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Hollywood Law refers to a fictitious legal situation which in no way resembles the actual legal system in the place portrayed, but rather is played up for dramatic purposes. Since the ins and outs of the legal system in Real Life are far less dramatic and tense than anything the average viewer would want to sit still for, it's considered one of the many Acceptable Breaks From Reality for Hollywood to prioritize drama over factual accuracy when it comes to shows not directly related to law enforcement. Even in works that focus on the legal system, Hollywood will over-dramatize it to the point of trotting out things that would be disallowed in real life, or misuse a valid aspect of the law without regard to any actual procedural constraints that would prevent it being misused so blatantly.

At the extreme, many a Broken Aesop occurs when Hollywood Law is used to debase the effectiveness of the legal system itself. For instance, depicting violent criminals getting Off on a Technicality via some oversimplified nuance (such as forgetting to dot the 'i' on the arrest warrant) to suggest that we should just use a simpler and common sense-based legal system that looks more lightly on police or prosecutorial misconduct or trust in the Vigilante Man to clean up after the government's failings.

Unfortunately, the media exerts a pervasive influence in people's perceptions by being the average viewer's most easily-accessible window into the justice system. Some of the most common misrepresentations widely used in dramatic fiction can fuel misconceptions in the audience if they believe these depictions accurately reflect the justice system in real life, and can influence how they vote in elections or result in The CSI Effect when they sit on a jury, with disastrous results.

Note that it only falls into Hollywood Law if someone (like the opposing counsel) is aware of the improper conduct/law and fails to object or call anyone on it without good reason. If both sides agree to an unusual arrangement (surprise witnesses, last-minute evidence, even calling the prosecution as a witness), it's not unrealistic for a judge to allow it. Or if a judge and a lawyer have an ex parte meeting without opposing counsel present but they agree to keep it a secret. Also, a setting that is Like Reality Unless Noted might have fictional aspects of the law under "noted", that explain things you might see as Hollywood Law, such as a Super Registration Act in a superhero setting that lets superheroes testify without revealing their Secret Identity.

Common examples:

  • Victim of the System: an innocent character is arrested at the drop of a hat for some legitimate but otherwise minor offense that does not carry such a harsh punishment in the real world or wrongfully convicted/sued/imprisoned/executed. While innocent people do get wrongfully conviced in real life (indeed, this is why The Innocence Project exists), fiction will over-exaggerate how often or how easy it is for the legal system to railroad an innocent person.
  • The Strip-Search: A person is subjected to humiliating police-procedures (strip searches, cavity searches, etc). Typically such procedures are reserved for persons with a proven record of smuggling weapons, and are limited to such[1]; however Hollywood extends the right of police or Airport security to do a deep cavity search on anyone, mostly due to Rule of Funny in commercials (e.g. the Sierra Mist "Airport scene" sketch) or in movies (e.g. Wayne's World).
  • The Cornered Stool Pigeon: This trope involves a lawyer who "corners" a lying witness, catching him or her in a lie and calling them on it; instead of invoking their 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination or just staying silent, the witness breaks down and confesses everything on the spot--while the witness's lawyer looks on and says nothing. This often involves a lawyer badgering and bullying the witness into said confession. In real life, a witness will typically stick to their story even when caught in a lie, or the opposing counsel will intervene at the very least to confer with their client and prepare them for such questioning. However, if a witness on the stand declines to answer a question, the attorney can compel their or have their prior testimony thrown out.
  • The Ambush: Similar to The Cornered Stool Pigeon, this involves the "hero" lawyer "ambushing" a testifying suspect by suddenly introducing hitherto unknown evidence, which absolutely proves the suspect to be guilty. In a real-life criminal court, both sides have to make available all evidence they intend to use before the trial; the prosecution in particular has to produce for the defense any exculpatory evidence in the government's possession that might exonerate the defendant (while the defense is actively barred from sharing any evidence that might incriminate their client). This goes for "surprise witnesses" as well; with rare exceptions, witnesses must be approved by the court in order to be admitted to testify. In a civil suit, however, the plaintiff and defendant both must turn over any evidence properly requested.
  • Off on a Technicality: A ruthless criminal--typically a killer--is released on a "technicality" (i.e. a meaningless legal slip-up in bureaucratic procedure) despite being proven absolutely guilty of the heinous crime in question. This trope serves to spark cheap outrage at an obvious miscarriage of justice--as well as outrage and disrespect at the legal system in general. The most common use is the "Fruit of the Poisonous Tree" loophole, whereby an error in one aspect of the government's case suddenly precludes the whole batch of validly-obtained evidence that came as a result of it, regardless of the nature of the initial error. In reality, such "loopholes" are not the result of mere obscure legal games, but rather are due to serious policy concerns such as sloppy police work or vague legal definitions, or serious rights violations by police or prosecutors (i.e. Reversible Errors); meanwhile actual "technicalities" are typically overruled as Harmless Errors. Hollywood will not only over-exaggerate just how common these technicalities occur but will also ignore valid exceptions like the "good faith exception" (police believed they were operating legally when they illegally obtained some evidence) to push through the defendant's release.
  • "My Hands are Tied": Indifferent bureaucrats such as police, judges or other persons in government, refuse to help a legal victim, claiming that "there's nothing they can do" against an obvious injustice, or grant a warrant against a suspect due to lack of tangible evidence or There Should Be a Law but isn't, resulting in the suspect's guilt being Not Proven. While these types of situations can exist (as with domestic violence), it's typically exaggerated solely to spark outrage in the audience.
  • Colombian Drug Lords: It is not permitted for the defense to offer unusual defenses without first showing proof. Attempting to call seemingly unrelated witnesses or enter such things as evidence will not be allowed. Your claim of a big conspiracy or that someone else committed the crime will not be permitted unless you have some solid proof before they allow you to call someone as a witness. The Insanity Defense applies as well; you need a credible psychiatric expert to confirm your client isn't just making up his story about hearing voices to sway the jury. This rule doesn't apply to a lawyer's "closing statements though.
  • One very common mistake is when someone in the courtroom audience is called to the witness stand. Witnesses are not permitted to attend the trial or talk to other witnesses about the case before they testify. If a witness is finished with their testimony and it is agreed they will not be called back, then they can attend the rest of the trial. Calling the prosecutor to the stand is possible if The Judge allows but almost never done, although it happened once in the famous Scopes "monkey" trial when defense attorney Clarence Darrow requested that prosecuting attorney William Jennings Bryan take the witness stand [2].
  • Jury Nullification: when the defense argues "Yes, my client did exactly what the State says he did. But the law sucks/is unfair, so you should find him not guilty anyway." Jury nullification is technically perjury, the jurors having been sworn against it. (It also undermines separation of powers: judges and juries are supposed to reach a verdict according to existing laws, not to judge the laws themselves - that's the legislative's job.) Even though it's been upheld time and time again (in the US) that the jurors aren't liable and their decisions hold, it certainly can't be suggested by the defense. On the other hand, the prosecution can't argue against it because some courts (and state constitutions) have held it to be a right of the jury that the defense is simply forbidden from instructing them about. For this reason, Hollywood defense lawyers sandwich the "nullification" argument within another legally viable one, such as in an episode of L.A. Law, in which a rapist, a diplomat from a sexist country, was released on Diplomatic Immunity, and his victim killed him in revenge; in her trial, her attorney told the jury to use the "temporary insanity" defense(Notwithstanding that there is no legal concept of "temporary insanity."), saying that this is the only way that they could acquit her but really, it was the only way for the defense to legally ask the jury to acquit her.
    • Also, this is an ongoing controversial issue; people have been harassed for various "unrelated" reasons (they can't be arrested for the act itself; how do you keep a jury from being informed about jury nullification if informing juries is the crime for which they are being tried) for passing out FIJA pamphlets outside courthouses.
    • A similar such law applies in British jurisdictions, commonly known as "the Rule in Stonehouse." Effectively the rule is that a judge cannot direct a jury to find a person guilty of a crime (although he can direct the jury to find them not guilty.) Lawyers can't resort to that in appeals to juries, though, because it's a breach of their ethics: they cannot ask a jury to ignore the law they are sworn to uphold. But accused representing themselves in politically charged cases have been known to resort to this defence and be successful with it.
  • The Judge Takes Control: A judge, if sufficiently convinced that no reasonable jury could reach the verdict they have reached, may issue what is called a Directed Verdict or Judgement of Acquittal before the jury decides, or issue this after they already have, thus vacating the jury's decision. Since in the U.S., the fifth amendment reserves the right to convict to a jury alone, the judge can only do this in the defendant's favor. Thus, if the jury finds him guilty, the judge can still acquit him. But if a jury acquits them, even the worst Judge Hangemall cannot overrule them to find the defendant guilty. A judge's decision to set aside a verdict of guilty is appealable, and the original decision can be reinstated. However if they acquit a defendant on their own before the jury has, this cannot be appealed, just like acquittal by jury verdict. Likewise, a judge does not have the power to issue a guilty verdict if the prosecution drops the charges.
    • Of course, there are many countries (Germany and the Netherlands, for example) where there is no such thing as a "jury" and the judge is in control all the time.
  • Hollywood/TV interrogations: Real interrogations are rarely as exciting, or quick, as portrayed in media. Police are very careful during interrogations not to lead, badger, or abuse a suspect, and risk a good defense attorney having the testimony disallowed as evidence. Particularly in major felony crimes (the focus of most TV crime shows), interrogations can last hours or even days, and are mostly boring question-and-answer sessions designed to wear a suspect down over time. Stereotypical techniques like yelling, insulting, "good cop/bad cop", and other aggressive interrogation techniques are used whenever police think they are useful, and they can get away with them. Those situations just aren't as common as Hollywood would have you believe, largely because serious civil-rights action in mid-to-late 20th century exposed their rampant use of "third degree" police tactics including torture, psychological manipulation, and various other atrocious interrogation-methods-- often which were excused by both police and the federal Supreme Court. Furthermore, while police are allowed to lie to suspects about certain things like the evidence against them, they are definitely not allowed to lie about the legal consequences about a confession (for instance, getting a guy to confess to attempted murder by giving him the 'Shoot the Dead Guy' schpiel down below).
  • Miranda Rights: they must be read to every accused criminal upon arrest, and that if Miranda rights are not read, the charges must be dismissed and the prisoner released...WRONG. Miranda rights have to be read to a suspect before police ask him questions about the crime, if he is in their custody at the time. If the police do not ask any questions, Miranda rights do not apply. Indeed, police rarely give Miranda warnings at the time of the arrest for that very reason. Furthermore, the remedy for failure to advise the accused of Miranda rights, when the officer is required to do so, is to exclude the arrestee's statement and (depending on the jurisdiction) any evidence discovered as a result of that statement from being used against him at trial. It does not invalidate the arrest, so long as the arrest is based upon other evidence.
  • The One Phone Call: A very common misconception is that you're guaranteed by law one single phone call after you're arrested, to anyone at all, and if you blow it, too bad. The reality is that you are guaranteed access to legal counsel; beyond that, any outside communication is a privilege that can be given or withheld at the whim of the detaining institution. Nevertheless, most police officers allow you to have as many phone calls as you want, because unless you're talking to your lawyer or doctor anything you say can be recorded as evidence.
  • On that topic, Only Bad Guys Call Their Lawyers: The perception that a person must be either guilty or a sleazeball for requesting access to legal counsel rather than waive this right, because "it will make me look guilty". If you are arrested by the police on suspicion of having committed a crime, it is always advised to have your lawyer present, guilty or not.
  • Freedom Of Speech: This is often misinterpreted to mean you can say whatever you want wherever. However, it only means that the government cannot prosecute you for things you say or force you to say anything. In particular, you can't be arrested for criticizing the government or stating your opinion. However, employers (including the government if you work for them) and private entities have an equally-strong right to protect their interests. Statements that induce violence, obscenity, or slander can still get you sued, arrested, fired, expelled, or faced with any other appropriate consequence.
  • Shoot the Dead Guy: appears infrequently in detective shows. The perp is busted for killing someone, and often confesses, but it transpires that somebody had beaten them to it, and they had actually only "killed" a corpse. Shooting a dead person is attempted murder at the least, if the aim was to kill said person but they will be let off on the grounds that "shooting a dead man isn't a crime" (very often, someone actually says something like this or claims it's merely desecrating a body).
    • Averted on Law and Order, when Ben Stone relates the legal theory of the "Shoot the Dead Guy" story to prove his point about a con artist who framed a man for her miscarriage as part of a scam; not knowing how far along a fetus had to be before it reached "personhood" to be considered a legal "victim" of a crime was the basis for charging her with attempted murder of the unborn baby.
    • Also averted in an episode of Murder, She Wrote. A woman confessed to murdering a man stabbing a sleeping man on a bus. Jessica explained that the woman is only guilty of attempted murder (rather than being guilty of nothing at all) because the man was (unknown to the confessor) already dead at the time.


