Southland: Butch and Sundance

 

I haven’t carried a gun or worn a badge in years, but last night while watching the season opener of Southland I felt that I was back working a shift. And I was exhausted when the credits began to roll. Why? Because I backed up every single officer on each of their calls. I fought side by side with them, and I helped cuff the bad guys when the dust settled. Shoot, I even sensed the adrenaline rush you experience when diving head first into a full-blown, angry mob. By far, this show is absolutely the most realistic cop drama on television.

As most of you know, I review cop shows to point out the good and bad police procedure, forensics, and investigation techniques. I do this to help writers get their facts straight when it comes to cops and robbers. Well, this one was easy, because the show’s writers and actors have really done their homework. I didn’t find a single thing thing wrong. Yep, you heard right. Nothing. Nada. Zip and zero. That’s not to say there weren’t errors, but the action was so fast-paced (just like a real day on the job) that it was difficult to pick out everything, and I used a DVR to stop the action when needed.

I jotted down nearly three pages of notes while the show was on, and here are a few of the points that stood out:

First of all, a portion of the show was filmed in South Central L.A., on location. The scenario was so realistic to the local residents that they actually thought the police were in their neighborhood and began to throw things and argue with them.

Okay, buckle in. We’re going to ride with these guys for a while.

– Detective Lydia Adams is shown leaving her house in the morning, heading to her car on the way to work. She’s on the cell phone talking to her partner who’s in the hospital recovering from something that happened in an earlier episode. The scene is minimal as far as the rest of the show goes; however, it shows the relationship cops experience with their partners and their job. For many cops, the job is first in their lives. It’s all they have and it’s all they know. They live, eat, sleep, and think police work. Many officers do not socialize outside their private law enforcement world, so this is all they do, and often it’s all they care about, really. They never completely trust anyone who doesn’t wear a badge. After all, their lives are in the hands of their coworkers. Therefore, the bond between officers is stronger than the normal friend-to-friend bond. So, back to Det. Adams. She plays her part quite well. And, she showed all of the above in her opening one-minute scene.

Detective Lydia Adams

– The patrol officer’s shift meeting, or muster as it’s sometimes called, was spot on. Officers normally meet for a few minutes before heading out to the streets. They do so to be briefed on the current state of chaos that’s waiting for them “out there.” They also receive their shift assignments and riding partners, if that’s not a permanent thing. This all varies from department to department. There’s no standard rule, just whatever works for a particular agency.

– A Get Well Soon card was passed among the patrol officers during their shift meeting. One of their crew was in rehab for an alcohol problem. Well, when it came time for Officer Chickie Brown to sign, she was passed over. It seems she was the person who outed the officer, her partner, for his alcohol problem. This is a big no no in many police circles. You take care of your own and you never snitch on a partner. You watch each others backs. That’s the rule. We heard about this again later in the show. The card passing was indicative of what can happen when an officer goes against “the rule.” Other officers may start to shy away. They may even refuse to back up the officer who went against the grain.

Officer Chickie Brown

– Patrol officers on this show actually look and act like real police officers. They even wear vests. You can see the outlines under their uniform shirts.

– The relationship between the Field Training Officer (Officer John Cooper) and his trainee (Ben Sherman) is pretty good.

Officer John Cooper

Officer Ben Sherman

Cooper plays the part well, almost acting like a mother hen watching over a chick. I was a field training officer for several years. It’s our job to make sure the new officers, the ones fresh out of the academy, turn what they’ve learned in classrooms into street-usable material. It’s also an FTO’s job to make sure those rookies are safe. And, it’s the duty of an FTO to make sure the rookies don’t do anything stupid, and believe me, new officers are full to the brim with piss and vinegar and are ready to save the planet in a single shift. I know, because I was once that way. Now I’m just loaded to the gills with things like Geritol.

– The scene where the Mexican gang members shot the informant in the street after a car chase was interesting because it showed their semi-automatic pistols in action. The slides worked as they fed new rounds to the chamber. And they ejected brass as the rounds were fired. Good stuff.

