Monday, September 17, 2012

Worst Courtroom Drama: No. 5 Double Jeopardy

Few legal dramas match up with the reality of the legal profession.  But some are just awful from a legal perspective. 

Some literary license must be granted.  But if you are writing about a car chase, you don't have a Volkswagen Beetle screaming around corners and catching up to someone driving a Lamborghini.   I would hope that writers delving into legal dramas would take the time to actually learn a little about the legal system before writing about it.   What's worse - some of the people writing these dramas know better, but they are either too lazy to work at crafting the plot points within the bounds of the legal system, or more often, they just count on the ignorance of their audience.

This week, I'm going to post my selection for the five worst examples from prominent legal dramas that don't match up with the reality of legal proceedings.

5.  Double Jeopardy (1999) staring Tommy Lee Jones and Ashley Judd.  Premise: Ne'er-do-well husband fakes his own death and sets up his wife (Ashley Judd) to take the fall for murder. In jail, a fellow inmate (and former lawyer) instructs the now-convicted wife that double jeopardy prevents Judd's character from twice being convicted of killing her husband.  If she gets out, she has a free pass to go ahead and kill him. To see movie clip of this scene, Click here.

The law, as Charles Dickens wrote, may be an ass.  But it's not stupid.

Double jeopardy clause doesn't work that way.  The constitution prohibits being twice prosecuted for the same crime .  But killing Joe Smith in August, 1995 in the State of Washington, is not the same crime as killing Joe Smith in August 1999 in Louisiana.  It's a different crime.

In fact, double jeopardy does not apply between our two systems of justice: state and federal.  Consequently, even though Timothy McVeigh associate Terry Nichols was convicted of a federal crime in the Oklahoma City bombing, he was then tried and convicted in state court for the same acts.  And there was no violation of the double jeopardy clause.

The remedy for the wrongfully convicted woman in Double Jeopardy was to file for post conviction relief when the husband was found and the conviction is overturned.  The remedy is not to go ahead and kill the S.O.B.

For a clip for the Double Jeopardy, CLICK HERE.

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