For Hollywood Law tropes on this wiki, see: You Fail Law Forever. See also Read the Fine Print.

Examples of Hollywood Law include:


Comic Books

  • In Manhunter, Kate Spencer's prosecution of Shadow Thief for the murder of Ron Raymond, aka Firestorm, is ludicrous. It's hard to know where to begin, but consider the fact that Spencer calls a bunch of superheroes to testify without giving their real names. You can't testify at a trial under an alias. Secondly, most of them weren't even legitimate witnesses in the first place: they didn't actually see the crime committed, and she just asked them questions about what a hero Firestorm was, and what a great guy he was. None of that would be relevant at trial except perhaps for his character. The bizarre part is that there were other superheroes who were present at the crime and saw it happen, at least one of whom, Vixen, has a public identity and could have been called as a witness; needless to say, she wasn't.
    • There is evidence that trial law in the DCU has been modified to allow superheroes to testify without revealing their identities. The other points absolutely stand, though.
      • That would be the Keane Act and the Ingersoll Amendment, the latter so named for the comic columnist Bob Ingersoll, who analyzed and criticized poor representation of the law in comic books.
  • In a recent issue of Daredevil, a judge appointed under Norman Osborn overruled a Not Guilty verdict in a criminal trial and sent the innocent defendants to prison, ignoring 300 years of legal precedent and the US constitution. To be fair, though, the Marvel Universe at the moment seems to be a fascist dictatorship under Osborn, so the law probably changed to allow this (completely illegal and unconstitutional in our world) decision.
    • Osborn getting that job he had in the first place, long after being exposed and jailed for being a superhuman homicidal maniac, whose standard M.O. was flying around a city throwing bombs and who once planned to murder all life on Earth, is however a pretty straight example.
      • Yes, in that you become ineligible for most and/or all political offices, especially at higher levels, if you've committed a felony, and Osborn was never pardoned.
  • Green Arrow #32 features the Jury Nullification with a slight difference: They find him not guilty, but the Judge still rules that he is exiled from the city for life, giving him 24 hours to leave and stating that he will be imprisoned if he returns.
    • In addition to that rather dubious ruling, the judge openly states that he could have Ollie thrown in jail anyway, despite the jury acquittal. This is utterly impossible under US law and going on the record with such would probably earn a judge an official reprimand, at the least.
    • Hell, let's continue discussing the stupid. Despite the fact that Ollie likely killed Prometheus in an extradimensional zone, the crime is still tried in Star City when a federal court would likely have the best chance of claiming jurisdiction. He's also tried for the crime in Star City, which, in addition to being the place he's watched over as a superhero for a good long time, is also the place that was just recently subjected to untold destruction at the hands of his victim. And yet no one thought to file a change of venue request.
      • Actually, Ollie would not have wanted to change venues for the reason of jury nullification. He would have a more sympathetic jury by staying in Star City. I cannot think of an example where a US prosecutor moved for a change of venue as it would move the case out of the jurisdiction of their offices.
  • In X-Men, Josh Foley, aka Elixir, is told by Danielle Moonstar that his parents have signed total legal guardianship over to her, without Josh ever having been notified or called before a judge or any indication that either party set foot in a court of law. He's 16 at the time, so how did such important legal proceedings take place without him even knowing about them?
  • Sonic the Hedgehog #40 had Sonic point out that the party responsible for his transformation into Mecha Sonic, Nack the Weasel, had been missing the entire time and that the overzealous Antonie had utterly forgotten about him. However, Princess Sally, acting as the judge, practically tells Sonic to cram it. He's later forced to drag Nack back to prove his innocence.
  • Marvel writers have repeatedly had a character charged with "treason" over acts which have nothing to do with the deliberately narrow definition of treason expressly spelled out in the U.S. Constitution. (For one thing, it must involve a foreign enemy. It does not mean "acting against a government agency" or "insubordination".)
  • A Punisher made hash of the Insanity Defense by having a judge, not remand the Punisher for psychiatric examination, but simply decreeing that he was "insane" on the basis of counsel's rhetoric (and over his vehement objection.)