– Cooper and Sherman ran across a guy urinating in an alley. They stopped, as any patrol officer would do, and checked him out. You’d be surprised at the number of solid arrest are made by performing such a simple act. Cops run across all sort of things – drugs, wanted persons, murderers, etc. –  when conducting these little stops. But it was the procedure used by the two officers that impressed me. The search (pat down/frisk) was conducted in text book style. Cooper even stood in a proper stance with his gun side away from the suspect, something that’s not often seen in cop shows. The pat down was also good. He began by asking the suspect if he had anything in his pockets, such as needles, drugs, weapons, etc. Great stuff! Well, we saw this suspect again later in the show as a kidnapper. This was fantastic because that sort of thing happens all the time in police work. Tons of crimes are solved because some officer somewhere stopped and talked to a guy on the street who later commits a crime. Then all the pieces begin to fall into place. Very realistic scene.

– A B&E occurs at a business. The owner comes in to open up and finds the suspect hanging from a rope, because the dumb crook used a rope that was either too short to reach the floor, or it got tangled on his way down to steal whatever it was he came to steal. It sort of looked silly in the show, but it’s not. This stuff really happens. In fact, I once answered a very similar call at 5am one morning. A convenience store owner opened the front door to start the day and found a very large man hanging from the ceiling by one leg. He’d cut a hole in the roof with an ax and when he entered the opening his foot got caught in the duct work that ran between the suspended (no pun intended) ceiling and roof. His upper body crashed through the ceiling grid and that’s where he remained until we released his trapped foot. He was quite happy to see us, by the way.

– The kidnapping suspect was identified by using cameras on ATM machines. This is good stuff. In fact, at the Writers’ Police Academy I’m hosting a night owl session about a brutal murder where the suspect was seen in an ATM camera photo. I have that ATM photo along with all the actual crime scene photos. I’ll be using those and other evidence to guide everyone through the case. This was one of the most convoluted and gruesome murders I’ve ever encountered.

– Detectives visited a jail prisoner, one of their regular snitches, hoping to get some information from him about a current case. The inmate, obviously used to helping the police, was very cordial, laughing and joking with the officers, all the while asking them to help him get out of jail if he found out what they wanted to know. This happens all the time. Cops have a regular network of informants. This one, however, was stabbed by another prisoner later in the show. His attacker caught him at shower time and inserted the blade of a shank in the guy’s abdomen four or five times. Again, this was very realistic, from the jailhouse boxers, to the line of tatted prisoners waiting to take showers, to the way the prisoner wore his orange jumpsuit – the top half hanging down at this waist.

– Cooper and Sherman have a female prisoner in the cage of their car when they hear, “Officer needs assistance. Shots fired.” They take off, pedal to the floor, with the prisoner in the back. Adrenaline leaps to the top of the tank and lights and sirens are going full blast. Yet the officers speak in normal tones of voice, saying things like, “Clear right. Okay on your side.” This was so, so accurate. The driver’s (Sherman’s) head was nearly spinning like a top while he attempted to see everywhere at once to make they didn’t hit anyone, while his partner kept watch on his side of the car. Still, they maintained a calm and very cool demeanor. That’s how it really is, folks. Cops are so used to doing this stuff that it’s almost as normal as breathing.

– The big mob scene, where Officer Chickie Brown and her not-so-hot partner were fighting for their lives was also quite realistic. She was fending off a huge crowd of angry people, but she never let her prisoner go. That’s what cops do. Her backup arrived and they jumped into the pile of people as comfortably as Michael Phelps dives into a swimming pool. Cops do what they do because that’s how they’re trained, and because it’s in their hearts. AND, there was a fellow officer in that pile of people, which meant they all came out safely, or none would, even though she was the officer who reported her partner’s drinking problem. See, this one came around full circle. Nicely done.

And that brings us back to alley-urinating kidnapper, Alan Gaylord. The scene where Officer Sherman and Detective Adams’ new and very obnoxious partner chased Gaylord through the rail yard was excellent. Again, this stuff happens. I could tell another of my stories here where something similar happened to me, but I’ll spare you the details this this time. Let’s just say that this show was the most accurate cop show I’ve ever seen on TV.

You know, when the show was over and I finally let out a breath, I realized I didn’t have a clue what this episode was really about. I’d been so caught up in the action that I wasn’t paying any attention whatsoever to the story, the characters and their emotions…nothing. I think there were some pretty good things going on there, but I missed them. I was too busy reaching for my handcuffs…

*TNT Photos

  1. Gwen Hernandez
    Gwen Hernandez says:

    I finally fired up the DVR and watched the episode. You weren’t kidding about it being tense. For such a stressful job, I was surprised how much of the tension came from within the ranks of the police officers themselves (as opposed to the danger of the job).

