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Law & Order is Realistic: Yes? No?


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#1

Zoned Out

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Posted Mar 9, 2005 @ 11:00 PM

Over the time I've been posting in the various L&O forums I have seen many a discussion on how realistic the L&O franchise is. From the level of audacity of the detectives and attorneys to the idea that all defendants are evil and guilty to the probability of the crimes being something that could actually happen.

I generally see L&O being fairly realistic in any of the versions. Sure, they take dramatic licenses, but I feel they stay fairly realistic and don't make me suspend belief too much.

Agree? Disagree?

#2

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Posted Mar 10, 2005 @ 4:09 PM

Criminal Intent goes so far off the map that it annoys me and I don't watch it unless I really need an L&O fix and none of the others are on. I feel like I'm watching Sherlock Holmes rather than a modern crime investigation. Pretty much EVERY case that Donofrio investigates would get tossed at grand jury because his handling of suspects is iffy and downright illegal at times. A shame, because I adore Donofrio but the crap they have him pull just pisses me off.

The others have their moments, but for the most part they seem to stay within legal guidelines.

#3

LawyerJ

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Posted Mar 11, 2005 @ 2:43 PM

ZonedOut:

I generally see L&O being fairly realistic in any of the versions. Sure, they take dramatic licenses, but I feel they stay fairly realistic and don't make me suspend belief too much.

Agree? Disagree?


I generally agree. Two pet peeves: The technique of asking a question you know is improper, and then immediately saying "withdrawn" as soon as the other side objects. Maybe some judges would let you get away with it once in a blue moon, but Jack MCoy uses it, like, once per witness. Makes for good drama, but it's ethically questionable, and won't do much for your reputation as an attorney.

If your response to an objection is immediately to withdraw your question, rather than argue in favor of its permissibility, you're saying two things:

1. I know the question is improper; and
2. I don't need the answer, i just wanted to use the question to plant an idea in the jury's heads.

Second: The way crucial evidence tursn up mid-trial all the time. While I'm sure it happens from time to time, good lawyers are obsessive about preparation (which is why diligence, rather than intelligence, is the primary hallmark of a good attorney), and sometimes the L & O prosecutors take a case to trial lacking basic chronological data (like so-and-so couldn't have been there when the crime took place). Again, mid-trial crucial evidence spices up the drama, but detracts from relaism.

Let me also say that these are pet peeves. Love the shows, and find them, on the whole, the most realistic legal dramas ever.

In this respect, similar to the pre-helicopter fetish ER, which, according to the docs in my family, is quite realistic for a TV drama (lots of stuff there gets time condensed compared to real life seems to be the biggest complaint I've heard.)

#4

4greyhounds

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Posted Apr 18, 2005 @ 6:58 PM

My sister is a lawyer and she always says the way they arrest suspects in the most embarrassing way possible is unrealistic. They always barge in on doctor's examing patients, people attending a party and in one case at a guys wedding. According to her, since a suspect is innocent until proben guilty, you don't arrest them like that unless you think they are an immenent danger to someone or they are going to flee.

#5

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Posted Apr 18, 2005 @ 7:32 PM

Back in the day, Law & Order (Original recipe) used to be THE most realistic legal drama. They really tried to stick with the law, both in showing the consequences to a prosecution when the cops cross the line in their investigation, and in following the rules of evidence and criminal procedure. My law school crim pro professor even recommended the show. In the past several years, however, they seem to have given up on the realism in favor of dramatic storytelling, thereby robbing Law & Order of its uniqueness and making it just another legal melodrama. I'm a civil lawyer, so it nags at me but I overlook it unless it's totally egregious. My boyfriend (a public defender) and another close friend (a former Manhattan DA) can't sit through an episode anymore - they go absolutely nuts (and drive me nuts in the process). "Why didn't they object to that?" "He can't ask/do/say that!" etc.

Oh, and I'm told that once a suspect lawyers up, the cops almost never get to continue questioning him. On the L&O shows it happens all the time.

#6

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Posted Apr 18, 2005 @ 8:39 PM

I hate the fact that all public defenders seem to be portrayed as worthless scum defending criminals. In reality it is a very tough job and you have to be devoted to the idea that all people deserve a fair trial. Even murderers, child molesters, bank robbers, etc. They just seem to really encourage the stereotype.

Also,

Second: The way crucial evidence tursn up mid-trial all the time.


Reminds me of Perry Mason. And there was NOTHING realistic about that show.

