The Thin Blue Line


The thin blue line is a book and a movie that is focused on the life of a police officer whereby a man is wrongly convicted of murder by the Dallas County justice system. The film is created by Ben Elton and directed by Errol Morris. Adam accepts a ride from a teenager who has stolen the car one night in 1976. The teenager kills the police officer when they stop them to check the headlights, and he accuses Adam of the murder. The jury believes Harris, the teenager, and sentenced Adam to death. The police are faced with moral dilemmas of mistrust and feelings. The police are not aware of the right action since Harris is a minor and he cannot be sentenced to death. All the evidence point to Adam committing the murder, as a result, the police are in a dilemma since they have to convict someone of the killing. The film makes me realize that the life of an innocent person can be ruined due to a simple action. The film makes the viewer question the legal system because it depicts how a person can be sentenced being innocent. The justice system wanted to justify the death of a police officer and the only way they considered a fair was putting the killer to death. Since the teenager could not be sentenced to death, they chose to believe his accusation and convict the innocent man. The movie evokes emotions of anger because the real killer was set free while the innocent man spent years in prison because of a crime that he had not committed. The paper is going to review the movie, the thin blue line focusing on the moral dilemmas faced by the officers and the thoughts that occur after watching the film.

Movie Overview

Randall is offered a job in Dallas, and he goes to work on his first day on a Saturday but realizes that there is no one since it is a weekend. He runs out of fuel on his way back home and is offered a lift by a sixteen-year-old boy who has stolen his neighbor’s car. Harris also possesses a gun that is also stolen. The two men spend the day together consuming alcohol and marijuana, and in the evening, they enjoy a drive-in movie (Bates, 1989). Police officers stop the stolen car but the occupant fires to the police officer who dies instantly.

As a result, Harris, the sixteen-year-old boy accuses Adam of killing the police officer and shows the police the murder weapon. The justice system suggests that Adam is responsible for the killing since Harris was underage and could not be sentenced to death. The documentary shows how Adam is made the scapegoat to the crime since Harris was not eligible for the death penalty. It is apparent that Harris was the likely suspect since he was involved in other crimes like stealing the car and the murder weapon.

However, the legal system goes ahead and convicts Adam only because he could be put in the death row (Bates, 1989). The innocent man spent twelve years in jail for a crime that he had not committed. The film shows how the justice system ruined the life of an innocent man by putting him in prison for many years. The police are said to be in a thin blue line that separates the society from anarchy whereby the blue line is represented by the color of their uniform.

The Ethical Dilemmas faced by the Police Officers

The author of the book shows how Adam was innocent by demonstrating the interviews of the people that believed in his innocence. The movie suggests all the reasons that made the authorities pin the death on Adam (Bates, 1989). The main reason was the fact that Harris was too young and could not receive the death penalty and because Harris had been involved in numerous crimes before. The fact that Harris had committed other crimes showed that Adam was innocent.

The crime did not have reliable witnesses since the other police officer did not see the person who shot the officer and both Harris and Adam could not be considered reliable. The officers are faced with an ethical dilemma because the death of the police officer has to be justified by convicting the killer and sentencing him to death. Harris accuses Adam of the murder, and he even shows the officers the gun that killed the police. The two men are present at the scene of the crime, and the two of them are suspects in the murder.

The police are in a dilemma since the evidence is not enough to convict Harris (Bates, 1989). Harris is depicted as a person who is not hostile or rude which makes the police believe that he is not capable of committing a murder crime. He made a good impression on the police officers, which, made them believe his story. The fact that the police had no one to rely on put them in a dilemma. They had to convict one of the men and Harris being a minor made it difficult since he could not be put on a death row.

On the other hand, they had to think of the justice that Robert Wood, the officer that was killed, deserved. They needed to blame and charge someone for the murder. The stories of the two men diverge as they are giving their statements whereby Adam stated that he went to his motel to sleep and he stayed with his brother. On the other hand, Harris says that the police stopped them late at night and that Adam shot the police officer (Bates, 1989).

The police officers had a lot of pressure to solve the case, which made them make the conclusions that Adam was guilty. The circumstantial evidence was weak, but the jury desired a death penalty hence the police had to present a suspect who was eligible.

Reflection on the Movie

The film is focused on two men who are accused of the same murder, and only one of them is innocent. The film show how blame can be passed from one person to another and how the witnesses are capable of giving false evidence. The two suspects make the detectives sympathize with them by giving their background stories. The evidence that is given is not explained, and the detective has to draw his own conclusions from the evidence provided by the witnesses and the suspects. The inspector is responsible for determining the guilty man (Bates, 1989).

He is also responsible for determining whether he deserves the death row. The pictures of the court case and the articles in the news help to show the evidence of the case and the things that happened. The interviewers made the audience to see two people rather than murder suspects. The film gives the two men the opportunity of presenting themselves to the public and giving their side of the story. As a result, it makes it easier for the audience to make their own judgment rather than give the audience the full information.

The voiceover that is used in the movie tells the minor details that are left in the interviews. The stages clips help to show what was happening in the trials and as a result, makes it easier to make a conclusion.

Randall’s only mistake was being in the wrong place with the wrong person, and it cost him twelve years of his life. The film raises some moral questions regarding the justice system because they convicted Adam without having enough prove. The film shows the biases that are in the justice system starting with the judge in the case. For instance, he states, I can understand robbing someone to put food on the table, I understand a kid stealing a car, I understand accidentally killing someone while drunk driving, but there is no reason to kill a police officer, (Bates, 1989).

This shows how the judge is biased simply because the person who they are seeking justice is a police officer. The fact that Harris had been arrested seven times indicates that he was a criminal. Harris stole the car and the weapon that was used in the crime, but the police did not consider the crimes to determine the guilty man in the killings of the police officer. Harris was a criminal, and he could have been lying to the police when he accused Adam, but the police chose to go with the choice that was more convenient for them since Adam could be put on the death row.

The justice system that is involved in the case makes me angry because of the injustice that it committed to an innocent man simply because he was old enough to be put on a death row. I felt sorry for Adam because of how his life turned up. The film makes me think of the people that are wrongly convicted of crimes that they did not commit and probably even ended up dead as a result. The film makes me doubt the legal system because it is capable of convicting an innocent man just to get what they need.

In this case, they wanted to make sure that someone was charged with the murder and put on a death row (Bates, 1989). The evidence of convicting Harris for the killing is enough since he was involved in other crimes and the weapon used for the murder was his. However, the legal system chose to convict Adam because he was eligible for the death row.


The thin blue line is a film documentary that raises some questions on ethics whereby Morris the detective tells the story of Adam who was convicted of a murder that he had not committed. The police did not have enough evidence to convict Adam, but since he was old enough to be given a death sentence, the justice system accused him of the murder. On the other hand, the guilty person walked out free despite the fact that he was more likely to be the murderer since he had a criminal record.


Bates, P. (1989). The Thin Blue Line.

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The Thin Blue Line. (2018, Sep 27). Retrieved February 23, 2024 , from

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