    Thanks for pointing out specifically what was done right. I’m not sure I would have noticed the subtle distinctions like turning his gun side away from the suspect while patting him down.

    As far as the shower scene, my only thought was, “Where were the guards?” Thanks!

  2. Pat Brown
    Pat Brown says:

    Whatever you do, Lee, keep reviewing Southland. I can watch it vicariously through your posts, since we don’t get TNT up here on our cable network. I am majorly bummed out at that. LOL.

  3. Ron Estrada
    Ron Estrada says:

    Lee, I do so appreciate your comments. I watched my first episode with this season premiere. My wife had to leave the room (yet she can handle Jack Bauer’s torture scenes), but I’m hooked. A writer who has no police experience and few contacts needs all the help he can get. As far as the annoying new detective, I’m sure he’ll grow on us. That’s how these things go. I loved the mob scene and, yes, I wanted to dive in and help her out, too, cop or not!

  4. Robin Burcell
    Robin Burcell says:

    Nah, I read the bar scene, which is why I mentioned it. I felt that in these more enlightened modern times, I think that would be more realistic, and the show of disapproval more subtle as the card scene you also highlighted. (though I have seen a lot worse “more subtle” forms of “disapproval”)

    I suppose it could happen, but thank goodness I never witnessed anything so blatant as failing to back up another officer. I have heard of it, but maybe my Pollyanna sense doesn’t want to believe that no matter how much you (not you, personally) hate someone, that you would put his/her life on the line by not showing up for a call.

  5. Chester Campbell
    Chester Campbell says:

    Great review, Lee. I’m not much of a TV watcher, but I’ll have to check this one out. We all strive for realism, but if you haven’t been there you don’t always get it exactly right.

  6. Pat Marinelli
    Pat Marinelli says:

    Thanks, Lee, for a wonderful and lengthy review of this show. I missed it last night but I had watched the whole first season on NBC. I read in the paper that TNT had picked up the second season NBC ordered but didn’t air and honestly forgot it was on last night.

    I agree about not taking a breath, this show is fast paced and real. That’s what I liked about it. I was upset when it was canceled.

    I watch Castle to be entertained but I watch Southland to learn.

    I wish you the best on your retirement career, Robin. I didn’t realize you had retired either. Enjoy.

  7. Lee Lofland
    Lee Lofland says:

    Thanks for chiming in David. I hope TNT can make a go of it with this show.

    Rebecaa – Hmm..let me think for a second..Okay, done. Nope. There’s not a single one that’d I recommend as far as accuracy goes. Too much over the top action – cars flying through the air and people holding guns sideways when they shoot. But I’m sure there are many films out there that are very entertaining. I just can’t watch many of them.

    Melanie – I actually thought about you when I was watching this episode. I sort of figured you’d like it.

  8. Melanie Atkins
    Melanie Atkins says:

    I finally found Southland this week and watched it for the first time since it left NBC. Love it. I’m so glad you’re reviewing it! I was breathless as well, and watched most of the show with my heart in my throat. Guess I have to set up a new season’s pass on my Tivo. Don’t want to miss that one again!

  9. David B. Schlosser
    David B. Schlosser says:

    Shame on NBC for canceling this show, and kudos to TNT for (at least temporarily) rescuing it. And congratulations to TNT’s marketing team for having the wisdom to solicit Lee’s opinions on procedure. Realistic procedurals are important: they can engage citizens in the lives and experiences of law enforcement professionals in ways that improve understanding between society and the people who protect it.

  10. Rebecca
    Rebecca says:

    Time to set the DVR and give Southland a view.

    Thanks Lee, this site is an amazing resource. As far as screenplays or films, are there any realistic cop dramas you’re a big fan of or would recommend?

  11. Lee Lofland
    Lee Lofland says:

    Robin – I based my comments on actual experiences. However, you must not have read the entire piece. Here’s something you missed in the post above:

    The big mob scene, where Officer Chickie Brown and her not-so-hot partner were fighting for their lives was also quite realistic. She was fending off a huge crowd of angry people, but she never let her prisoner go. That’s what cops do. Her backup arrived and they jumped into the pile of people as comfortably as Michael Phelps dives into a swimming pool. Cops do what they do because that’s how they’re trained, and because it’s in their hearts. AND, there was a fellow officer in that pile of people, which meant they all came out safely, or none would, even though she was the officer who reported her partner’s drinking problem. See, this one came around full circle. Nicely done.