#7

dustylil

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Posted Apr 23, 2005 @ 1:14 AM

This comment reflects my watching of the Mothership and Trial by Jury, but what I find unrealistic is number of people sitting in the public gallery. No matter how high profile the case- with a few exceptions- the gallery is generally two thirds full. Even in cases where the various attorneys are mobbed by reporters on the courthouse steps, the gallery is not packed. In my city, you can draw a better crowd at traffic court.
This struck me again on Wednesday when the defendant was a substantial public figure in the city who was close to being a presidential appointee on security issues. Surely the gallery would be filled with reporters from the national and international media as well as the local press in addition to those involved and the usual rubberneckers. But no, same sort of crowd as always.

#8

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Posted May 2, 2005 @ 4:23 PM

Word, Susaphone. I remember when L&O actually was interesting and sort of an inspiration ('92-93ish).

These days, the entire L&O franchise bears a striking resemblance to the likes of 'American Idol' and 'The Apprentice'. It's still fun to watch (well, L&O and L&O:SVU not so much lately). But it's dumbed down entertainment that really doesn't have much to do with reality. And, in the case of L&O (which used to be one of my favorite shows), it makes me want to throw the remote at the TV - it really is that painful to watch.

This show used to be fun. Not any more. Some of the "tricks" the LEOs on this show pull would not only get them fired but also prosecuted. And I am very thankful that they cast Annie Parisse. Because at this point it's the only thing that L&O has going for it.

Well, L&O has really gone downhill. And I think it jumped the shark at least three seasons ago. But I'm sure it will be around for my grandkids to watch (just like Saturday Night Live). SVU is a joke (hire someone with a CS degree, then hire a LEO, then hire some more consults and finally hire some real writers -- seriously, people).

CI is actually entertaining because it really doesn't have anything to do with the L&O franchise. I sort of considered it an independent spin-off from the beginning. And if you're not expecting accuracy, it's definitely entertaining (in the same sense that 'Baywatch Nights' or 'VIP' was entertaining).
TBJ is a show that I like for its angle and that I hate for its inaccuracies. I actually wasn't going to watch it after Jerry Orbach died but somehow I got drawn into this weird microcosm that is 'Trial by Jury'. I guess that's mostly because of the somewhat innovative approach (not innovative as in 'The Shield' but rather innovative as in 'at least it's not CSI: Boise'). It'll be interesting to see how fast the novelty wears off.

#9

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Posted May 2, 2005 @ 5:38 PM

I often wonder how realistic it is that the defendants usually take the stand. I'm far from an expert on this, so someone please correct me if I'm wrong, but I've heard that its rare for a defendent to take the stand in their own defence. Most lawyers see it as too much of a risk. I assume L&O uses it to add to the drama, but it seems about as realistic as all of that groundbreaking evidence always turning up right before closing statements.

#10

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Posted May 8, 2005 @ 9:28 PM

I'll do you one better. The overclaiming of the insanity defense sending the people to the court appointed shrink BEFORE being allowed to use said defense.

Forgive me but isn't that effectively laying out your witness/defense stratgem to your opponent. and with a DA like Sam Watterson's character who never met a single mental defect he didn't think was bunk you think this does anything but hand over not so much a defense as an angle to exploit?

#11

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Posted May 10, 2005 @ 1:46 PM

I hate the fact that all public defenders seem to be portrayed as worthless scum defending criminals. In reality it is a very tough job and you have to be devoted to the idea that all people deserve a fair trial.


I would say some, but not all. Shambala Green and Danielle Melnick are very sympathetic characters. But you're right that there's some hostility towards people who put legal principles before a "common sense" kind of justice, which is usually tinged with vengence.

#12

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Posted Jun 30, 2005 @ 9:15 AM

I'll do you one better. The overclaiming of the insanity defense sending the people to the court appointed shrink BEFORE being allowed to use said defense.


To be fair, most of the defenses defendent use on L&O are just plain wacky. Its because in a situation when the defendent did indeed commit the crime, the defense is often about arguing whether it was premeditated or "crime of passion." Most defendents don't try to argue "Twinkie Defense!" precisely because juries don't buy it (and didn't in the "Twinkie Defense" and even that is an often misunderstood defense). But there's no drama in "he did it, but he didn't plan it" kind of defense.

#13

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Posted Aug 6, 2005 @ 7:53 PM

I'm an ADA in NY, and in my experience, a lot of defendants do testify. Obviously it depends on the case, but frequently the defendant is the only person who can rebut the victim's story. I've also seen defendants testify against their attorney's advice--the lawyer can't refuse to put on a defendant who wishes to exercise the right to testify.

