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March 18, 2006

Conviction, Take Two: “Denial”

I just got around to watching the second episode of “Conviction,” the latest addition to the Law & Order tv franchise. To give you an idea of the quality of this show, Blonde Justice can't even watch it, and she's a practicing public defender who knows a thing or two about criminal trials and prosecutors. As Magic Cookie suggests, the degree to which one likes this show may be inversely related to how much one knows about prosecutors. I guess I don't know very much, so the show retains some fascination.

The second episode raised lots of questions for those of us who don't really know the ins and outs of how prosecutors do their jobs. For example, how common is it for prosecutors to run around their jurisdiction chasing down witnesses and otherwise investigating cases? I've always been under the impression that prosecutors never leave their offices except to go to court. Don't the police do their investigation for them? Does it just depend on the jurisdiction? Or the prosecutor? And how often would they pay their witnesses? Here in D.C., witness get $40 just for showing up to court in response to a subpoena, so I guess prosecutors don't have to fork it over so much.

Next, Harry Potter (the baby prosecutor) would not be allowed to go handle arraignments for the first time w/out any supervision whatsoever, would he? I mean, prosecutors might be irresponsible, but...

And talk about your prosecutorial discretion—that blonde “bureau chief” w/the glasses sure has a lot of power. It seems like she's the only one who decides what to charge and what deals are allowed. Sure, they talk about political pressure coming from somewhere, but she's the enforcer. I would so hate to be that person, but I would hate even more working under her thumb and being told how I can and cannot handle my cases. She makes her prosecutors into even bigger tools than they would be on their own.

The best thing about this episode is that it shows that prosecutors often have to be inhuman jerks and prosecute people they don't think they should be prosecuting. I'm referring to the 14-year-old who beats his older brother to death with a baseball bat after the older brother had physically and mentally tortured the defendant for two years. The case also shows how frequently the law can do nothing about the real cause or guilty party in crime. Here, the father supposedly pushed the dead older brother mercilessly, and the older brother then took out his frustrations on his younger brother; therefore, the father is the real person to blame for the fact that the older brother is now dead. This is the kind of emotional manipulation this show (and its Law & Order siblings) is best at, but still, it's a pretty good illustration of one of the reasons I don't want to be a prosecutor—I just could not try that kid (as an adult, no less!) and lock him up for some sizable number of years.

Some might say that this sort of dreck humanizes prosecutors by casting them in the most favorable possible light. No doubt, that's true. But this is still positive b/c I think too many idealistic law students think they want to be prosecutors because they don't realize they're going to have to do these kinds of things and that they will have so little control over what to charge, what pleas they can offer, etc. So this kind of thing might at least give a short pause to some of those would-be prosecutors, and that's a good thing, I think.

The worst thing about this episode is the totally implausible (I hope) situation where the state's witness (described as a homeless, drug-addicted prostitute) doesn't show and instead of dismissing the case (which is what would probably happen in D.C.), the judge “orders” the attorneys to “make a deal.” As if. If I was the defense attorney I'd just say no deal and keep going to court in the hope that the witness would continue to not show and the judge would eventually dismiss. I guess if the offer was really awesome I might think about it, but....

I don't even want to get into the whole “bad” gambling prosecutor plotline. Whatever. I mean, I'm sure there are prosecutors who get into that sort of trouble, but those people—who obviously know their behavior is reprehensible, if not illegal—are not nearly as interesting to me as the ones who think they are doing the right thing.

Anyway, that's episode two. What did you think of it?

p.s.: Tivo should be recording episode three for me tonight, so whenever I get around to watching it, I'll let you know

Posted March 18, 2006 10:53 AM | crimlaw tv land

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I can't stand the show. Maybe I'm just too close to the material. But it seems like a half-ass attempt to duplicate Grey's Anatomy, and everything this show tries to do with humanity and emotion and sex and issues dealing with a new job/education/responsibilities, Grey's just does it better. You'd be better off watching Law & Order to get your legal fix and watch Grey's to get your gossip and sex and comedy in addition to the drama.

Posted by: Nerdgirl at March 18, 2006 08:19 PM

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