    Congratulations on the retirement. You must have started when you were three… 🙂

  12. Robin Burcell
    Robin Burcell says:

    Well, darn you, Lee. Now I’m gonna have to add another show to my evening line up.

    It’s only been two months since I hung up the badge and gun for good (after 27 years), so maybe this will be my fix for that adrenaline rush I’ve been missing, now that I’m writing full-time.

    It’s nice to hear about a show that gets it right. However, I do think that you were pretty harsh about the lack of back up that Chickie might not get for turning in her partner. If she were in trouble (as in the bar fight), or called for back up on something that wasn’t dangerous yet, they would definitely back her up. I think it would be more likely that she would receive a more passive form of disapproval (such as the card). Like being picked last for the team. They might think about not backing her up, but unless the guy was a real Adam Henry, (and yeah, there are a few out there) I think anything done to her would be more subtle, or at the very least, not life endangering (at least in these modern times.)

    I could be wrong.

  13. Mack
    Mack says:

    One thing for sure, lots of good material to work with. Did someone film the riot? Will Chickie gain back respect at the expense of taking a hit for not reporting the shooting? Is Sherman going to have a similar problem with Cooper abusing pain meds?

  14. Lee Lofland
    Lee Lofland says:

    Mack – I’m sure she did, but it still might’ve caused waves for her among the troops. As far as the way Cooper acted – I’ve seen it at least a hundred times in real life. As I said, someone on this show has done a heck of a lot of homework. There’s a real cop in the mix somewhere.

    BUT…I do believe this scenario with Chickie is a set up for something larger. After all, she actually did the right thing.

  15. Mack
    Mack says:

    Carol, you are correct and I don’t think you are defending her because she is a woman. I thought the way she acted during the riot was terrific. She did her best in season 1 but Dewey did nothing but make excuses and say that he “had it under control.” Dewey is one of those characters you love to hate, isn’t he?

    Lee, I bet if you had seen season one you would agree that Chickie acted out of self-preservation. At least he was sent to the farm to dry out. I was a bit disappointed in Cooper last night since he previously was more supportive of Chickie.

  16. Lee Lofland
    Lee Lofland says:

    Mark – I’m sure I’m a little more hyper-aware of the police and their actions than most people would be. However, there’s a lot of action in this show, so it could be a little tough for anyone to overlook it to search for plot points.

    Carol – I didn’t mean to imply that Chickie hadn’t done everything she could to help her partner (remember, I’m new to this series). I was merely pointing out that those were the things that would probably be attempted before resorting to more drastic measures. You also brought up a good point – Chickie’s a female officer. That alone would make it a little tougher for her. Many male officers still feel that women have no business in police work. Therefore, those officers would be a lot more critical of a woman who turned in a fellow officer than they would be of their male buddies.

  17. Mary
    Mary says:

    Well, TNT certainly picked the right person to write about their show. I’m waiting for it to come on iTunes, so I can watch it full screen.

  18. Mark Young
    Mark Young says:

    Your last comment was interesting, Lee. Would those who aren’t police officers focus more on plot and characterization, or is the action so overpowering this other part is missed by everyone. It’s refreshing to see a program get the reality right for a change. Thanks for your review, Lee.

  19. Carol Davis Luce
    Carol Davis Luce says:

    If I’m not mistaken, it seems that Chickie did everything she could throughout the first season of the show to get her alcoholic partner to seek help. The clincher was when he almost got them both killed. Or maybe I’m just defending her b/c she’s a woman. Mack, do you recall?

  20. Lee Lofland
    Lee Lofland says:

    Mack – I think Cooper may be struggling internally with the issue since he seems to be abusing pain meds due to his back problem.

    Eventually, the officer would have to do something to help out, but the first thing would be to try on her own – convince the alcoholic to go to rehab, to a doctor, or something. Simply outing the fellow officer could be a problem for her, though.

