A vast number of people, in the world, love watching crime thriller dramas/movies and legal shows for various reasons. They are exciting, thrilling, somewhat educate us about the functioning of the criminal justice system, attract and hold the attention and interest of the audience and portray criminal defense lawyers as cool dudes in black coats who earn huge sums of money in return for proving people innocent in the court.
We all love TV lawyers because they are inspiring, captivating, entertaining, outrageous and handsome, and for these reasons among others, we cannot stop watching crime movies and legal shows.
While law is a challenging and exciting profession, criminal defense lawyers, in reality, are not quite as they are depicted in TV shows and Hollywood movies. In fact, many defense lawyers find it difficult to watch these programs without being angered by the far-reaching misportrayal of the true life of a defense attorney.
Major Things They Get Wrong
1. Defense Lawyers are Liars
One of the major reasons why people do not trust criminal defense lawyers is their depiction as liars. Defense lawyers are shown lying to their clients, to the prosecutor and even to judges when in reality, this is not the case.
It is the responsibility of a criminal defense lawyer to take into account and analyze every single detail of a case from every possible angle, no matter how trivial it is. They cannot rule out any possibility. Therefore, they talk about all the possible scenarios during the trial of a case.
2. They Do Not Care if a Person is Actually Guilty
Like Maurice Levy from The Wire, criminal defense lawyers are taken as people whose job is to prove you innocent in the courtroom, irrespective of whether you are the guilty one or not. In an attempt to defend the indefensible, criminal defense attorneys are expected to find loopholes in the laws and legal system and to use them to let the criminals walk free.
Some shows lead the audience to believe that defense attorneys are unethical and immoral beings who are only concerned about the money they get for fighting the cases.
3. They Just Walk in the Court and Start Arguing
Hollywood movies often do not show how much time and effort a defense attorney puts in to study a case. Considering even the smallest of details takes a lot of time and successfully defending a case in the courtroom requires a lot of preparation, knowledge of the case and experience of dealing with similar cases regularly.
As seen in some shows, it is practically impossible for a criminal defense attorney to just enter the court without any homework and start arguing. A defense lawyer can never even think of entering a court, like Barry Zuckerkorn of Arrested Development, and tell the judge that he has not read the details of the case.
4. They Make Up and/or Hide Evidence
A good criminal defense attorney never does what Petty Hewes from Damages was shown doing. Bribing judges to make sure the verdict is in your favor and hiding or manipulating evidence is not what a defense lawyer is meant to do. Unlike Saul Goodman from Breaking Bad, the job of a criminal attorney is to expose crimes and not to become a part of the crime world by helping offenders.
5. They can Do Whatever They Want and Nothing Will Happen to Them
Like Annalise Keating in How to Get Away with Murder, a criminal lawyer cannot do whatever he/she wants without getting into trouble.
Matthew McConaughey in A Time to Kill is another example where a criminal lawyer is shown to make up a false story to protect a criminal and he did remain successful in his attempt.
In real life, if a defense attorney gets involved in such illegal acts, he/she would have to face serious repercussions that could even go as far as dismemberment from the bar and cancellation of his/her license.
The American Bar Association’s (ABA) annual meeting of the year 2014 also discussed these issues in a forum titled “What you can learn from TV lawyers?”
During the discussions, Taunya Lovell Banks, professor from the University of Maryland School of Law, expressed concerns over the fact that these dramas/movies show a lack of consequences and repercussions of getting involved in illegal and/or unethical practices and behaviors of lawyers.
She said that this was causing problems in real life as she always had to make it clear to all the new law students at the university that this isn’t reality.
She said, “I find myself having to spend the first five minutes of my class, especially my first year class, saying ‘you cannot do this, if you do this you will lose your license.’.”
Why Do They Do This?
One of the major reasons why criminal lawyers are often portrayed as evil, unethical and immoral human beings in Hollywood is because it makes the story compelling, interesting and gets more ratings. Reality is altered for the sake of entertainment.
There are even several movies which are based on a true story or based on true events, where the writers will make small changes to the true facts of the story in order to make the whole show more interesting or more dramatic.
However, the justice system does not work like this. The next time you need legal assistance in any matter, make sure you pay attention to what your lawyer says and not what you saw in the movie last night.