Film

  • Two words: Con Air.
    • First, there's very little chance Cameron Poe would have been charged, to say anything of being convicted, for defending his wife from drunken barflies.
    • Second, no judge in the U.S. has ever used a person's military training against them in cases like this.
      • Not military training per se, but the status of a professional boxer etc. would certainly be taken into account in an assault-trial.
      • There's a Blink-and-you'll-miss-it shot that shows the dead guy's buddies grab his knife when they run. There would then be no witnesses to the fact that Poe was being threatened with deadly force and coupled with his implied past ("You were almost that guy again.") it could look like he purposefully escalated the fight.
    • Third, he would not have been tried in federal court, or sent to a federal prison.
      • It could, if it involved military personnel. (The problem with this is, he's discharged. And if he were active duty, he would be court-martialled, not tried in civil court.)
      • No, he would only be tried in a court martial if it occurred somewhere where the military has jurisdiction, such as on a military base. He would have been tried by the local circuit court that had jurisdiction. The federal court would have no reason to try him.
      • Martial artists are officially considered "lethal weapons." Most definitions of self defense (which includes defending others) state that you must not use lethal force unless the same is being used on you (or you believe it is, at least). You can't use lethal force to subdue, as you wouldn't be in mortal peril if you were considering that, and you can't "punish" the offender with more force than is reasonable. Basically, Cameron Poe used excessive lethal force on drunk people when his training would have offered him a number of different options, among them never being in mortal peril in the first place.
        • The self-defense law does extend to those around you. His defense of his pregnant wife and unborn daughter would be a mitigating circumstance.
  • In the movie version of Daredevil, the only scene of hero Matt Murdock actually acting as a lawyer that made it to the theatrical cut was of him seemingly seeking a conviction for a rape suspect. The catch? Murdock is a defense attorney, a fact emphasized by the voluminous material that was cut from the movie. So while, in Real Life, you MAY see a victim's advocate making submissions at sentencing in many jurisdictions, there's no way in hell that Murdock would have been making arguments in court and getting annoyed that the defendant was acquitted.
    • Murdock could be suing the guy in tort for the rape, but that wouldn't be as dramatic.
  • Kevin Lomax in The Devil's Advocate is a Super Lawyer who has "never lost a case". We're told that in his early career he worked in the local Prosecutor's office and had a string of 64 straight convictions, and he "didn't plead out often". This actually indicates that he's a terrible prosecutor. First, prosecutors get to choose their cases, so he could have a string of "sure thing" prosecutions. Second, prosecuting these cases to trial would clog up the court's docket when he should be making plea bargains with the defendants. Odds are, the bulk of his victories would have been mundane cases where the defendant was guilty as hell and took a deal.
    • At least they averted this trope when he says that he might be disbarred for refusing to continue defending his client. In the US, a client can fire his lawyer, and a lawyer can quit if it wouldn't substantially harm his client. An attorney can't just quit in the middle of trial for that reason. In reality, the judge would either deny Lomax's request to withdraw or declare a mistrial on the grounds that the Defendant had been denied a fair trial due to attorney misconduct.
  • In Dirty Harry, the villain is released because Callahan tortures him into revealing his murder victim's location; the moral here is that such rights just present Off on a Technicality, which merely allows criminals to get away with murder. In reality, however, this is to prevent suspects from being forced to falsely confess, and the body of the murder victim would be excluded by the fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine, since he was coerced to reveal this.
    • [1] - Fruit of the poison tree doesn't always attach, and in this situation the prosecutors could have at least tried to claim exigent circumstance or inevitable discovery. Under the law as it exists now, its doubtful that any of the evidence other than the original confession would be excluded. Figuring out what would have happened when the movie was filmed is harder, but they could have at least kept the defendant in jail and then run through the appeals process.
  • All of which Harry Callahan would know, being a police detective, but it's very doutful that with such a horrible case the district attorney would choose to believe the suspect instead of him and dismiss the case, unless it was proven. Nor would it grant the killer an automatic release anyway. He had assaulted Callahan and attempted to murder him, a police detective, felonies good enough to put him away for a very long time, even life.
    • Harry thought the girl was still alive, and he knew that Scorpio was guilty; so he was trying to save the girl, not get a conviction; if he wanted that, he could have just plugged Scorpio with his .44 Magnum and claimed he resisted arrest. Likewise he could have just pointed the gun at him, and said "talk-- or die-- and then denied it afterward. Rather, this was an obvious message against "bleeding-heart laws which tie the hands of the police--" as lampshaded by Scorpio responding to Harry's demands by screaming "I want a lawyer! I have the right to a lawyer!"
      • Any evidence they find could likely be admissible under exigent circumstance. However, the whole point of the rules is to keep cops from torturing random people to get information that they don't have. Also Scorpio's reactions were understandable. I'd be screaming for a lawyer if Dirty Harry was beating me up for information.
    • The District Attorney lampshaded Harry's Hollywood Law style:

 District Attorney Rothko: You're lucky I'm not indicting you for assault with intent to commit murder.

Harry Callahan: What?

District Attorney Rothko: Where the hell does it say that you've got a right to kick down doors, torture suspects, deny medical attention and legal counsel? Where have you been? Does Escobedo ring a bell? Miranda? I mean, you must have heard of the Fourth Amendment. What I'm saying is that man had rights.

Harry Callahan: Well, I'm all broken up over that man's rights.

      • Callahan can claim "exigent circumstance."
      • Dirty Harry is a trope of his own concerning Hollywood Law.
  • Dirty Harry also brings up a common trope, i.e. that mistreatment of a suspect is an automatic acquittal, even if they simply aren't read their rights. In reality this is 100% false; rather, coerced confessions are simply excluded from the evidence, however the suspect can still be tried on admissible evidence. In the Dirty Harry case, there was plenty of evidence to convict the murderer-- including the wounds that Harry had legally inflicted on him previously, thus identifying him as the killer. Furthermore, police do have the right to kick down doors, if they can claim "exigent circumstances-- which definitely existed in this scenario.
    • Actually, he's Harry Callahan. That's enough justification needed.
  • Charles Bronson in "Death Wish" condemns the entire criminal justice system, as a comedy for thugs and a tragedy for good citizens.
  • Good Will Hunting gets a bunch of things wrong. In the opening, Will is arrested for assaulting a police officer. This is a very serious offense that he tries to get dismissed by saying it was "self-defense against tyranny". The judge acknowledges that Will got off of on several earlier charge by quoting two-hundred year old cases, such as a Grant Theft Auto charge on the grounds of "free property rights of horse and buggy". Most likely those cases had either been overturned or ignored in favor of more recent law. Anyway, the judge denies the motion to dismiss and puts him in jail. The Harvard professor says that he "talked to the judge" and got his permission to have Will work for him as a form of probation. The professor is not a lawyer and therefore has no right to "talk to" the judge on Will's behalf. The Professor might have put up his bail to get Will released, but Will would still have to stand trial for the assault charge.
    • That said, sometimes long-forgotten laws will be brought up and used again, though this is far more common for property rights vs. railroad tracks-type-issues than criminal cases.
      • The Professor said "I spoke to the judge, and he's agreed to release you into my custody." That doesn't mean he dismissed the charge, just that he would be in the Professor's custody. Will must have got a plea deal off-screen.
      • As for the Professor "talking with the judge," he might have used a personal friendship, Harvard's clout or just his own attorney and shortened it when he conveyed this to Will. It's not impossible that it happened, they're just vague about how.
  • Hot Fuzz is an inversion - he plays completely by the book and is so good that he gets assigned to a sleepy little town because he makes all the other cops in London look incompetent.
  • The Lethal Weapon movies which have far too many to count. The movies just operate under Rule of Cool and ignore everything else.
  • My Cousin Vinny is a great film but Vinny would never have passed the Bar Exam (even on his sixth try) if he didn't know that the Prosecutor must share his evidence with the defense. Later on, due to his studying, we see him put forth a great argument of totally correct legality, only to have the Hanging Judge Fail Law Forever by denying his objection.

 Judge: That is a brilliant and well-thought-out objection...

Vinny: Thank you, Judge!

Judge: ... overruled.

