I am not usually a picky TV viewer. If suspension of disbelief were cause for canonization, I would be a saint.
I must admit, however, certain aspects of American television never cease to amaze me. One of them is the blatant disregard for criminal justice laws. It is almost laughable how many times I see a TV agent, cop, or consultant doing something that would throw the entire case out of court the moment any two-penny lawyer, let alone a good one, found out about the incident.
Patrick Jane (The Mentalist) wanders around crime scenes and later on questions suspects with evidence taken from said scene. Not acceptable. The case would be tossed as far as Timbuktu; the defense lawyers would be laughing all the way to the bank and the killer would get away scot-free. And then he would have a field day planning and executing Jane’s murder (something I have thought of myself—despite how much I like him and the show).
The thing is, it is not only The Mentalist. Bones does it. White Collar does it. Hawaii Five-O does it (although, I’m with Danno: McGarrett does everything wrong—good thing he had the governor’s backing).
It does not ruin the show for me, but I am not going to lie: it does irk me. Mainly because it puts yet another tainted light on real cops, who, day in and day out, work high-risk jobs on low pay and poor hours, taking care of jerks and nice people like you and me. Allow me to demonstrate. Take a scene from (you guessed it) The Mentalist. Season 3 to be exact.
The facts are these: Agents Cho and Rigsby are going to question a suspect. They drive up to a shack in the middle of nowhere. They get out of their vehicle and march up the steps and into the screened-in porch area (illegal). Then they knock on the door. A man—apparently a drug dealer—comes to the door. They identify themselves as police (good) and then ask if they can ask this man some questions. “No,” he says and begins to shut the door.
What ensues is an instance of police breaking every rule possible. They do not have a warrant. There are no drugs in plain sight. They have no right to ask this man questions. And this man, drug dealer or no, does not have to let them in nor answer questions.
In Cho’s defense, the man does put his hand out the door and touches Cho—not good for the drug dealer. Cho pushes back against the closing door. A scuffle ensues. Cho’s foot ends up in the door jam, Cho and Rigsby shove the man back into his own house, and they burst upon a scene of drug dealer heaven: stacks of neatly-banded Benjamins on the table and cocaine being sifted and sorted in a dilapidated room with opaque plastic covering the windows. Cho throws down the first suspect and handcuffs him; Rigsby takes down the other two and then runs out after the fleeing fourth suspect.
Don’t get me wrong: the drug dealers deserved what they got.
What happens next? Frankly, it does not matter. Nothing matters in this case any more. Cho and Rigsby should go home. Lisbon should sit in her office and pout. Van Pelt should go on a date with her boyfriend. And Patrick Jane—he is off violating numerous other regulations, so even if Cho and Rigsby did do something right, it still wouldn’t matter.
Later on, during the interrogation—and this made me laugh out loud—Cho defends his actions to the lawyer: “We did everything by the book.”
What book? The Criminal’s Code to Criminality? How to Get a Case Thrown Out of Court?
Police conduct regulations and codes are more guidelines than actual rules, anyway.Let’s say for the sake of an argument that the case makes it to court.
This is what would happen: the trial would open with the defense attorney slowly rising from his chair, clasping his hands behind his back, and looking pensively down at the floor.
Your Honor, this country was built upon the principles of fairness, justice, and dignity. Our Constitution includes a Bill of Rights which protects our freedoms. These freedoms we keep sacred and fight to defend. But on this day, my clients’ rights were woefully disregarded in the most atrocious case of police misconduct and unprofessionalism ever to occur. My clients, without signs of violence or distress, respectfully refused to allow the CBI agents to enter their house. Their house was then broken into by policemen without probable cause and without a warrant—a clear violation of both the fourth and sixth Amendments! Violently and aggressively, my clients were then arrested. If this is not bad enough, the policemen failed to read them their Miranda Rights, a gross violation of the fifth and sixth Amendments.
There will be a moment of silence while the lawyer allows the judge and jury to gestate on his words, to realize the horror of what was just related. Then he will say:
Your Honor, for these reasons, every piece of evidence gathered from that crime scene should be considered fruit of the forbidden tree and be struck and expunged from the record.
The judge’s response? “DONE! Prosecution: Do you have any evidence that is not tainted by an illegal act?”
And the prosecution will look at Patrick Jane and the rest of the CBI and whisper, “No.”
The sound of the gavel resounds in the echoey courtroom, and the shuffling of chairs and feet can be heard as the room empties.
That is what happens when cops do not do their job right: the killer walks and the cops get stuck looking like the bad guys. And they will have to build an entirely new case, without the aid of valuable clues and vital evidence.