LAW AND ORDER (NEW YORK) — THE FOURTH-SEVENTH YEARS — 1993–1996
The interest in these rather old (more than twenty years old) seasons is in the obsolescence of so many things that do not exist anymore or the absence of what is common today. This is TV archaeology. Thus you have the big monstrous PCs, the old dial telephones, the old enormous cars, and no smart phones, no portable phones, no tablets, and even practically no bikes. The traffic is practically fluid and you can park your car anywhere easily. Security is light, the presence of cops and even thieves is light too. The police force is hardly racially integrated, definitely very little at investigating police level and same thing at justice, DA and court level. This vision of the world in New York in the early 1990s is amazing. Do you remember it? Or rather can you imagine it?
The second element is typical of US American-centered vision. Every episode starts with the sentence: “In a criminal justice system,“ wrongly quoted as “In the criminal justice system, the people are represented by two separate, yet equally important, groups: the police, who investigate crime; and the district attorneys, who prosecute the offenders. These are their stories,” by http://lawandorder.wikia.com/wiki/Law_%26_Order, because it is not true of any criminal justice system in the world and the use of “A criminal justice system” implies the universality of the remark. I checked I do not know how many dozens of episodes and it was always the same, the use of the American-centered indefinite article. What is shown in this series is purely American. In many other systems in the world investigation means looking into what the prosecution can use and what the defense can use. The defense research or investigation is not paid by the accused and done by his lawyer but most of it is done by the investigating team under the responsibility of a judge.
It is this very justice system of the USA that leads to the worst possible jury decisions that are irreversible because no one can be tried twice for the same offense, even if he has been condemned to a life sentence or even the death penalty. Any appeal has to be on facts that are erroneously processed in the trial itself or eventually, if a judge accepts it, on new elements. Mumia Abu Jamal, the longest-detained prisoner (he broke Nelson Mandela’s record) in the world, is going through a life sentence without parole, which is a pitiful decision of this justice system that reduced the sentence from death to life without parole and yet they refused a real second trial processing the new testimonies brought up by the defense. When, he was first tried his defense attorney was committed to him by the justice department (Miranda) and of course no real investigating was done for the defense because the criminal justice system in the US only investigate to prosecute. In other words, they only look for a culprit and as soon as they find one — or they are convinced they have found one — they are satisfied and go to court.
The series is very clear about that and many episodes show how tricky it is if the defense does not investigate on their own side. They even actually show cases in which the investigation is wrong, the jury finds the defendant guilty and the judge sends him to prison to serve a 25 to life sentence and yet right away afterwards new elements come up showing that the culprit is another man who was exonerated. They cannot reverse the jury decision. The judge cannot change it at all. They have to find a way to beat about the bush, negotiate the obstacle and use a detour to prove the other suspect guilty without bringing the first convicted one into the picture. Then and only then the first trial can be voided. The least we can say is that it is slightly distorted. Some might say corrugated.
That’s probably the best side of this series: it does not hide the fact that the American criminal justice system is deeply problematic. In spite of their Miranda warning that states what follows: “You have the right to remain silent and refuse to answer questions. Anything you say may be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to consult an attorney before speaking to the police and to have an attorney present during questioning now or in the future. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you before any questioning if you wish. If you decide to answer questions now without an attorney present, you will still have the right to stop answering at any time until you talk to an attorney. Knowing and understanding your rights as I have explained them to you, are you willing to answer my questions without an attorney present?“, in spite of that the prosecution will not target both guilt AND innocence but ONLY guilt. And over and over again the episodes show how bungled a case can get when the defense attorney is not diligent enough.
This series shows all judicial mistakes come from the basic police work at the root of everything else afterward. The police work is often based on a personal conviction or even belief more than facts. The advantage of the police shown here is that the lieutenant who follows the investigation performed by his or her (in this case her) detectives can challenge them and the facts they bring up and ask them to look in other directions, to check other sides of the situation. But even so, nothing is clear. The main issue — or one of the main issues — is the role of women and in this particularly series the lieutenant is a woman, what’s more ethnic, and the assistant district attorney Jack McCoy’s assistant, Claire Kincaid, is also a woman. They often bring in a new note, a softening note, at times an alternative approach. But that is not in any way based on truth and the search for truth but on the deep conviction the case of women, or relevant facts that only women can see have been ignored.
The next step in this series is the importance of deals reached by the public prosecutor with the defense before the court decision. Such deals are not dealing with justice nor even the truth but only with speeding up the procedure, save on court expenses and most of the time reduce the sentence by reducing the qualification of the crime. And when wrongly accused the duress is so hard in some situations that the innocent person accepts to plead guilty in exchange of a soft sentence, but yet it is fake justice.
I guess all people who want to understand how the criminal justice system works in the USA have to watch this old series that lasted twenty years, supposedly the longest ever because of this balanced vision of an unbalanced system.
Dr. Jacques COULARDEAU