courts, 2005. Washington: U.S. Department of Justice, 2009. Web.

“Not quite, but one study did reveal that juries are more likely to recommend lenient punishments to attractive defendants.”

Gunnell, Justin J., and Stephen J. Ceci. “When Emotionality Trumps Reason: A Study of Individual Processing Style and Juror Bias.” Behavioral Sciences & the Law 28.6 (2010): 850-877.

“And juries actually find defendants guilty less often if they’re wearing glasses. It’s known as the “nerd defense.”

Brown, Michael J., Ernesto Henriquez, and Jennifer Groscup. “The Effects of Eyeglasses and Race on Juror Decisions Involving a Violent Crime.” American Journal of Forensic Psychology 26.2 (2008): 25.

“In some cases, the consultants will even screen the juror’s Facebook to decide who to keep or send home.”

Campoy, Ana and Ashby Jones. Searching for Details Online, Lawyers Facebook the Jury. Wall Street Journal. Dow Jones and Company, 22 Feb. 2011. Web.

“Our juries are all looking at the world through tinted lenses. That’s one of the reasons black defendants fare so much worse with juries. We’ve all been exposed to damaging stereotypes that link African Americans to crime. This can lead juries to assign African Americans longer sentences because we implicitly see them as more of a threat. Research suggests that juries even penalize black defendants based on skin tone: those with the darkest skin are the most likely to receive the death penalty.”

Eberhardt, Jennifer L., et al. “Looking Deathworthy Perceived Stereotypicality of Black Defendants Predicts Capital-Sentencing Outcomes.” Psychological Science 17.5 (2006): 383-386.

“And isn’t there a half-a-billion-dollar industry built around exploiting those biases? “

Benforado, Adam. Unfair: The New Science of Criminal Injustice. New York: Crown Publishers, 2015. Web.

“The federal government only pays jurors $40 a day. In Illinois, it’s as little as FOUR. We pay the people handing out death sentences less than the people handing out fast food!”

Renzulli, Kerri Anne. “How Being a Juror Is Worse Than Working at McDonald’s.” Money. Time Inc., 19 Feb. 2015. Web.

“The pay is so low, we overwhelmingly see jury duty as a burden. Juror turnout is so bad, some cities have had to postpone murder trials!”

Ferguson, Andrew Guthrie. “A Juror Bill of Rights.” The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, 11 Sep. 2015. Web.

“No, do you know what it’s like in reality? It means when someone can’t afford a lawyer, we defend them. Over eighty percent of people charged with a crime require our help.”

Mosteller, Robert P. “Failures of the American Adversarial System to Protect the Innocent and Conceptual Advantages in the Inquisitorial Design for Investigative Fairness.” North Carolina Journal of International Law & Commercial Regulation 36.2 (2011).

“First of all, there just straight up aren’t enough of us, because doing this work means turning down a lucrative career. On average, lawyers who work for big private firms earn DOUBLE what we make.”

“Some Associate Salaries Retreat from Their High But Remain Far Ahead of Salaries for Public Service Attorneys.” National Association for Law Placement, 2010.

“Instead, public defenders work for peanuts and their case loads are ridiculous.”

Van Brunt, Alexa. “Poor people rely on public defenders who are too overworked to defend them.” The Guardian. Guardian Media Group, 17 Jun. 2015. Web.

“At that rate, it’s impossible to spend enough time per case. There was one public defender in Minnesota who had about twelve minutes per client.”

Mador, Jessica. “A public defender’s day: 12 minutes per client.” MPR News. Minnesota Public Radio, 29 Nov. 2010. Web.

“In one case a public defender had to represent multiple people facing life sentences the same week they passed the bar exam!”

Peng, Tina. “I’m a public defender. It’s impossible for me to do a good job representing my clients.” Washington Post. Nash Holdings LLC, 3 Sep. 2015. Web.

“In California, for every one dollar spent on prosecution, Only 53 cents is spent on indigent defense.”

Benner, Laurence A. “The Presumption of Guilt: Systemic Factors that Contribute to Ineffective Assistance of Counsel in California.” California Western Law Review 45.263 (2009).

“In 2007, prosecutors received three point five billion dollars more than public defenders.”

Waxman, Simon. “Pleading Out: America’s Broken Public Defense System.” Los Angeles Review of Books, 18 Mar. 2013. Web.

“Public defenders are so underfunded, New Orleans had to start refusing new cases.”

“New Orleans Public Defenders Refuse New Cases To Highlight Underfunding.” All Things Considered. National Public Radio, 29 Jan. 2016. Web.

“Yep, your free lawyer will cost you ninety-two dollars an hour.”

Walker, Mark. “In S.D., right to an attorney comes with a price.” The Argus Leader. Gannett Company, 8 Mar. 2016. Web.

For More on this Topic

The documentary Hot Coffee does a deep dive into Stella Liebeck’s infamous lawsuit, and examines how it became the symbol of a trumped-up problem.

Adam Benforado’s Unfair delves into the social science that clouds our abilities to level justice.

Dylan Walsh’s feature in The Atlantic illustrates what exactly justice looks like when public defenders are pushed well past their breaking points.