Friday, February 2, 2007

Breaking the Law

I just finished doing the Subject Index for the 2nd edition of a criminal law book of mine, Legal Ease: A Guide to Criminal Law, Evidence and Procedure. Indexing is weird. Not only is my brain a little skewed from thinking about legal terms in a backwards fashion, but the format fuses your left brain and right together somehow so I feel fried—glad it’s finished and in the mails on its last route before publication.

We are trying to covert Legal Ease into a textbook because I often get mail from law teachers asking for that format. So I added a section for definitions, questions and the like (even an essay part, poor students). But it reminded me how narrow the law really is, how exact the wording, and what constraints that puts on the players: the defense team, the prosecution, and even the judge and jury.

Away, this got me to thinking about the TV crime dramas and forensics and the principals who play them. Most of them should be in jail themselves. The characters have a tendency to break the law. And just last night, I watched the main anthropologist on Bones, Temperance Brennan, pull a very big gun out of her purse. Okay, so she works in this government facility, right? Well, it’s very unlikely that security are not out in front screening everyone who comes through the building. And did she have a "concealed gun" permit for said weapon? They never said in the story and she didn’t either. But surely alarms would have gone off on her arrival.

Of course, I went back to watch some old Perry Mason mysteries on television too. They showed them late at night on a channel that shows oldies—and I was very surprised to find out that Perry broke the law every week! He either set up the perpetrator by doing something shady, led police in a wild goose chase, secreted someone away, or withheld information. Of course, the audiences were not as savvy then, and I’m sure the script writers weren’t the best fact checkers either, but old Perry would have lost his license to practice many times. The American Bar Association would have had his number for sure!


toomanysidesofme said...

Brennan doesn't work in a government facility, the Jeffersonian gets federal funding but it doesn't mean its a government facility. There is security who prob know that she has a weapon. Also the show doesn't have to show Brennan getting a concealed gun permit, its implied.

John Price said...

I bought a DVD set of those old Perry Mason shows for my mom for Christmas and we noticed the exact same thing! Every episode he's tampering with evidence or obstructing justice in some way (it was also pretty funny that in the first two episodes we watched, the central crimes were committed as a direct result of people following Perry's advice).

I'm sure there's a lot about a modern "lawyer" show like Law & Order that isn't quite true to life, but at least we don't see McCoy quite so obviously breaking the law he's supposed to be upholding :)