    In some areas it would be no problem to keep quiet about firing a weapon. But in these times of instant news video via cellphones, etc. it would be nearly impossible, especially in L.A. during a near riot. I do, however, remember the day when cops shot out car and truck tires when suspects attempted to flee. There was no such thing as counting bullets in those days.

  21. Mack
    Mack says:

    Lee,

    After reading your review I want to watch the episode again.

    I was interested in your take on Chickie turning in her partner. In the first season, the fact that her partner Dewey was a dangerous alcoholic was well known. In fact, Cooper said he would back her if she turned him in. He seems to have gone back on that this season. Realistically, though, what could someone do if their partner couldn’t control his drinking and was a threat to both himself and you?

    Another question, could the officers really keep quiet about another officer firing his gun?

    Thanks for doing this review.

    Mack

  22. CJ Lyons
    CJ Lyons says:

    Lee,
    I’m so thrilled that you found Southland realistic from a cop’s point of view because I’ve loved this show from the start!!!

    As a thriller writer and former pediatric ER doc, I felt like it really captured the emotional truth of what it means to be a first responder, on the front lines.

    How wonderful to hear that it’s also technically accurate!!!

    Thanks for posting this!
    CJ

  23. Lee Lofland
    Lee Lofland says:

    Kelly – The First 48 is a good show. It’s one of the few I’ve recommended. In fact, I often use it as an example during my presentations.

  24. Lee Lofland
    Lee Lofland says:

    Michael – The folks from TNT marketing had to be pretty confident that their procedure was airtight. Remember, they’d read my sometimes scathing reviews of Castle before approaching me.

  25. Kelly S.
    Kelly S. says:

    I haven’t seen Southland either, but I’ll certainly check it out now. I’m curious what you think about The First 48.

  26. Michael A. Burstein
    Michael A. Burstein says:

    Lee, I haven’t been watching Southland, but what with your review of the police procedure here, I think I’ll go check it out. (Which I bet is one of the reasons they wanted you to review the procedure!)

    I do hope you’ll continue to review the procedure on Castle as well. I plan to enjoy that show even as they get things wrong, but it’s nice to know when they do get things wrong.

  27. Leslie Budewitz
    Leslie Budewitz says:

    Lee, thanks for the opportunity to talk with so many people today! You host one terrific blog! Great questions and comments. I’ve really enjoyed it.

    Plus you managed to dig up pictures I had no idea were on the web!

    My thanks again.

    Leslie

    Leslie Budewitz
    http://www.LawandFiction.com
    Legal Research for Writers

  28. Leslie Budewitz
    Leslie Budewitz says:

    Dave, I quite agree with you. To paraphrase what Bertrand Russell said of democracy — the jury system “is the worst form .. except for all the others.” The stories we hear are the stories of its failures, not its successes — and the vast majority of cases that go to trial get decided smoothly and fairly. That couldn’t happen without the commitment of everyone, from judge to juror to courtroom staff and all the lawyers, parties, and witnesses. I have always been impressed at how seriously most people take their involvement in the judicial system.

    We the people — that’s what makes it work!

    Leslie

  29. D. Swords
    D. Swords says:

    Thank you, Leslie, for the compliment on my search and seizure guest blog.

    I, for one, have always been amazed at the job juries do. Twelve people who give up their day(s) to do a job that no one really wants to do, yet they do it. It would be easy enough to get out of jury duty if you really wanted to, but I like to believe people take on the job out of a sense of duty, not out of fear of what will happen if they refuse.

    Rather optimistic for a pessimistic old policeman.

    For all its faults and for as many times as I have been infuriated with the legal system, I still think it works well, and as it is supposed to, ninety-five percent of the time.

    Think of it – Joe & Jane Citizen can stand up and say to the government – “We don’t feel he is guilty – you must let him go.”

    That is powerful.

  30. Lee Lofland
    Lee Lofland says:

    Leslie, thanks so much for being here today. I feel like we’ve had an entire day of free legal advice.

    Also, I know just how busy you were today. For those of you who don’t know, Leslie also handled today’s Monday Mentor on the Sisters in Crime national Yahoo group.

    I do hope you’ll come back, soon.

    Thanks again.

  31. Joyce Tremel
    Joyce Tremel says:

    Wow, looks like I missed a lot today! Great post and comments.