    • They have wide latitude to rule on motions, though.
      • It's also unlikely that Vinny, who was only licensed to practice in New York, would also be licensed to practice in Alabama, where the crime took place. He could be allowed to appear on that one case (it's called pro hac vice-"for this purpose" to you Latin enthusiasts), but there was no mention of him making the necessary application.
        • It's even more unlikely that Marisa Tomei would be called as an impromptu expert witness on knowing the exact dimensions of car-tires, when the actual car in question was available for measurement "straight from the horse's mouth;" however this is less a case of Hollywood Law, and more a case of "Tomeine poisoning."
  • Part of Freddy's backstory is that he was arrested and convicted of being a serial killer who targeted children, then was released because his arrest warrant was signed in the wrong place.
    • In the TV spinoff's pilot, it was because he hadn't been read his rights. Two invocations of this trope for the price of one incident!
  • In Pacific Heights, Michael Keaton engages in various outrageous illegal acts against his landlords, who become Legal Victims as they are thwarted from any recourse by a system of indifferent police, judges and attorneys, as well as Keaton using The Loophole. This movie was a nonstop sequence of Hollywood Law and The Legal Victim, as well as Vigilante Justice as the victims were driven to take the law into their own hands--which the police even stated would be the only real recourse.
  • Runaway Jury:
    • Super Lawyer: Gene Hackman. He's evil, has a command center filled with computer screens, and apparently capable of quickly breaking encrypted files.
    • Dream Team: Dustin Hoffman and the two conspiring protagonists. In real life, it would mean serious prison time if caught. (Just as with Hackman's own attempts at jury tampering.)
    • Currently, it's not actually possible to sue a firearms manufacturer for criminal misuse of their products, thanks to Congress. (The original novel revolved around tobacco companies, not firearms manufacturers.)
    • Deus Ex Machina Lawyer: the Hero lawyer only wins, because one of the Super Lawyer's employees betrays him.
  • Played for laughs in both Reckless Kelly and Rocky and Bullwinkle in which celebrities are legally exempt from any laws.
  • In Revenge of the Nerds, the antagonists commit various crimes against the "Nerds," but are told by police that it's "out of their jurisdiction;" since it's "college pranks--" even regarding outright crimes, including assault, battery, terrorism, and Malicious Destruction of Property; in response, the Nerds commit other crimes against the jocks in "revenge--" including one "Nerd," Lewis, raping a cheerleader by posing as her boyfriend (a serious felony). In reality, state laws do not recognize college campuses as sovereign boundaries or "no-man's lands;" however here, even felonies were entirely subject to judgement by Hollywood Law.
    • The Robot Chicken sketch comes down hard on the nerds for what they did.
      • That was another case of Hollywood Law, since it ignored the defense of selective prosecution (i.e. the law cannot be applied selectively, to punish those whom it will not protect from the same offenses). The campus police had already told the Nerds outright, that fraternity pranks were "out of their jurisdiction" (which is correct, if it's considered a "social contract" among college students that they accept by enrolling there); and everything the Nerds did in their "revenge," pretty much qualified as fraternity-pranks (since they were acting as members of a fraternity, being honorary tri-Lambs). Likewise, the rape-victim, Betty Childs, didn't want to file charges, falling hopelessly in love with Lewis (he was just that good at the science of sex, as he evidenced earlier in the film). Meanwhile, the jocks got away with destroying the Nerds' house, and the police still didn't care-- a case of Truth in Television, since football players have been known to get away with murder. (Now, if Booger had actually "blown the fuckers up" and still gotten away with it, then THAT would have been an interesting case indeed.)
  • For a film based on real events, The Untouchables gets just about everything about Al Capone's trial dead wrong:
    • The judge orders the jury switched with a jury next door. No judge has the power to call in a jury that the parties didn't select. Also, the new jury was brought in after the key prosecution witness had testified. Any Defense lawyer would love to have a jury that never saw the prosecution's evidence! (The actual judge did switch the pool of available jurors, but that happened before the trial began.)
    • Income Tax Evasion is a Federal, not a State crime. The Real Life case was prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney's office, not the Cook County District Attorney, and tried in United States Courthouse, not the Cook County Courthouse, by a federal judge.
    • Capone’s lawyer also enters in a plea change without his client’s request or consent. Apparently, the fact that Capone clearly does not want to plead Guilty (via assaulting his lawyer) counts for nothing. In Real Life, a court cannot accept a plea that is not made with the defendant's consent; any trial that did would be thrown out on appeal. Likewise, any lawyer who tried to enter a plea without his client's consent would most likely be disbarred.
  • In Walking Tall, the villain is a corrupt local sheriff who refuses to prosecute felonies against The Hero, forcing him to effect Vigilante Justice; however in real life, a sheriff only has complete jurisdiction over local ordinances, not felonies (which fall under state statutes), which can be appealed to the state level.
    • Depends on the state and county. In New England, for example, sheriffs are limited to enforcing civil law and managing the jail. In many southern states and in sparsely populated counties, sheriffs assume all law enforcement duties not delegated to municipal police, as is the case in Tennessee and Washington state, where the original and the remake take place, respectively.
  • In Pixar's Up, Carl is involuntarily committed to a retirement home after he whacks a guy over the head with a cane. The guy, at the time, had been struggling with Carl over his mailbox, despite Carl's repeated demands for him to let it go. While he may have had to pay some damages as a result, a single incident borne of an obvious misunderstanding wouldn't lead to commitment, though the Corrupt Corporate Executive who wanted Carl's house might have pulled strings.
    • After all, tampering with the mail is a federal crime.
  • In the first Wayne's World movie, one police officer is infamous for performing cavity searches on random motorists. This is a serious felony, when performed without a warrant; while the movie, as usual, attempts to justify this under The Rule of Funny, it qualifies under law as rape.
    • Beavis and Butt-head Do America features a paranoid federal agent who routinely orders the same thing.
  • In Double Jeopardy, Ashley Judd is framed by her husband for his own murder and serves prison time. When she gets out, she hunts him down and brags that she could kill him and get away with it because she's already been convicted of that crime and double jeopardy means she can't be prosecuted for it again. Problem is, she was convicted of that crime (that is, of "murdering" him at that specific time, in that specific place). Hunting him down to another city and killing him there, then, would be another crime entirely, and thus she could be justly convicted of it. (For example, if I was convicted of robbing you on Tuesday, I couldn't steal from you again on Thursday and expect double jeopardy to apply, because it's not a second trial for the same offence, it's being tried for committing the same offence twice.) Not to mention the host of other crimes she committed, including escape from custody, assault on law enforcement, property damage, unlicensed possession of a firearm, transporting an unlicensed weapon across state lines, assault with intent to kill, violation of her probation, and probably more.
    • To cut it short, she'd get the chair.
      • OBJECTION! This troper seems to remember she (eventually) killed him out of self defense. And for most of those crimes, the star witness is Tommy Lee Jones, her parole officer, who's implicated in the attempt to extort money out of the "dead" husband and highly unlikely to testify against her.
    • Villains who are acquitted often gloat openly about it afterward, because double jeopardy means they're safe, right? Except that the act of murder usually involves a series of lesser crimes that the prosecutor doesn't bother with (assault, for example). In most cases, at the very least the bad guy could be charged with perjury.
      • Only if he/she took the stand in his/her own defense. That actually doesn't happen very often.
      • Also "lesser included offenses" (like assualt in a murder case) are covered by double jeopardy (since the original jury can find the defendant guilty of those offenses if they want to).
  • In The Mighty Ducks, Gordon Bombay's high-powered lawyer boss secretly works out a plea bargain for his DUI to make him coach the titular youth hockey team, and agrees to it on his behalf. Nobody can accept a criminal plea bargain on behalf of a defendant, full stop. Not their lawyer, not their parents, nobody. Emphasis on the word "accept," as many different people can set one up, but the Defendant is in control.
    • True, but in this case it was the defendant's boss who pretty much had the power to force him to accept.
  • In Law Abiding Citizen, the judge rules DNA evidence is inadmissible against the criminals who broke into Clyde Shelton's home and killed his family, later explained as one of the CSUs having contaminated the evidence. According to the DA, the "Exclusionary Principle" rules out most of the other valid evidence against them. The Exclusionary Rule would apply to evidence the police obtain in violation of the suspect's legal rights and any "fruit of the poisonous tree" (i.e. other evidence obtained as a result of that illegal evidence), not evidence that was compromised or mishandled after it was collected.
  • Fracture: A defendant is on trial for attempted murder for shooting his wife, but he's orchestrated a crafty Xanatos Roulette to dispose of the murder weapon. After he's acquitted, he gets a judge to sign off on terminating her life support. Then the DA unravels his Xanatos Roulette and finds the murder weapon and claims that Double Jeopardy does not cover him against new charges of murder since his wife has died. Double Jeopardy covers all related charges stemming from the facts surrounding any criminal count: i.e., if he's not guilty of attempted murder, he's not guilty of murder either. DAs cannot resubmit charges against an acquitted defendant under different legal statutes; the only exceptions would be in the case of trying a defendant under a separate sovereign jurisdiction, or the accused was never in jeopardy (read: tampering with witnesses/judge/jury/etc has been proven).
    • Except that by turning off life support, the defendant was engaged in a separate set of actions resulting in murder that were separate from the original shooting. The defendant was never in jeporady for murder because the act of committing the murder didn't occur until after the original trial.
  • Ocean's Eleven (the remake). There is a fictitious Nevada Gaming Commission law in the film stipulating that casinos in the state are required to hold a minimum amount of cash on the premises, in the event that a high-roller strikes the grand jackpot. Not surprisingly, the title characters hatch a plan to exploit this.
  • A minor case of this in the movie Wall Street. While several actions noted as bad would count as immoral, the fact that the movie takes place a couple years before it was filmed means that several of the actions shown were not actually illegal during the film's timeframe, despite Bud Fox's fears of losing his license or worse. In fact, Gordon Gekko most likely didn't break the law at all. Bud Fox definitely broke the law by disclosing confidential information from his client (Gekko) to a competitor (Wildman) and using that information to cost his client millions.
  • The film Changing Lanes is made of this trope. Everything from leaving the scene of the accident to turning off credit accounts without cause by themselves would get a real lawyer disbarred.
    • At the scene where two firm partners started colluding with Gavin to forge a signature on a document, any real lawyer will declare "You Fail Law Forever" and walk out, not just because they're breaking four different ethical rules, the senior partners are trying to cover for the mistakes of a junior associate...by breaking the rules themselves! Seriously, anybody who pens a movie about lawyers behaving badly could at least try to read the actual rules first.
  • In Flight of the Intruder, LT Grafton and LCDR Cole (Willem Dafoe) are to be court-martialed for failing to obey orders. Instead of dropping bombs on their specified targets, they fly north to bomb targets they think are better. After their hearing, CDR Camparelli (Danny Glover) informs Grafton and Cole that the charges are being dropped because President Nixon just authorized bombing the targets they were on trial for bombing and it would look bad in the press if the Navy court-martialed two guys for doing what Nixon just ordered them to do. In reality, this wouldn't have made a difference.
  • In Judge Dredd, Dredd is convicted for murder because bullets from a Lawgiver pistol are tagged with the DNA of the Judge who fired them, and forensic examination revealed the tag to match up with Dredd ( And were actually from his twin brother Rico). Judge Hersey, the defense, objects to the evidence on the grounds that she had not been informed of the existence of this evidence, much less been allowed to examine it, before it was presented at the court-martial. The court ( In the person of the Corrupt Cop who arranged for the murder in the first place) ignores her entirely valid objection.
    • Justified Trope in this instance. The Judge Dredd world is a Crapsack, totalitarian state where individual police officers can hand out any punishment up to and including the death penalty right on the spot. The fact that Dredd got a trial at all is the exception, rather than the rule.
  • In the Addams Family movie, Gomez challenges the (presumed fake) Fester's throwing his family out of the family estate and loses the case. While the court hearing is not seen apart from the verdict, the hearing is run by Gomez's neighbor, who rather obviously ruled against Gomez to get rid of him (Being sick and tired of Gomez knocking golf balls through his windows), and in fact had been prepped to do so by Tully before the suit was filed. There is no way a judge with an easily provable association (positive or negative) with the plaintiff of a case would be allowed to judge that case in real life.
  • In the remake of Miracle on 34th Street, when the villains move to have Kris Kringle forcibly committed, the entire commitment hearing hangs on Kringle's attorney proving that his client is not mentally ill at all. While that may have been the case when the original film was made, a Supreme Court ruling made in 1975 states clearly that whether or not Kringle was simply mentally ill would be irrelevant to such a proceeding. The question would be whether or not he was a danger to himself or others. If he wasn't, he could believe he was Superman or Captain Nemo and it wouldn't matter. They couldn't commit him without his consent.
  • Cracked.com's article "The Five Most Wildly Illegal Court Rulings in Movie History" points out different instances of this trope.


