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Suffers from heavy-handedness
This episode has a strong premise. A sexual predator is released from prison on parole with chemical castration. The neighborhood resents his presence but is unable to keep him out since he has done nothing wrong during parole. The man seems reformed. Someone in the neighborhood takes matters into their own hands and shoots him. This premise immediately sets up the conflict between the rights of prior offenders versus the security of society.
Unfortunately the characters of the episode are exaggerated in such a way as so telegraph the ending, make the episode predictable, and leave little time for the interesting conflict that sets up the story. Each plot turn makes the story less and less morally ambiguous and the conflict a battle of right and wrong. The scripts ends up being more about a politically ambiguous defense attorney than the balance between the rights of individuals. Truly a wasted opportunity.
A great examination of the complexity of the legal system
The episode sets up a story of three defendants, each with a different level of involvement in the case. The facts of the case are very complicated. One major plot thread is the differing quality of representation gained by those who have means as opposed to those forced to use the public defender's office. The story doesn't end there, though, the show takes a hard look at the difficulties of truly accessing the guilt of a defendant and the important role that motivation plays in the establishment of the guilt of the defendant. This episode works well because it is willing to not give the viewer the satisfaction of well- drawn moral lines, right and wrong, and a clear answer.
Strong Start to the series
L&O: Trial by Jury had a more difficult task setting itself apart from its parent series. SVU had a clear focus on sex cases, while Criminal Intent gave us the perspective of the perp. Trial By Jury is, in some ways, just the second half of an episode of Law and Order. This episode makes a strong case for the series. We see the defendant choosing a lawyer, the defense making decisions on how to handle the case, and the jury deliberating. This episode is based on a pretty straightforward premise - a rich defendant to murder and a case without any forensic evidence, only motive. It makes a strong case for the spin off by allowing an interesting perspective on the case. It's a little heavy-handed in it's portrayal of the defendant, he's clearly the bad guy and every scene sets him up as someone for the viewer to dislike.
Stretching the premise by episode two
There's what this episode really wants to be about, and what the episode is actually about due to the premise of the show. The circumstance is a defendant who killed a police officer and was shot a number of times in return. The episode sets him up as a very greedy man, along with his lawyer, who wants to sue the police department for his injuries. That would be an interesting case, whether the police department is liable. Unfortunately it's not a criminal case. Trial By Jury is about criminal cases, and so we see the defendant being tried for the murder of the police officer. We are given a jury that is hesitant to convict such an injured man. This never quite comes across as believable. He killed cop, and doesn't dispute killing the cop. His self-defense argument is propped up with mentions of police corruption that are poorly explained. The viewer doesn't believe for a second that the jury will really let a cop killer go without more powerful evidence than the episode provides. If it had been about whether the police had used excessive force, that would be an episode worth watching.