    I was called for jury duty in Commonwealth court twice–both times I was eight months pregnant and as big as a house. They actually sent someone to the house to check on my story. A few years ago I got called for jury duty for the US District Court. For that one you have to go in every day for I think a week or two, or until you get rejected. As soon as I said I worked for a police dept. they dismissed me. The case was someone suing a police officer for wrongful arrest!

  32. Leslie Budewitz
    Leslie Budewitz says:

    SweetieZ, you were here early and you’re here late! Thanks!

    I don’t recall much about the jury selection in the OJ case. As I suggested in my response to Dave, nationwide publicity does have local impact. It’s so much harder to tell, in a case like that, whether a potential juror will be able to make a decision based on just the evidence presented in court. The right to a fair and impartial jury is critical — Sixth Amendment — I love it, too!

    Leslie

  33. Leslie Budewitz
    Leslie Budewitz says:

    Dave, thanks for your note. Your two-part guest blog on search & seizure was excellent.

    I’m a writer and a lawyer. I love the First Amendment. I adore the First Amendment. Freedom of the press is essential to a free society. I firmly believe that the best response to objectionable speech is more speech.

    That said, I have to admit to a strong dislike of tv shows that go on and on about criminal cases before they go to trial. The accused should be tried in court, not the media. And is it really right for the rest of us to make up our minds about what we think we know — separate and apart from the legal verdict? What I think about a case, sitting up here in the woods in NW Montana, doesn’t matter – what matters is what the jury thinks, based on the evidence that it hears. The rules of evidence, after all, are long-established legal standards for what is tested and trust-worthy – and those standards don’t apply to the media or the office kitchen.

    On the other hand, if a criminal case is about an offense against society, not just the offense against the particular victim, isn’t what the rest of us think relevant, too? Not in a court of law, of course, but in the court of public opinion.

    In very famous cases, like those involving OJ Simpson or Scott Peterson, news coverage is one thing, tv-assisted gossip another. And it creates a serious risk of contaminating the jury pool — how on earth can the average juror separate what they’ve heard in court from what they’ve heard out in the world? (There’s a famous line — forgive me for not recalling the source at the moment — that choosing a jury is the search for people who know nothing about anything. I don’t believe that — in my experience, a jury is an amazing thing, smarter than the sum of its parts — but the line makes a good point.) I’m afraid too much of that is lurid and sensational, more interested in attracting an audience than in real news, and unfortunately, fosters a presumption of guilt.

    Don’t you hate it when you ask a lawyer a question, and all you get is more questions?

    Leslie

  34. SweetieZ
    SweetieZ says:

    I would love to hear what Leslie thinks of this. Also, Leslie, how do feel about the jury selection on this ? Unlike your case, this was nationwide news.

    Early bird in Califonia here Lee. (On borrowed time)

  35. D. Swords
    D. Swords says:

    Hi, Leslie. Interesting subject and posts.

    I’ve noticed a lot of people seem to forget the “presumption of innocnce” part of it all before a person has their day in court. News pundits seem especially eager to pronounce someone innocent or guilty, which leads listerners to do the same.

    And “innocence in spite of evidence” is one that has taken a beating since the O.J. trial. By that I mean that, despite apparent evidence to the contrary (and what everyone in the world seems to say) O.J. Simpson is considered by law to be an innocent man. At least, criminally.

    Here’s a question for everyone.

    OJ Simpson was found not guilty of murder by a jury.

    Is O.J. innocent or guilty?

  36. Leslie Budewitz
    Leslie Budewitz says:

    Ah, now I understand, Terry. That would be “on the courthouse steps,” rather than “mid-trial”!

    Last-minute settlements do happen. Lawyers who like to try cases hate ’em — they get all energized and feel let down! Other lawyers consider a trial a failed settlement — a lost opportunity to find a solution that makes everyone equally happy, or unhappy!

    Leslie

  37. Terry
    Terry says:

    Sorry about my unclear post, Leslie — no, I’m not talking mid-trial. I’m talking walking into the jury room for voir dire and being sent out immediately, called back in and dismissed. Sometimes it’s after voir dire –I got a call at home telling me I didn’t need to report the next day (the judge had decided since it was late in the day, the trial would start in the morning instead of that afternoon). I really enjoy the experience. It’s probably the only chance we have to participate in the democratic process. Plus, I always feel that if I ever needed a jury trial, I’d want someone like me on the jury.

