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5 Laws Criminal Justice Shows Get Wrong 

Posted in General FAQ'S on June 20, 2016

If you enjoy watching criminal justice shows such as Law & Order or How to Get Away With Murder, you are not alone. The crime genre amasses a huge, dedicated following of people who are interested in the inner workings of the justice system. The shows are suspenseful and often pose intriguing questions about the nature of criminality and social justice.

Unfortunately, even seemingly erudite shows fail to accurately depict the true nature of the US criminal justice system. For philosophy, entertainment, and escape, these shows are great, but you cannot trust them to deliver much in the way of education. Here are some of the biggest law-related mistakes Hollywood makes when it comes to crime:

  1. When law enforcement fails to present a warrant. Many shows feature officers going into peoples’ homes or searching a phone without presenting a warrant. The only way an officer can do this in real life is if he or she can prove that incriminating evidence was visible without violating your privacy or if he or she has another probable cause to do so (e.g., hearing a gunshot, believing that someone is in immediate danger, or witnessing a suspect fleeing the scene).
  2. When a police officer violates civil rights. On TV, most officers are upstanding citizens and they can do no wrong—even if they must do something shady to get a confession or make a bust. Dramatized depictions often feature officers beating suspects on the street or in an interrogation room. In real life, police officers hurt any case they have against someone if they take the law into their own hands, so most operate within the confines of legal procedure. Lawyers are some of the only people who can and do take action against law enforcement officers who interpret their authority too broadly.
  3. When lawyers use every piece of evidence at trial. Television often presents evidence in a neat little package. All incriminating evidence is used to put a criminal away. In real life, the courts restrict evidence based on the way it was acquired and what it contains. Understanding the principles for entering evidence into a case is a major part of any real-world trial. In some cases, an attorney could have an incredibly compelling piece of evidence, but a judge could throw it out based on procedural standards and change the entire course of a case.
  4. When lawyers reveal a key piece of evidence in the last minutes of a trial. In the real world, a prosecutor usually will not get away with introducing a major finding as a trial winds down. The US Constitution requires that prosecutors disclose any evidence that would support a defendant’s case. Additionally, in Brady v. Maryland in 1963, the Supreme Court upheld the defense’s right to request any material evidence regarding punishment or guilt as well as evidence that would support the defendant’s case.
  5. When lawyers bully witnesses into cracking on the witness stand. Acting as a witness in any trial is stressful, but real lawyers are not allowed to enter a witness’s personal space or demean them in any way. Lawyers will make witnesses uncomfortable and dissect everything they say, but they will not get up in a witness’s face or start a verbal attack that is not in line with court procedure. A lawyer typically must ask permission before moving closer to the witness stand for any reason.

Criminal justice shows are fun to watch, but they dramatize every aspect of the justice system from the investigation to the verdict. If you have any reservations about the way the justice system really works, ask an attorney. For more information about criminal law or California laws,  contact the Law Offices of Graham Donath, APC in Riverside and Orange County.

Interested in more side effects of crime dramas? Read this previous blog post: How Crime Documentaries Make Jury Selection More Difficult