On the issue of court appointed psychiatrists for defendants claiming some type of insanity defense--they have to. It's an absolute requirement before you're allowed to mount the affirmative defense.

#14

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Posted Aug 6, 2005 @ 8:06 PM

Shambala Green and Danielle Melnick are very sympathetic characters.


Until they made Danielle a bad lawyer. I can't remember the episode, but she was somehow doing something shady and got busted by McCoy.

All of the shows make it seem like the defense attorneys don't base their defenses on the information provided by their clients. Like they just create wacky, half-baked defenses out of whole cloth. Not to mention the contempt they seem to show for defense attorneys. The attitude is that the accused doesn't deserve a chance in court, and any attorney willing to work on behalf of someone who is accused of a crime is just as evil as the person on trial.

#15

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Posted Aug 17, 2005 @ 3:17 PM

All of the shows make it seem like the defense attorneys don't base their defenses on the information provided by their clients. Like they just create wacky, half-baked defenses out of whole cloth.


I'm a trial lawyer, and people are always shocked when I tell them lawyers are not permitted to just make shit up and have their clients testify to things they know are not true. I know that's not the reputation of lawyers, but the laws are strict. They say you must zealously represent your client, but cannot present facts you know not to be true. There are appellate opinions holding that a lawyer cannot just bury their head in the sand and believe everything their client tells them. If the client's story cannot be true, you can be held liable for arguing it.

I am just now preparing a brief [something I'm supposed to be doing instead of reading TWoP] where the other attorney, whose client has minor injuries, says his client has "life-threatening internal organ damage and is deathly ill." I am blasting him by citing the transcript where his own doctor says he completely checked him out and his tests were normal, and I'm asking for a $50,000 fine against the lawyer for outright lying and exaggerating. I expect to win. I'll let you know how I do.

Also, in court, you cannot just start arguing with a witness, fire off a bunch of questions not giving them a chance to answer, and then make a big speech about your theory of what really happened. The judge would call you into chambers and say, "You pull that shit again, I'll hold you in contempt."

The most unrealistic is when the attorney yells, "Objection." And the judge goes, "Sustained." When you make an objection, you have to state the exact grounds, like, "Objection, Hearsay," Or, "Objection, Speculation," Or the judge won't rule. If the question is actually objectionable on one ground, but you say the wrong ground, the judge will overrule it. My former law partner once jumped up and yelled, "Objection." And the judge went, "Grounds?" And my partner flailed around a bit and then said, "I don't like what the witness is about to say." It was overruled, but he did get a laugh.

I'm willing to accept this, because the show would come to a grinding halt if every objection was, "Objection, assumes facts not in evidence, lacks foundation and constitutes an opinion."

Generally, most trials are more genteel and a lot more boring than on TV. I still enjoy watching because I accept that it's entertainment, and that if they showed my typical court day, people would be tuning out in droves.

Second: The way crucial evidence tursn up mid-trial all the time. While I'm sure it happens from time to time, good lawyers are obsessive about preparation (which is why diligence, rather than intelligence, is the primary hallmark of a good attorney), and sometimes the L & O prosecutors take a case to trial lacking basic chronological data (like so-and-so couldn't have been there when the crime took place). Again, mid-trial crucial evidence spices up the drama, but detracts from relaism.


It's weird but I've had civil cases I worked on for years; but during the trial, some crucial new piece of evidence came to light. I was once preparing my star medical expert to testify when he casually blurted out, "I hope the opposition doesn't bring up my felony conviction for insurance fraud." There had just been an article on him in the paper that very week, and sure enough, my opponent had read it, and was ready to pounce. [It was a hung jury, and we settled.]

Also had cases where I couldn't find certain witnesses, but they came out of the woodwork and called me when trial started. So, it's not unheard of. I can't tell you how many times I have had the entire trial outlined, and had to completely switch gears in mid-stream. I guess it's why so many lawyers [and judges] are in 12-Step programs. It's probably for another thread, but there's a whole 12-Step organization called, "The Other Bar," full of alcoholic, drug-addicted lawyers and judges. Lots of members!

One last comment about the "scum-bag" defense lawyers. Most public defenders I know are the most dedicated lawyers. They obviously aren't doing it for the money, and because the prosecution always has the upper hand, you have to be a really good lawyer to do this effectively.

Edited by lawgal, Aug 17, 2005 @ 3:34 PM.


