I don’t really like watching legal shows on television. I don’t enjoy legal shows for the same reason many medical practitioners dislike “House”: they get everything wrong. Wrong legal decisions, wrong procedure, wrong ethics. Take last night’s episode of “Raising the Bar,” the new legal drama on TNT, for example. Every other minute one of the attorneys was committing a new ethical violation, without apparent consequence. Prosecute someone you don’t actually think is guilty? No problem. Trade away one client’s constitutional rights to benefit another client? Why not? Play a judicial role in your lover’s criminal matter? Yeah, okay, even the characters thought that one was taking it all a bit too far. While all that drama might make good material for a drinking game – spot the violation, take a shot – it creates frustrations for the practicing attorney.
Like it or not, people come into the real judicial system with expectations created by popular entertainment. Usually those expectations are way off base. As a deputy district attorney in the past and as a criminal defense attorney more recently, I’ve had to sit across the table from a victim, a witness, or someone accused of a crime and dispel those false expectations. And it ain’t easy to convince someone they don’t know what they “know.” You know?
For example, how many times has someone said to me, “The police officer didn’t read me my rights. Can I get my case dismissed?” Can you get your case dismissed? Well, maybe, but probably not, lots of emphasis on “probably not." It seems like every arrest on TV involves the officer reciting the suspect’s Miranda rights as he slaps the handcuffs on. Real life usually goes a little differently. According to the Supreme Court, the police do not have to read you your rights unless you are in custody and they intend to interrogate you. That means if you talked to the police out of custody – say, standing on the side of the road or at a friend’s house, for example – they don’t have to tell you that you have the right to remain silent. (Incidentally, if you don’t know by now that you have the right to remain silent, I suspect either you’re a recent immigrant or else there’s no hope for you). Also, if the police arrest you and don’t care to hear your side of the story, they don’t have to read you your Miranda rights as they haul you off to jail.