Literature

  • Alex Cross's Trial by James Patterson. The book is about a white attorney, Ben Corbett, coming to his hometown of Eudora, Mississippi and investigating lynchings and the Klan at the command of President Teddy Roosevelt, putting the book's date range between September 14, 1901 and March 4, 1909. The book fairly drips with examples of this trope. Here are a few:
    • In a town dominated by the Klan (which had been officially disbanded since around 1877 and which didn't exist in its modern form until 1915, but that's another issue) and in which the sheriff is a sincere member of the Klan, two "White Raiders" who have come to lynch an old black man and his granddaughter die--one by falling off the roof and the other by being stabbed in the back by the granddaughter. The granddaughter is not only not convicted of murder or manslaughter--she never even gets ARRESTED. It seems that Patterson forgot that self-defense is a plea the defendant makes in court, not an excuse for the cops not to arrest someone.
    • Ben Corbett's father is appointed judge in the trial of the three surviving Raiders (yes, they were arrested by the sheriff who's a Klansman and who believes in what they're doing). This makes no sense, as Judge Corbett seems pretty low on the judicial hierarchy. Corbett tries traffic cases. And small claims cases between neighbors. This is a case of attempted murder. Newsflash, Patterson: Corbett is a judge of a small-town CIVIL court, not the judge of a county or state CRIMINAL court. Corbett's court doesn't have jurisdiction.
    • The sheriff tells another cop to read the surviving Raiders their rights. The concept of the Miranda rights didn't come into existence until the Supreme Court decision in the case of Miranda v. Arizona (1966). It's somewhere between 1901 and 1909. Miranda rights don't EXIST yet.
      • Heck, Ernesto Miranda himself wouldn't even be born until the '40's!
    • Ben, mid-trial, gets an idea: he and one of his friends will break into the photography offices of Scooter Williams, who takes pictures of every single lynching, and steal the photos and the negatives. Then he will bring the stolen pictures into court as evidence. This ignores several facts:
      • Stolen pictures = inadmissible. Ben is an attorney. He should know this.
    • Not necessarily. Most states didn't have a rule against this before Mapp v. Ohio, and even now it only applies to police or people acting as their agents. So they would be liable for burglary and theft, but the pictures would be still admitted.
      • Even if they weren't stolen, the grisly pictures are horrible, yes, and they are certainly proof that lynching exists, which is what Roosevelt wanted Ben to find...but they aren't evidence of anything in this case. They DO prove that the men who went to the Crosses' house had attended lynchings. But they don't prove that these men went to the Crosses' to commit a lynching OR that they attacked the Crosses with intent to commit murder, and any first-year law student would argue as much...
      • ...if the pictures weren't considered prejudicial to the jury and thrown out of the evidence list during preparations for the trial.
      • And since the evidence lists are prepared before trial and are seen by attorneys for both sides, it's unlikely that the judge would accept new evidence mid-trial that the other side hadn't seen--even if the evidence was obtained legally AND proved that the defendants were guilty.
    • Moody Cross (the aforementioned granddaughter and Alex Cross's ancestor) is called to the stand and perjures herself by saying that yes, the Raiders had a search warrant and she agreed to let them in, and my goodness, she doesn't know WHY they attacked after that. Ben thinks that this changes everything because now the official story isn't that the Crosses fought men who were performing their legal duty, but that the Crosses acted like good citizens and admitted the representatives of the law, who then attacked them. He seems unaware that:
      • a) the stories the Crosses told and that the Raiders told would have been recorded in the briefs both sides filed with the court, so changing the story now would raise all kinds of questions about "Why are you changing your story? Were you lying then or are you lying now?"; and
      • b) there is STILL no physical evidence that proves that the Raiders attacked the Crosses and not the Crosses the Raiders.
    • When it's time for closing arguments, Jonah Curtis (the prosecutor) tells Ben to make the closing speech. Never mind that Ben isn't listed as an attorney for the prosecution, but as a prosecution witness, and therefore has no right to make the speech.
  • Jennifer Government is chock full of this. Highlights include penalty clauses in contractual murder being legally enforceable (even while murder itself remains a crime) and it being perfectly viable to sue a person for property damage incurred by being thrown onto said property by a fleeing criminal. Justified by being set in a world where big business has suborned almost all functions of government and law enforcement.
  • The bizarre tragicomic ending of Mark Twain's "From the London Times of 1904," where it's determined that even though the defendant has been shown not to have committed the crime he's been convicted of, the conviction cannot be overturned, but since the crime wasn't committed, he can't be pardoned. The former is based on a fictional French precedent, but the latter is implied to be preexisting law, even though even in the nineteenth century, actual innocence was a common reason for a pardon to get around the more tedious process of having a court decision annulled, although such pardons were sometimes not accepted.
    • The "precedent" cited is the conviction of Dreyfus, which is unfortunately not fictional.