  38. Leslie Budewitz
    Leslie Budewitz says:

    Terry, thanks for your note. I’m always glad to hear about education efforts like the one your newspaper is making.

    I can’t recall ever settling a case mid-trial, but it does happen. Have you enjoyed your jury experience? I’ve been in the pool for civil and criminal cases, but never on the jury. A few months ago, my husband was challenged and not chosen — he’s certain it was because he said his wife and brother-in-law are lawyers!

    Leslie

  39. Leslie Budewitz
    Leslie Budewitz says:

    Elena, thanks for the update. What a sobering experience. It underscores the critical role that the presumption of evidence and the state’s burden of proof play in ensuring justice — what if that case had gone to the jury?

    Leslie

  40. Terry
    Terry says:

    Coincidentally our newspaper has just started a new series, “The Law and You” or something like that, and the first article was on jury selection.

    If my name is called for a juror pool, I’m ALWAYS chosen. I’m so middle-class-white-bread. I’ve been impressed with what goes on in the jury room, though — how 12 divergent people actually worked together to give the defendant the fairest possible shake.

    But most of the cases I’ve been called for ended up being settled before anything got going. I guess the sight of a potential panel drives home the reality for the defendant.

  41. Elena
    Elena says:

    Thank you Leslie, now I wish that it had happened after I started writing mysteries – I would have had a better idea what to look for.

    At the end it didn’t even go to the jury, the judge dismissed the case. I might mention at that time teacher’s attendance books were considered legal evidence.

    It turned out to be drug related with nothing to do with my student who eventually wound up in college on a scholarship – the first one from that high school! His mom and I were so proud of him.

  42. Leslie Budewitz
    Leslie Budewitz says:

    Wow, Elena, that’s strange! A judge can’t simply demand a change in counsel, on either side, but certainly does have the authority to sanction inappropriate behavior. But a change in counsel is a pretty drastic sanction! My best guess is that there was history involved — either prior inappropriate motions, or possibly the admissibility of your testimony had been the subject of a previous motion to exclude evidence, and the judge had ordered that it could come in, so that the motion violated a previous ruling. One incident may annoy the judge, but repeat offenses might prompt him to suggest that another lawyer take over the case. Or the prosecutor might have decided that himself, if he — or his boss — thought his deteriorating relationship with the judge might harm the prosecution’s chances.

    I take it your testimony was admitted. What ultimately happened in the case?

    In most murder cases, there will be at least two prosecutors at the state’s table anyway, and others involved but not in the courtroom. So while the change might require a short recess, it wouldn’t usually slow things down too much.

    Thanks for your post!

    Leslie

  43. Elena
    Elena says:

    Many years ago I was called as a witness in a murder trial since the defendant was a student of mine and my records showed he was in school the day and time of the crime. I gave my evidence, and then in cross examination the attorney turned to the judge and asked for my evidence to be dismissed because I had an association with the defendant.

    I was so shocked that I turned to the judge and said “That’s crazy!”. He gave me a long look, then took the two attorneys into his office. About a half hour later he came back, as well as the defendant’s attorney, but the prosecutor had been replaced.

    I have wondered ever since what happened in the judges chambers. Did the judge cause the change of attorneys?

    I know you can’t know exactly, but I’d love to know what might possibly have gone on – it’s been stuck in my mind for years.

  44. Lee Lofland
    Lee Lofland says:

    pabrown – I was waiting to give Leslie a chance to answer before I said anything.

    I agree with Leslie. The scenario you’ve described is one that could be considered as an emergency (exigent circumstances). Therefore, the police wouldn’t need a search warrant, but to be on the safe side I believe they’d get one before going in. Probable cause wouldn’t be a problem. This case is simply oozing with PC.

    About the judge/search warrant thing. There are many areas of the country that still use a magistrate system, where officers go to a court-appointed magistrate to get their search warrants and arrest warrants. They don’t have contact with the judges until court day. In fact, in some rural areas, magistrates work part-time. They work regular day jobs as farmers, plumbers, etc., but when a police officer needs a warrant the magistrate head down to the office to issue the paperwork. So, yes, in those situations it may be a little easier to get a search warrant than it would in a larger area.