#16

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Posted Jan 25, 2006 @ 12:21 AM

Of course I knew it was a t.v. show and not real--but I was revealed to be a naive fool after the Columbine shootings. L&O had given me the idea that everyone has to talk to the police if the police say so--but the parents of the Columbine shooters seem like pretty ordinary folks to have managed to have dodged ever being interviewed by the police.

#17

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Posted Mar 16, 2006 @ 9:37 PM

ZonedOut: Great question. I think L&O is just a TV show and nothing more.

I sure hope that the police aren't as out-of-control & violent as they appear to be on L&O. Isn't police work is a lot more mundane (writing reports all that) than what we see on L&O?

My sister, like 4greyhounds's, is a lawyer too. She can't bear even being in the room during L&O. She ends up identifying all the procedures the prosecution, defense, and judge are violating, and how the whole trial is someone's fantasy. She gets worked up. Sometimes we put on the show just to get her going (we're so cruel).

IMO, L&O is just escapist entertainment.

Edited by Corcat, Mar 17, 2006 @ 12:47 PM.


#18

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Posted Jul 25, 2006 @ 1:28 AM

I think it was more realistic back in the good ol' days. What two things do these episodes have in common:

"The Reaper's Helper"
"Sanctuary"
"Out of Control"
"Blue Bamboo"
"Manhood"
"The Secret Sharers"
"Black Tie"
"Conspiracy"
"The Fertile Fields"
"Blood Libel"
"Volunteers"
"Pride"
"Remand"

1. All of these episodes come from the first six seasons of the series.

2. Stone/McCoy lost each one of these cases, whether through a not guilty verdict or a hung jury.

The show has gone from an examination of our legal system to a whodunit type show.

I won't even touch SVU or CI since they are both straight cheese.

#19

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Posted Sep 27, 2006 @ 1:40 AM

Another criminal lawyer chiming in to say that Law and Order is by far the most realistic of any of the legal TV shows I have seen. The legal issues they focus on are usually right on and current, and they even cite cases correctly from time to time. Many other criminal lawyers I know watch and enjoy the show.

At the same time, I agree with everything LawyerJ said. I also notice that somewhat often the DAs make arguments in their summations that would constitute reversible error, and similarly also ask totally objectionable argumentative questions (withdrawn or not), which would never fly in a real court. Sometimes it is very hard for me to sit through the show. But if I turn off my need to correct various procedures, I usually enjoy it. (For this reason, I do better with SVU and Criminal Intent, which focus more on the police procedure.)

Don't even get me started on CSI, though. Crime scene techs running around shooting people? Spare me.

Edited by vanityflair, Sep 27, 2006 @ 1:47 AM.


#20

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Posted Feb 23, 2007 @ 9:51 PM

I miss when the DAs would lose cases. Not because I liked seeing it, but because it would demonstrate that the justice system isn't always perfect, like in real life.

Now, I can't remember the last case that they've lost, leaving little to no suspense when we get to trial.

#21

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Posted Feb 25, 2007 @ 10:07 PM

I just saw the SVU rerun on Sat night. Sure, it's quite believable that the evil pesticide company would agree to, and then make good on, a commitment to provide health care for all tenants in a low-income housing facility for their entire lives. Perfectly and totally believable (that they'd agree to it, and that all of the very smart people - the ADA, the police, believe that such an agreement was enforceable.) And the last time I'll ever watch SVU again.

(But I'll go down on the ship that carries my Sam W.).

#22

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Posted Mar 28, 2007 @ 1:10 AM

Generally, most trials are more genteel and a lot more boring than on TV. I still enjoy watching because I accept that it's entertainment, and that if they showed my typical court day, people would be tuning out in droves.


Another criminal lawyer chiming in to say that Law and Order is by far the most realistic of any of the legal TV shows I have seen. The legal issues they focus on are usually right on and current, and they even cite cases correctly from time to time. Many other criminal lawyers I know watch and enjoy the show.


The responses on this thread are really interesting and balanced. Several posts from law enforcement professionals (including lawgirl and vanityflair above) have shed light on questions I've had for years as a fan of The Mothership through your well written explications and critiques. And those of you who have expressed reasons why you might stop watching have stated so clearly and fairly.

You have helped me to put a finger on what draws me most to the franchise. The closer the creative teams stick to the L&O mantra, "It's all about the story", the more "true to life" the shows seem--even when they might get facts or details wrong here and there. If they overdo the drama purely for shock value or ratings, then it feels like we're being manipulated and it becomes unrealistic in the way of so much other tv--even if a story is taken from real life.

