Sunday, September 13, 2009

Verdict of Forgiveness: The Jurist System and What It Means For Ace Attorney

“Evidence is everything. There is nothing more.”

-Kristoph Gavin, GS4

Right up until the very end of GS4, these words were perfectly descriptive of the judicial system in the Ace Attorney series. A case without “decisive evidence” to support it was dismissed out of hand, regardless of its plausibility. Time and time again, Phoenix Wright found himself in this situation throughout the first three games. The truth, as presented by him, seemed apparent, but there was insufficient “evidence” to validate it. Apollo Justice, though only just starting his career, has experienced this as well, and in a particularly graphic manner at that (cases 4-3 and 4-4). However, as of the end of GS4, all that has changed: juries may hear cases with a judge and declare innocence without basing their decision solely on evidence. Although this may be a more flexible and ideal judicial system than the previous one—as indicated by comments in GS4 from Phoenix, Apollo, Klavier Gavin and the judge—its consequences for future games could be more profound than anyone initially suspected.

The fundamental paradigm on which everything—and I mean everything—in the entire series has turned up to now is that evidence is paramount, it is first and foremost, it is the very cornerstone of Ace Attorney’s judicial system. The judge himself confirms this beyond a shadow of a doubt at the end of case 4-3: “The only thing definite in a court of law is evidence.” This truth has been largely ubiquitous throughout the series. Indeed, it is virtually impossible to ignore because, as mentioned above, in what seems like almost every single case in the entire series (in fact, it may literally BE every single case in the series), the defense attorney’s argument comes within an inch of being dismissed by the court because it is not supported by “decisive evidence.” In addition, the point has been driven home numerous times by the judge (as above) or the prosecutor (or the accused, as from this essay’s beginning quote). One of the most memorable examples of this comes from Miles Edgeworth in case 1-2: “In the courtroom, proof [which is to say, evidence] is everything. Without it, you have nothing. You ARE nothing.”

All of this matters because it is, by and large, the “hook” of the games up to now. You are the defense attorney and the truth is on your side (most of the time), but the system is not. The prosecution’s evidence is almost always both unimpeachable and damning, making the judge’s willingness to hear your side of the case almost seem downright generous, if not a waste of time (especially considering your perennial lack of “decisive evidence” to support your claims). In the end, a great number of cases (which is to say, nearly all of them) are only won due to eleventh-hour miracles and interventions. This cycle of near-defeat followed immediately by stunning victory is, remember, also represented by the protagonist’s name for the first three games, Phoenix, which just shows how closely intertwined the nature of the legal system and the feel of the games are.

However, what happens when this integral struggle between justice and an apparently broken system, which is, in itself, surely the overriding and dominant theme of the series up to now, is resolved? What happens when the eternal foe, the ever-present thorn in your side, insufficient evidence, is removed?

That is a question that remains to be answered until the release of GS5. There are at least three general scenarios of how the nature of the games could develop as a result of the introduction of the jurist system: in scenario 1, the jurist system would remain and be used to render many more “verdicts of forgiveness” (which occur when a defendant is found “not guilty” beyond the basis of pure evidence) for more defendants, including some of the player’s own. In fact, this eventuality could make the jurist system as problematic as the old system, because they both allow for the possibility of, in Apollo’s own words, “[protecting] criminals.” Although this state of affairs would create a rich irony in the narrative of the series, it seems rather unlikely merely because, as mentioned before, the general “hook” of the games is the struggle to prove your client innocent. If this element of suspense and conflict were removed, or even lessened, then much, if not all, of the draw of the games would be removed as well.

In scenario 2, the jurist system would essentially be terminated and the status quo restored. Though this would, at a stroke, resolve any issues of reduced tension, and therefore, entertainment, it is also probably the least likely scenario to occur. There is simply no way the developers would go to the extensive trouble of not only introducing this new system but also graphically illustrating the need for it—across the span of the entire series, no less—only to quickly retire it.

In the final scenario, the jurist system would be retained, but only a small number of defendants would be rendered “verdicts of forgiveness.” This is probably the most plausible scenario because the jurist system would stay, but without fundamentally altering what it feels like to play the games, with the tension and struggle of finding your client innocent. In addition, this is the way things are in real life, for though trial by jury is very common in America, verdicts very seldom deviate from the basis of evidence.

Interestingly, there could be a fourth possible scenario, a sort of combination of scenarios 1 and 3, in which many defendants tried under the jurist system would be rendered “verdicts of forgiveness,” just not necessarily the ones you as a player were defending. In other words, this scenario would enable the feel of the games to more or less remain the same while simultaneously allowing for the narrative development of the jurist system becoming as broken as the former system ever was, with devious defendants and defense attorneys finagling courts into “not guilty” verdicts. As mentioned before, this would be the ultimate ironic and thematic counterweight to the woes and weaknesses of the former system, and it would be extremely interesting to see how the whole situation would be resolved.

Ultimately, there is obviously no real way of knowing how exactly the jurist system will influence the future of the series. Nonetheless, I hope I have at least conveyed how crucial an issue it is to the tone and substance of the upcoming game(s) in the series. Who knows, the jurist system could even, in the worst-case scenario, bring judicial chaos and disruption nation-wide. Recall Kristoph Gavin’s reaction when Vera Misham’s “not guilty” verdict was declared:

“The record will show…

…that when the verdict was announced, special witness Kristoph Gavin… laughed.

A laugh louder than any ever heard before… or since.

A laugh that echoed in the halls of justice, lingering for what seemed like hours.”

A last taunt from a raving madman? Or a clear-eyed view of the dangerously fatal precedent being set by them, the people, as they brought about their own ruin and he laughed, laughed at their folly?


  1. I enjoyed this essay, it gave some insight, clincher sentence was very powerful.

  2. Wow...truly thought-provoking. I hope they will do scenario 4. And I agree what you said about Gavin.

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