  45. Leslie Budewitz
    Leslie Budewitz says:

    Becky, thanks for your post. You’re right — “reasonable” looks different to different people. You write “I guess its the lawyer’s job to narrow that gap.” I’d say it’s the prosecutor’s job to narrow the gap, because she needs a unanimous verdict. It’s the defense lawyer’s job to widen it, because she needs one juror to insist there’s a reasonable doubt and vote to acquit.

    Leslie

  46. Leslie Budewitz
    Leslie Budewitz says:

    Pat, you also asked this on the Sisters in Crime list, and I answered there, but I’ll post my answer here for others. And Lee, please chime in!

    Lee may know more about this than I do, but if you’re saying you want your detective to search the home of a person who’s missing and believed to have been murdered, and the police have the body, I’m not sure they even need a search warrant — because they’re looking for evidence to
    definitively ID a body they have and to confirm, or rule out, whether she’s
    been murdered. The home may be a crime scene, as well. With missing persons, there’s some exigency, of course — and they may find evidence that helps them find a trail.

    To get a search warrant, you need to show that there’s probable cause to
    believe some evidence related to the crime will be found in the place to be
    searched. I’ve written about that quite a bit. On my website,
    http://www.LawandFiction.com, in the Columns page, see the column on search
    warrants. And in the Questions of the Month, look at the archived questions and scroll down nearly to the bottom — one of the first uestions answered is “What constitutes probable cause to search or arrest?”

    In most jurisdictions, warrant requests go to a specific judge — one
    designated to handle such requests, either as part of his or her job, or in
    a rotation. On TV and in movies, we often see the detectives choose a
    friendly judge, and it is possible — more so after business hours than
    during the day — but in reality, that freedom is pretty limited. And
    frankly, the judges are applying the same standard, and most are going to
    apply it in pretty much the same way. Of course, that doesn’t make for an
    interesting story, so that is something you can legitimately play with.

    Leslie

  47. Leslie Budewitz
    Leslie Budewitz says:

    SweetieZ —

    Thanks for your post and question. Yes, I have been in that situation. I live and practice in a relatively small community in western Montana — huge geographically, with a low population. In one case, we defended a well-known lawyer charged with negligent homicide and other crimes after a late night accident on the main highway through the valley. Seemed like everyone had an opinion — either b/c they’d read about the case, or knew the decedent’s family, or just plain didn’t like our client, whose family was well-known. We hired a university sociology grad student to conduct a phone survey — and when the results showed that nearly 70% of people called, in a valid sample size, had already formed an opinion on guilt, one way or the other, the judge agreed to move the case to the adjacent county for trial.

    Even in that county, the case had been news. During voir dire (jury questioning, or “show and tell,” as I think of it), the judge listens closely to the potential jurors’ answers to questions. If they have already formed an opinion on guilt — that he is or isn’t guilty — they’re dismissed for cause — because the goal is to get jurors who will listen to the evidence at trial and form their opinion based on only that evidence. Judges often ask “can you put aside what you’ve heard and decide the case based on the evidence you hear in court?” Most people will say yes, b/c they think they can, or they want to be fair, but if the lawyer has any doubt, he or she may challenge that juror.

    Leslie

  48. BeckyLevine
    BeckyLevine says:

    Leslie,

    Great post. The tricky part, I’ve always thought, is getting twelve jury members to agree about the reasonable doubt. I’ve served on a couple of juries, and it seemed as though there was a wide gap between what different people thought was reasonable.

    I guess its the lawyer’s job to narrow that gap?

  49. pabrown
    pabrown says:

    My LAPD homicide detective wants to secure a warrant to search the home of a potential murder victim, how much evidence do they need? Two female roommates have vanished, three bodies have been found that seem to be linked, but there’s no solid ID on any except the one, who appears to be one of the roommates. A person IDed her from a photo. They have no personal ID on any of the victims. They do have some evidence discovered during the autopsies, but none of the tests, like DNA have come back yet. (This isn’t CSI, I’m trying to do it right) Would the speculations be enough to get a judge to sign the warrant? And can the police shop for a ‘friendly’ judge who might be more inclined to sign such a warrant?

  50. SweetieZ
    SweetieZ says:

    Thank you for your time.

    Have you ever been in a high profile case where there was too much publicity prior to the selection of jurors ? What is the criteria to determine the person was not sway by the news ?