Live Action TV

  • All in The Family: One episode contained probably Hollywood's worst misunderstanding of Miranda rights ever. And considering how badly Hollywood usually understands that subject, that's saying a lot. In that episode, Archie is mugged and reports the crime to the police. The police catch the perpetrator and read him his Miranda rights in perfect English after the arrest. However, they have to release him because the mugger didn't understand a word of English. As stated in "Common Examples" above, that's NOT how Miranda rights work.
  • Battlestar Galactica is set in a space-operatic setting which may have a different legal system than ours, but Baltar's trial is nonsensical enough to qualify anyway, if only for the mistrial motion that is totally ignored.
    • Though numerous characters (Baltar first amongst them) contest that this isn't a trial but a show for the surviving humans to give them someone to blame for their woes. The beliefs are not unfounded either. When one of his defense team (Lee Adama) is called to the stand by the lead of the team (Lee himself agreeing with the prosecution this was insane basically) he essentially states that the Colonials have gotten to the point where they have to do whatever works, including ignoring the law, mutiny, coups and more, in their situation. In this instance it only went ahead because it was clear Admiral Adama wanted to hear what was said.
  • From the Boston Legal page. Please note that David E. Kelley is a former lawyer, and as such, he chucked realism under Rule of Funny.
    • Even non-lawyers know that lawyers can't meet with judges ex parte, and that evidence has to be relevant to be admissible.
    • One episode featured the lawyers representing the estate of a soldier killed in Iraq, under a state law fraud theory in state court due to misrepresentations by the recruiter. Everything about this is wrong: the federal government can't be sued on a tort theory in state court, the federal government can only be sued for a tort like fraud under the Federal Tort Claims Act, the government is immune to tort suits surrounding military operations, the Feres Doctrine would bar the suit in any event, and the FTCA also exempts the government for causes of action that accrue overseas. All of these mistakes are in one storyline of one episode.
    • Another one featured Alan's assistant refusing to pay her federal income taxes. She was charged criminally, and argued that she didn't pay because she disagreed with various government policies. Alan then asked the jury to return a Not Guilty verdict for that reason, and they did so. Perhaps needless to say, that's not a valid defense, such evidence would never be admitted, and Alan's argument would also not be permitted. There are many real life cases on this issue, because so many out there are eager to not pay their taxes...
      • An entire trial in LA Law was dedicated to ridiculing the idea of a tax-protester who refused to pay his federal taxes because of silly government programs like measuring cow-flatulence etc; the jury just told him the obvious moral (i.e. "preachy message") of the story: that "the little people" only had the right to vote against policies they don't like-- otherwise they should just shut up and pay their taxes.
    • Carl Sack and Lorraine represent Nantucket, Massachusetts when they want to build a nuclear bomb for protection. Any real judge would throw that out of court instantly and then order the lawyers to be examined for mental reasons.
    • In yet another episode, Denny's "son" Donny Crane is defending a man whose fiancee sued him after he broke off their wedding. The jury orders him to pay her several million dollars in compensation. Any judge with half a brain would throw that case out of court. It's called a "breach of promise" and is no longer recognized under most civil laws.
      • It might be sustainable under Common Law, and if the defendant was very wealthy.
  • Sam Puckett on ICarly is arrested for assaulting an ambassador and gets off scot-free and never has to deal with the issue. Rule of Funny obviously applies.
  • Columbo utilized the same Hollywood Law trope in every episode-- while also being something of a Jerkass: Columbo would basically disguise his surveillance of a suspect, by pretending to simply question the person as a witness-- nonstop throughout the episode. In this manner he would thus badger, harass and trick the suspect into revealing evidence that would eventually convict them. This is highly illegal, breaching many various civil and ethical protections against police abuse and harassment; however, even when suspects complain about Columbo's nonstop harassment in order to end it, this proved no avail, as Columbo would simply claim that it "proves" that the person is guilty, and that "he's touching a nerve." This made Columbo into more of a Moral Guardian than a policeman, since he was Always Right, and never harasses an innocent person: however in reality, the law is not made to presume that the police are always right, but to protect the citizen's presumption of innocence.
    • This fits the mold of most "cop shows," i.e. the police are always right, even when torturing suspects (e.g. NYPD Blue). The moral is that it's smart to trade liberty for security, since the villain always uses his rights as a The Loophole to get away with murder (often literally).
    • Columbo also had a bad habit of tampering with evidence. The way he handled evidence, there was no chain of custody and most of what he would try to admit wouldn't be permissible in court because he would just walk around, pick something up, put it in his pocket, and keep it there until he was ready to share it with the murderer.
  • An episode of True Blood had this, where Sam is arrested because there was a girl with a gaping hole in her chest in his diner's freezer. Sure, this has happened before, which would make him a suspect, but there's no evidence that he actually did anything.
    • To quote Videogum, "Well, you probably did it because you were the only person here when we showed up. Police work."
  • There's an episode of Supernatural where Dean, asking questions of a woman whose husband's murder they are investigating, at one point says, 'Mrs Waters, withholding information from the police is a capital offence.' Sam coughs, and Dean mutters, '...in some parts of the world, I'm sure.'
  • Frasier often uses the trope of the The Legal Victim. In a famous episode, Frasier and Daphne are sued by jilted Super Lawyer Donny Douglas, for "breach of (marriage) contract" (Daphne's last-minute refusal to marry Donny) and "tortuous interference in a private contract" (via Frasier's meddling). This is a clear case of Hollywood Law, since Daphne had never actually entered into any contract, although the case could be made that she committed Breach of promise of marriage
    • What Daphne did can be a basis for a lawsuit. This is more a case of incorrect terminology.
      • Still may be incorrect, since Breach of Promise is not grounds for a suit anymore in most jurisdictions. Washington state had also ended punitive damages in suits at the time Donny sought them in his.
        • It also could only be applied against the man who broke her promise to a woman, never against a woman who broke her promise to a man.
      • Wait, what?
    • Likewise on an earlier episode, Frasier was deliberately sold a counterfeit painting for $60,000, but finds that he somehow has no legal recourse against the counterfeiter. This is a glaring example of Hollywood Law, since this was an obvious case of outright Criminal Fraud--which would carry felony charges against the counterfeiter, along with court costs and possible punitive damages.
      • It's not that he's told that he has no legal recourse at all, it's that he's told that the police "have their hands full with murders and robberies". So it's not the law itself that's the problem, it's that the police apparently can't be bothered to investigate any crime that isn't incredibly serious. It's also made clear that he could sue the guy, but Martin tells him that he'd end up losing more money that he payed for the painting that way.
    • Yet it does happen in real life- because the fraudster will usually be/have been prosecuted for fraud and the money has either gone (on high living and/or the court case) or 'disappeared'.
      • Hardly. Suspect assets are frozen, and so stolen money can't be used on one's defense; and likewise, a felony theft carries a higher criminal penalty if the money isn't returned. While assets are lost if they can't be recovered, this doesn't simply allow a racketeer to simply flip off the victim, as shown in that episode's obvious instance of You Fail Law Forever.
  • An episode of Law and Order had Jack McCoy team up with a judge to get a drunk driver convicted of multiple counts of second degree murder as part of the judge's crusade. Jack went so far as to blackmail a witness into being out of the country during the trial and suppressed all evidence that the guy was drunk off his rocker when he committed the crime, with the judge DeusExMachinaing on Jack's behalf all the way. Fortunately, during the trial, Jack came to his senses, and started to show the evidence that the guy was drunk (and so was guilty of Manslaughter, but not murder). The only reason the judge didn't report Jack's abuses in the trial was because he was in as deep.
    • In an older episode, a guy beats his girlfriend (with her consent) to cause a miscarriage and frame the rich lawyer they intended to sue, taking careful measure to ensure the fetus was under 24 weeks old so they could avoid going to prison. Ben and the others act like there is nothing they can do and have to use all sorts of legal loopholes, never mind the original couple conspired to commit blackmail, perjury, defamation, entrapment, and fraud.
    • Too many examples to list, but whenever a judge tosses out evidence against the defendant early on during a trial to make the case that much harder for the prosecution, though the defendant will always get their just desserts in one way or another. However, one prominent example comes to mind:
    • "Hubris": a warrant is issued to search the suspect's apartment but the courier hasn't brought it yet. Knowing the suspect will get there before the warrant, Det. Green sticks a toothpick in his lock to keep him from entering. The courier arrives a few seconds later and the police bust in and seize a videotape of the murders. The judge tosses the tape since the police secured the area before they had the warrant (even though they had reason to believe he'd destroy the evidence and were well aware the warrant had been issued). Then the judge allows the defendant to do two things he shouldn't have: call an alibi witness to perjure herself and take the stand to testify on his own behalf. Not only were the tapes admissible to cross-examine both of them but the defendant was clearly guilty of perjury considering he was representing himself and had personal knowledge he was suborning perjury.
      • In an episode of SVU, the DA forces detective Benson to arrest a teenage girl on child porn charges (for "sexting" pictures of herself) in an effort to coerce her into testifying against an attacker. When she does so, the DA attempts to drop the charges, but the judge overrules her and sentences the girl to several years in prison. While the end of the episode reveals that the judge was corrupt, this has two problems. First, the arrest was an obvious case of Malicious Prosecution, which is a felony, and was one of the few cases (its a notoriously difficult charge to prove in most jurisdictions) in which it would be an open and shut case. Second, even in juvenile court, the judge has no power to do any of that.
