For the People: Bad Acting, Dumb Law

What a terrible show. Also, completely incorrect in almost every aspect of federal criminal law.

The pilot episode:

There are almost never term-of-years pleas in federal court (as one prosecutor makes the WMD client for “15 years”.) The plea is almost always to a charge, with some recommendations to the court (which it can ignore) about how to sentence. While there are a lot of problems with receiving discovery in the criminal system, I have never had (and can’t imagine the DoJ would permit) a plea offer made which would be deemed rejected if I demanded at least initial discovery.

18 USC 2332(a)(3) is involuntary manslaughter. 18 USC 2332A(a)(3) is WMD.

I’ve never been at the SDNY USA offices, but I’d be surprised they look like they look in this show. In the USA offices I’ve been in, they are drab government offices.

FPD offices are often nicer than the ones in this show.

You would never find out midway through review of the discovery that the case involves a sting. You would know that at the beginning because when you held the detention hearing the agent would tell you.

Entrapment is EXTREMELY hard to show or even get a jury instruction on. Meaning, you probably wouldn’t even get to argue that to the jury unless you can show that the Government pushed an otherwise unwilling or innocent person into committing the offense. Your investigator would surely figure out that this ferry guy quit the last trip he made which happened to be your client’s trip. So you wouldn’t ask that question of the ferry operator. Also, you’d avoid asking the ultimate question which called for a rambling response from the witness about how he was upset about 9/11.

There are a LOT of trials in this television show. Trials are very rare – 5 percent of the time in the federal system – and the federal government has something like a 90 plus conviction rate in jury trials.

Damon Chetson

Damon Chetson is a Board Certified Specialist in State and Federal Criminal Law. He represents people charged with serious and minor offenses in Raleigh, Wake County, and the Eastern District of North Carolina. Call (919) 352-9411.