Edited by Argorider, Mar 28, 2007 @ 11:02 AM.


#23

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Posted Mar 30, 2007 @ 11:04 PM

Watched today's ep. I had a hard time believing that a court would allow somebody to argue that they had "justifiably" killed somebody because by that teacher teaching Evolution, that teacher placed the killer's daughter in jeapardy of the wrath of God. Would a defense attorney actually go along with this? Would a judge? Worse yet about the ep, the logic (what there was of it) didn't add up for me. IF you COULD argue this, then why, when it was discovered that the killer believed that his daughter was having sex with the teacher, did the arguement fall apart? They went over and over and over that if they could prove that the killer killed the teacher because the teacher was sleeping with the daughter then he couldn't use this arguement but it never seemed to occur to anybody that the arguement would be niether more nor less ludicrous. Instead of placing her in danger of God's wrath for believing in evolution, by the same stupid arguement the guy could have thought the teacher was placing his daughter in dange of God's wrath for leading her into the sin of fornication. It just mad no sense to me.

#24

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Posted Apr 23, 2007 @ 7:17 PM

One thing that bothers me about the franchise is how easily Jack and the others throw out the prospect of the death penalty. When the franchise started, the state of New York did not have a death penalty (it was enacted in the mid 90's) and a couple years ago (2004?) the law they had was ruled unconstitutional. During that period, not one person was executed and I think only two people were put on death row.

#25

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Posted May 15, 2007 @ 10:47 PM

Don't even get me started on CSI, though. Crime scene techs running around shooting people? Spare me.

Well, the fact that there are crime scene techs who look like Marg Helgenberger, Jorja Fox and Gary Dourdon to begin with lets you know that that series isn't exactly adhering strictly to reality...

One thing that bothers me about the franchise is how easily Jack and the others throw out the prospect of the death penalty. When the franchise started, the state of New York did not have a death penalty (it was enacted in the mid 90's) and a couple years ago (2004?) the law they had was ruled unconstitutional. During that period, not one person was executed and I think only two people were put on death row.

Yeah, I just think of that as a L&Overse thing. Unrealistic for New York (though not for nearby Philly). The ironic thing is, though, whether or not everyone involved realizes it, L&O (IMHO) serves as an ongoing argument for keeping the death penalty. When it's used, it's generally used as a club - "This case is serious - the D.A. wants the death penalty. Tell me what you know NOW!" - rather than as a lethal weapon. When it is applied, it's applied only to the most heinous cases. And, at least on Mothership, it's applied by an ADA who has been known to do things like refuse to go forward when someone is confessing in what seems like an airtight case but said ADA has a suspicion that the confessor isn't actually guilty. Yes, yes, I know that L&O isn't actually brainwashing people or anything...but if you watch a lot of the episodes, it's easy to think, "Wow, if the death penalty didn't exist, it would be a lot harder to convict these bad people on ANYTHING, even though most of them don't end up being sentenced to death."

#26

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Posted Sep 5, 2007 @ 8:29 AM

E! Online talks about the comparative realism of L&O and CSI.

Edited by LizDC, Sep 13, 2010 @ 8:54 AM.


#27

yd45

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Posted Sep 13, 2007 @ 1:16 AM

From the E! Online column:

I'm a fan of both CSI and Law & Order. However, the two seem to contradict each other. On CSI, the cases are investigated primarily by the crime scene investigators, and the police are simply background drones. On Law & Order, it's vice versa. Which show is more accurate?
—Kerri, Venice, California


Well, I'll just assume that Kerri is no older than 15. Otherwise, it is pretty sad that someone would ask that.

Edited by yd45, Sep 13, 2007 @ 1:20 AM.


#28

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Posted Oct 7, 2007 @ 8:33 PM

The biggest thing I have a problem with is the way Bobby handles evidence. They find important evidence, and, before any of the other officers even have a chance to photograph the evidence in it's 'found' position, Eames and Goren are cutting open bags and laying out the contents willy nilly, thereby contaminating everything in site. Then again, I realize that they're probably handling it this way for expediency's sake (even a quick montage of photograph-taking would be boring) but ... still.

#29

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Posted Mar 1, 2009 @ 5:36 PM

I'm curious to know how realistic the UK version of the show is. I mean, they are taking cases and story from the mothership to create these new eps and I wonder how accurately that can translate considering different legal systems and different laws.

#30

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Posted Mar 1, 2009 @ 7:30 PM

From what I've read, the UK version is off the mark beyond the wigs and so forth. Beginning with the CPS actually caring if they win or not.