      • SVU has far more. Best one is evidence getting tossed because the man was part of a conspiracy with a lawyer and a Thug and knew where the body was. Attorney Client privileged was used to toss it. Privilege doesn't work like that, especially if its a conspiracy a lawyer is involved with, and even more so that a third person who's not a spouse makes it so that never existed.
      • In "Popular", a nurse cites doctor-patient privilege in refusing to talk to Detective Stabler when she treats a middle-schooler who claims her teacher raped her. Captain Cragen, Stabler's wife and even the victim herself give Stabler grief for bothering to do his damn job and investigate the rape; even Stabler treats the whole thing like he's breaking procedure because the privilege is so sacrosanct. Doctor-patient privilege does not cover evidence of a crime: when a medical professional comes across evidence of things such as child abuse, they are required by law to report it to the authorities. A clear-cut admission from their patient would leave them with no wiggle room whatsoever for neglecting their duty in this case.
      • In "Manipulated", the detectives use a facial recognition program to compare a picture taken on the street to the DMV records for driver's licenses. The judge later throws this out, claiming that the technology was too inconclusive and all the subsequent evidence was tainted. A person has no privacy expectation in a picture taken on a public street or their driver's license photo, so comparing them to each other cannot possibly be a violation of the 4th Amendment. Without a violation, the tree isn't "poisoned" and the remaining evidence is acceptable. What's more, the unreliability of the technology bears upon its admissibility at trial, but they don't need the computer match at trial - Once the computer found the picture, the detectives confirmed it by the eyeball test and the suspect's admission. What's more than that, they already knew of the suspect because he was the husband of the victim's boss and they had an easy argument for inevitable discovery (they would have recognized him from the photo given time).
  • Matlock turned the Cornered Stool Pigeon into a Beaten Dead Horse; in every episode, Matlock would simply corner the witness with new and unaccepted evidence, which he had not previously shared with the prosecution, and basically convict the person on the spot with some ridiculous Deus Ex Machina.
  • In Northern Exposure, a young Jewish doctor named Joel Fleischman (Rob Morrow) goes to medical school for free, in exchange for agreeing to practice in an Anchorage, Alaska, hospital for four years. However when the contract falls through and he is released from it, he then finds that the Fine Print sentences him to a five-year prison sentence, if he fails to practice for four years in the boondock town of "Cicily" instead (the legality of which is likewise confirmed by an Amoral Attorney). This is a classic case of Did Not Do the Research, in that such a contract is not only legally impossible, but would in fact constitute involuntary servitude under the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution-needless to say this is totally illegal. Insult is added to injury, likewise, when the doctor later learns that the contract somehow binds him to five years of practice, rather than four (actually a shallowly disguised plot device to extend the series). In addition, the doctor is threatened with death by a Vigilante who owned the contract, if Fleischman tries to break it. In actuality, the doctor could only be subject to civil suit for damages, as well as possible revocation of his medical license; and a death threat naturally voids ANY contract. While this would sway most people, the writers clearly chose to pursue Hollywood Law (as well as Vigilante Justice) as the first in a long series of many tropes which would later characterize the series.
  • In a British example, an episode of Rumpole of the Bailey ended with a revelation that a woman who promised to quit as a lawyer if certain offers were made did so by becoming a judge. Cut to a scene of her presiding over a case and giving her lawyer-husband a hard time.
  • Another British example is Judge John Deed. Shall we count the ways?
    • The eponymous judicial hero allows the jury to 'reconsider' their verdict on the basis of what the accused says just before sentence is passed. they change their minds and let him go.
    • Judge Deed is sleeping with a pretty barrister, has a barrister for an ex-wife AND a barrister for a daughter (eventually). All three appear before him, with not a single person mentioning the clear conflict of interest at hand.
    • After realising the whole establishment is out to get him, said Judge begins a very public crusade to get the Home Secretary (a very senior politician) fired.
    • After deciding that a jury has been tampered with, Judge Deed decides that they should have found him guilty and, without any investigation as to jury tampering at all, puts the suspect in jail so there can be a retrial. The defence barrister is completely ignored, even after saying the magic words of "habeas corpus" and asking for directions to the Court of Appeal.
  • The final episode of Seinfeld had the characters put on trial for violating an obscure "Good Samaritan" law, standing by while watching a man get mugged. The prosecution puts on a train of the past people that the characters allegedly "wronged", and the judge finds that the characters are bad people and sentences them to a year in prison.
    • Good Samaritan laws are ones which protect people who injure someone while honestly trying to help them (e.g. breaking your ribs performing CPR) from liability. In this case it was a "criminal indifference" law based on the Paparazzi in France standing around taking pictures while Princess Diana was dying after her car crash and doing nothing to help. So the foursome here could have just called police, but they decided to videotape it and make wisecracks at the victim's expense instead as he was being mugged. Still, the parade of negative character witnesses is most unlikely in Real Life, and their lack of assistance might not be enough for the charge, depending on the law. Rule of Funny and Played for Laughs reign.
  • Veronica Mars had many of these, esp in Season 2. When Duncan had to kidnap his daughter? Not a chance in HELL the grandparents could have gotten custody away from the biological father, even if he hadn't been from a gazillionaire family. The trial of Aaron Echolls at the end of season 2 had the defense attorney asking about Veronica's sexual history and confidential medical info, then directly introduce hearsay from an absent 3rd party (directly, as in the lawyer himself told the jury that the absent person had said X).
    • Reality Is Unrealistic. California evidence law was the first to be codified and differs in several ways from most states, especially when Proposition 8 in 1980 made a lot more fair game. If sexual history is relevant, even just to show bias, it's allowable so long as not to prove consent to a rape. Hearsay from an absent 3rd party may also be used on cross-examination to a witness, provided it meets certain qualifications. However that's usually a stupid idea as attacking character of a witness allows the defendant's character to be attacked.
  • For a series that generally gets it right, there's a pretty big one in the finale of The Wire: Cedric Daniels, now a private attorney, appears before Rhonda Perlman, now a judge, after they have been in a relationship. Needless to say, arguing before a judge with whom you are intimate is highly unethical for both of them. But it's Baltimore.
    • No, they get it right - she gives the line "my first case, and I have to recuse myself".
  • In The Drew Carey Show, Mimi Bobek originally gets a job with Drew's company, by threatening to sue for "discrimination" if they refuse to hire her for wearing clown-like makeup and clothing on the job, claiming that it's "discrimination against her appearance." However, such laws only pertain to a person's natural appearance, not the way a person chooses to look-- and clown make-up and clothing are obviously chosen, not natural.
    • And, in the US, laws don't protect discrimination on the basis of general appearance (i.e. you look like a clown, you're not going to get a job-that's perfectly legal and understandable). There's a limited number of protected characteristics (race, religion, gender, etc.) that are the only one's you can't refuse to hire based on. Or if it's something protected by the Constitutionally-protected Rule of Funny (Never mentioned * which* constitution).
    • What if dressing like a clown is your religion?
    • Then the question becomes whether your choice of religious expression permits you to perform the ordinary requirements of the job, either with or without reasonable accommodation.
  • CSI: "Invisible Evidence": a patrolman stops a car for a broken tail light, arrests the driver on an outstanding warrant and a CSI finds evidence of a murder in the trunk. The judge tosses the evidence because neither the patrolman nor the CSI applied for a warrant to search the trunk. The 4th amendment is exempted whenever a person is being arrested in their car (covering the patrolman) and anytime a car is impounded, the police have to inventory its contents (the CSI).
    • Of course as it turned out when the CSI team reinvestigate the case, searching for evidence that will be admissible, they discover that the driver was innocent - he was being framed by the garage mechanic, who planted the body in the trunk and smashed the tail light so he would be stopped.
  • Shark, being a TV series about a lawyer prosecuting only high-profile cases, undoubtedly had a lot of these, but one I actually looked into was an episode where a man was able to get evidence of his crime taken out of the case because he had copied his lawyer in on the emails. The emails were quite explicit; if what Shark had said were true, then all you'd have to do do get away with, say, hiring a hitman, would be to copy your lawyer in on your plans.
  • The fourth season of Lost had "Eggtown", in which the flash-forwards followed Kate's murder trial. For every one aspect of law it got right, it got three or four wrong. For a comprehensive list of all the blunders, see its page on Lostpedia.
  • Torchwood: Miracle Day has the governments of the world (including the US) making major changes to the legal system almost overnight as a response to the Miracle. Some of these laws are clearly unconstitutional, yet no one takes notice and nothing is heard from the Supreme Court. As an example, they burn people who may be conscious alive, which is a violation of the 8th Amendment (i.e. cruel and unusual punishment).
    • Oswald Danes also gets the rule on double jeopardy wrong. You can't be "tried" more than once for the same crime. No one said you can't be "executed" twice.
  • In an episode of Little House On the Prairie, Judd Larabee is accused of burning down Jonathan's barn. A judge is called in to preside over the case. When he arrives, he appoints Charles as the jury foreman even though Charles is the best friend of the victim. He then assigns Charles with the task of selecting a jury. Throughout the case, the judge scolds people for wasting the court's time when they try to present evidence. When the jury deliberates, they have 11 jurors who say Larabee is guilty and one juror who thinks he's not guilty. The judge then orders the one juror to stand up and explain why he thinks the man is not guilty before dismissing him from the jury. Then, he replaces the juror, but only after asking the replacement what his verdict would be. No one objects or finds any of these actions to be unusual.


