3 Legal Movies that Have the Law All Wrong

Judging by the movies, being a lawyer, a prosecutor, or even a police detective is as easy as one-two-three. All one apparently needs to do is graduate from Law School, don a rain coat or tailored blazer, then find some poor soul to defend/exonerate/get out of jail. High drama ensues, the brave legal eagle always saves the day, and no injustice goes unpunished. The enduring nature of this genre has been proven time and again, from the 1940s classic To Kill a Mocking Bird, to the popular 70s, 80s and 90s TV shows (Law and Order, Columbo and Matlock) to name but a few, to the iconic movie classics that explored it (A Few Good Men, Kramer versus Kramer—and the list could go endlessly on). But the interesting part is that, all too often, screenwriters and directors will sacrifice factual accuracy for the sake of a more interesting plot twist. That’s why today we’re going to reveal three justice-makers that actually abuse the legal system as it works in real life. In spite of their dalliances on the screen, trust us – you would not want any of them representing you or trying to save your hide in the real world.

·         Matlock

Back in the 1980s, Matlock was all the rage, in terms of TV popularity. He was a retired police officer, whose drive for justice had him take on the legal profession. In his perennial trench coat, Matlock would basically do the same thing in every episode: find an innocent victim of the system, prove they had been framed, and help the truth come to light by the end of the show. The last witness to go on the stand was always the guilty one and Matlock always managed to prove they were the ones who’d done it, as well as have them confess. The problem is that Matlock’s behavior is entirely unethical and liable for disbarring: he obstructs justice by tampering with the crime scene to collect evidence. To boot, evidence that escapes the chain of custody is not actually admissible in a real-life trial. And then, of course, surprise evidence simply does not exist in the legal system, in which the court needs to know about all the existing evidence before actually beginning the trial proceedings.

·         A Time to Kill

We’re in the backwoods of Mississippi, where Samuel L. Jackson has just killed two men, who raped and beat his ten year old daughter to death. Matthew McConaughey is defending him, while Kevin Spacey is his opponent in the courtroom. McConaughey decides to have his client declared not guilty on account of temporary insanity, even though he actually did kill the two men – and in the courthouse no less. Now, in terms of dramatic achievements, acting, and tension buildup in the script, this film is a classic, which makes  powerful statements about racism. You can still catch it via Time Warner Cable Boston, if you live in Massachusetts – and you probably should, if anything just to get a glimpse of what it’s like to live in the same town as the KKK. But, beyond this point, everything about the legal proceedings in the movie is wrong. First off, McConaughey does not base any of his arguments on the insanity angle. Secondly, Jackson clearly premeditates the shoot-out, which is just about as far from a plea of insanity as possible. Thirdly, during the shooting, he also manages to shoot a police deputy, who has to have his leg amputated. And, what do you know?, at the end of the day he is found not guilty on all three charges (two murders and shooting the deputy). Why? Because he really was innocent? No. There is absolutely no proof for this brought before the jury. Simply because what happened to him was unfair. Hint: it never works like this in real life.

·         12 Angry Men

If you’re at all passionate about the legal field, then you’ve probably seen this courtroom drama classic. The plot is simple: a jury needs to decide if a young man is guilty of having killed his father. 11 out of 12 jurors believe he did it in the beginning, but juror no. 8 is determined to prove it isn’t so. He takes justice into his own hands and takes apart all the pieces of evidence brought before the jury. Most of his argumentation is based on wild assumptions; what’s more, at one point he even brings a knife into the courthouse, to prove the alleged murder weapon is not really unique, as the prosecution had claimed. First off, it is against the law for the jury to take part in the investigations. Secondly, jury duty means deciding whether the evidence is true or not, not to make assumptions about it. In other words, if one piece of evidence deconstructs another one’s truthfulness, then it’s all right to refute the first piece of evidence. Assuming the first one was rigged is an altogether different story. All in all, in real life, Juror no. 8 would have most likely been reported by another member of the jury and asked to step down.

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Marc Bonetti

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