Theater

  • The Merchant of Venice: the main plot is that Shylock the Jew has obtained the right to a pound of Antonio's flesh if he does not repay his loan. This is upheld in a court of law, despite the fact that in Elizabethan times, and to this day, you cannot make a contract that gives you the right to commit murder.
    • Possibly justified in that the trial takes place not in England but in Shakespeare's rendition of Venice, whose primary function is to serve as an exotic setting rather than a factual depiction of the city and its people. Also, Shylock handwaves this, by saying that he has no intention to kill Antonio, merely to take his flesh. If Antonio expires in the course of Shylock's doing so, Shylock argues this he is not liable as both parties entered into the agreement willingly and presumably aware of the possible consequences.
  • Gilbert and Sullivan's Trial By Jury deliberately lacks even a single character that is not in violation of the law or ethics at some point. Even the court usher who's only job is to bring drinks to the jury tries to defame the defendant.

Webcomics

  • In Ctrl+Alt+Del, based on Lilah's word, they were going to cavity search Christian after she indicates him as a terrorist in an airport. They don't seem particularly concerned about the implications of filing a false police report, nor pissing off someone who has demonstrated a willingness to spend lots of money to satiate his own petty whims.
  • In Xkcd the Black Hat Guy is being vetted for the position of Secretary of the Internet. Congress sentences him to death.
    • Guess they brought back the ol' bill of attainder.
  • Something Positive Plays With a variant of the Shooting a Corpse example--Kharisma spends months trying to murder Avogadro (with his consent, as part of a bet), only for him to die of natural causes. She winds up being found guilty of his murder anyway, since she has left copious evidence from her various attempts and admitted to trying to kill him. That being said, even as the comic covers her trial and appeal the fact that she is guilty of multiple counts of attempted murder seems rather understated.


Web original


Western Animation

  • Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law breaks just about every legal rule there is, but it's not exactly meant to be taken seriously by anyone.
    • This was called attention to at one point, Birdman's passionate use of the insanity defense in the Devlin case actually moves the jury to tears and seems to ensure a win, but Der Spusmacher then tells Birdman that he can't use an insanity defense because it isn't a criminal trial.
  • In a Jimmy Neutron episode, the titular character (who is ten) is thrown in an adult jail and forced to work on a chain gang after being accused of a crime, before a trial. Even more ridiculous, his friends are arrested and thrown on the chain gang simply for realizing (out loud) that Jimmy wanted them to smuggle him escape tools, despite not acting on this or even having an opportunity to.
  • In The Powerpuff Girls, the titular characters and Princess Morbucks have both spent time in a jail for adult males despite being little girls.
  • Dexter's Laboratory: This is most relevant in the end of Season 2, Episode 32, Part 3: "Dexter Detention"
  • Transformers Animated: Porter C. Powell was able to use his money and power to free Henry Masterson. Despite Masterson going on national television, declaring that he would blow up the Solar Power Plant, wiping out the state of Michigan, which would have killed at least several million people.
    • Powell also talked Masterson's way out of punishment for his crimes in that episode. Regardless of the validity of his argument about a robot's rights, Masterson lied to the police about a Decepticon attack and nobody said anything about arresting him for that. Masterson remained on Sumdac Enterprises' payroll until Isaac Sumdac returned and fired him.
  • Family Guy has never made any claims to realism, but the episode "Peterotica" deserves special mention. Put briefly, Lois's father Carter Pewterschmitt lends Peter $5.00 (that he kept at the bottom of a jar filled with salt and razor wire) to publish Peter's erotic writings. Peter uses the $5 to make photocopies that he sells and credits Carter as publisher. One reader gets into a car accident when he decides to take his shirt off while driving and listening to a book on tape version. The driver sues Carter and sends his lawyer to his house to seize all of his assets because Carter is liable as publisher.
  • In Batman the Animated Series Poison Ivy was once disallowed from going to jail simply because she was apprehended by Batman, not a cop.

Real Life

  • One instance in New Zealand where a young lawyer was trying to defend a client sued for defamation by invoking a "freedom of speech" right. The judge had to inform Ms X that she had perhaps been watching too much [American] TV, and that there is no such provision for freedom of speech in New Zealand law (although "freedom of expression" is now enshrined in the 1990 NZ Bill of Rights Act).
    • Funny thing is if she'd said "Qualified Privilege" and sought to extend the definition through some legal torturing of the law she'd have been heard all the way to the Supreme Court...
  • Older Than Feudalism: The Roman Republic had a very detailed legal system, but unfortunately many of the lictors, assessors and praetors were so corrupt or hungry for patronage that the system could often be bent. Thus, Roman trials often were the thrilling Xanatos Speed Chess portrayed by Hollywood. The famous trial of Gaius Licinius Verres by Marcus Tullius Cicero is a brilliant example:
    • To begin with, the people of Sicily moved to have Verres tried for extortion (his tyrannical misrule of Sicily was notorious). Verres, putting his stolen money to good use, contacted Quintus Hortensius Hortalus, widely known as the finest lawyer in Rome. The citizens, feeling rather apprehensive about this, spoke to an unorthodox but rising star of the Roman bar, Marcus Tullius Cicero.
    • Verres and Hortensius used all sorts of procedural tricks in order to delay the trial. These delaying tactics gave Cicero only nine days (nowhere near enough time) until the trial would be adjourned for the upcoming holidays and games of Pompey the Great. After that, the current judge, the honest Marcus Acilius Glabrio, would be replaced by an ally of Hortensius's, who would be sure to throw the case out. Furthermore, Hortensius and Verres had the support of the optimates, the patrician wing of the Senate. Just to make sure doubly sure, they also bribed the entire jury to find in Verres's favour.
    • However, Cicero was also capable of using this trope to his advantage. He journeyed to Sicily, and with the help of a mob of angry Sicilians, totally illegally stole and copied all of Verres's records. He used his own money to bring over a hundred witnesses, and, on the day of the trial, brought every single one of them into the courtroom (again, illegally) to intimidate the patrician jury and impress the praetor. Before the trial began, he had them go into the winesinks and bathhouses of Rome and spread stories of Verres's sliminess before the plebeians.
    • It was the form in those days to make incredibly lengthy opening and closing speeches. Hortensius was infamous for using the "Asiatic style", a long thrilling Large Ham performance lasting several days, complete with florid hand gestures and Manly Tears. Cicero would be expected to do the same in his opening speech, thus using up a large chunk of his available time. Thus, Verres and Hortensius had pulled off a Xanatos Gambit: either Cicero tried to fight the case, ran out of time and and humiliated himself, or bowed out and let Verres off. Unfortunately, Cicero was better at the whole intrigue game. He took a third option: he made no speech at all.
    • Cicero, again bending the rules, simply presented his case without any introduction. He ruthlessly cross-examined Verres, who, not the sharpest tool in the box, ended up incriminating himself. Cicero's legal beat-down was so severe that at one point the plebeians stormed the courtroom in fury, and the bribed jury was so shamed by this and so appalled by Verres' corruption that Verres was forced to flee to Gaul before the trial had even ended. Tropes Are Not Bad indeed.

Notes

  1. The SCOTUS recently ruled in Safford v Redding against a school district when a 13-year-old Arizona girl was strip-searched by school officials looking for ibuprofen
  2. Not because he was the prosecutor, mind, but because Bryan was an expert on religion and The Bible, and the defense was claiming that Scopes didn't break the law because evolution and Christianity were compatible.
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