In the controversial Season 1 episode "Life Choice", ADA Ben Stone is prosecuting Rose Schwimmer, a radical pro-life activist who planted a bomb on fellow pro-lifer Mary Donovan (who was going to a clinic have an abortion) in order to turn Donovan into both an unwitting suicide bomber and a martyr for the pro-life movement. When Schwimmer takes the stand, she begins an impassioned rant about Stone putting her on trial and tries to justify her actions by saying she believes bombing abortion clinics to protect unborn children is protecting life. The judge tries to remove Schwimmer from the courtroom, but Stone interjects and receives permission to ask her one simple question:
Stone: If abortion is murder, then no matter how you feel towards Mary Donovan, aren't you guilty of the murder of her unborn child?
The look on Schwimmer's face when she realizes she can't answer the question is priceless.
Ben Stone was really good at these. In "Conduct Unbecoming", Stone manages to secure an indictment against a Navy Captain for the murder of a young female Lieutenant. The Captain takes the stand in his own defense, and during cross-examination, Stone tells the jury about the officers who had served in the same prestigious position at the U.S. Naval Academy: all of the other men who served in the position were now Admirals and hold important commands, while the Captain received no promotion and command of a relatively minor warship due to a prior complaint filed against him by the murder victim. Stone continues to press on about several incidents where the Captain assaulted prostitutes while on shore leave until he hits the right trigger:
Stone: What about the prostitute eyewitnesses saw you with, Miss Tammy White? They reported that you got very angry towards her-
Captain:That bitch deserved it!
Stone: Which bitch is it, Sir? Lieutenant Hagen...or Tammy White?
A corrupt CEO who sold defective pacemakers is faced with three murder charges. Realizing he has no way of avoiding a seventy-five year sentence:
CEO: Okay. Fine. I make deals for living, I can make one more. I am a businessman. What are you offering?
Ben Stone: I'm not a businessman, sir. I offer you nothing.
When Ben Stone discovers a defendant he plea-bargained was the only participant in the crime:
Attorney: Are you threatening me?
Stone: Why, yes, I am.
In the episode "True North", Jack McCoy prosecutes Stephanie Harker, who ran over a rich guy's wife so she could marry him, then years later hired a friend of hers to kill the guy and his daughter, then murdered her friend. She had lived in Niagara Falls and was ashamed of her humble beginnings, and had a lot of hatred for the rich even as she craved their lifestyle. When Jack gets her on the stand he pokes a bunch of holes in her story, getting her more and more worked up, then really starts pushing her buttons.
Harker: I helped my husband in a lot of ways!
McCoy: The chairman of a multi-million-dollar software company? How exactly does a drug-whacked daughter of a souvenir-stand owner help him?
Harker: There were a lot of things my husband didn't understand!
McCoy: He understood you, though, didn't he?
Harker: What do you mean?
McCoy: He finally understood you were just a hick-town party girl who didn't belong here!
You could have felt sorry for her if she hadn't been such a psychopath. He finally works her into such a frothing rage with "It's not being a snob if they really are better than you!" that the jury had no problem convicting her AND giving her the death penalty.
Congressman Eaton: You look me in the eye and you tell me this system is just. That this system is equal.
Robinette: Sometimes the system stinks, Eaton. I know that as well as you do. But don't tell me for one damn minute that tearing down a 200 year old justice system, no matter how flawed, is going to alter the consciousness of a society! We're past the separate drinking fountain stage. We're past legal discrimination. We're at the hearts and minds stage. And believe me, there's no quick fix.
Congressman Eaton: Another zombified soul casts his vote for order rather than justice. Negative peace over positive peace.
Robinette: Paraphrasing Martin Luther King's thoughts won't lend credence to yours. King walked with the angels. You'd slide in slime on your belly to get what you want.
In Season 9's "Agony", a Smug Snake of a serial killer is about to get off scot free with six murders - after leading the D.A's office to the bodies - after finding out he didn't commit the crime he pleaded guilty to. Abbie is appropiately pissed, and manages to bluff the killer into taking life without patrol by threatening him with the death penalty for a Texas murder - by faking an extradition request.
In the Season 19 finale "The Drowned and the Saved", Jack McCoy clashed yet again with Governor Donald Shalvoy and his wife, Rita — and after the duo managed to work their way out of a prostitution scandal by stonewalling McCoy a season earlier (with Rita's support of her philandering husband especially infuriating McCoy), Jack finally got his revenge for it. The executive of a prominent charity is murdered, and when the investigation reveals he was into S&M, the trail eventually leads to the Shalvoys. Rita is accused of setting the murder plot in motion to help sell a Senate seat her husband was ready to give out, and Donald does his best to protect his wife by stonewalling McCoy yet again — but when McCoy manages to secure an indictment against the governor, he promises to destroy the indictment if Donald offers up testimony which would guarantee a conviction against his wife. Shalvoy, seeing the writing on the wall, reluctantly gives up his wife.
Jack's moment wasn't the only Awesome Moment in this episode, though. After McCoy leaves, ADA Michael Cutter reveals he continued talking with some of the sex workers involved with the original murder investigation — and found out Shalvoy had kept seeing prostitutes, even after the original stonewalled investigation. In exchange for keeping the information private and letting Shalvoy's reputation stay intact, Cutter asks Shalvoy to resign — and when Shalvoy tells Cutter McCoy said he wouldn't have to resign his seat, Cutter replies with a matter-of-fact statement which crushes Salvoy for good: "I'm not Jack McCoy." The next scene is of Shalvoy telling the press he's giving up his position in order to support his wife.
The best part? Cutter reveals to Jack McCoy later that the list he threatens Shalvoy with in this scene isn't real; he got the governor of New York to resign with a blank sheet of paper.
Connie Rubirosa's closing argument in "The Family Hour" easily qualifies as one of these.
McCoy gets one in the Season 20 finale (and the show's Grand Finale), "Rubber Room". A teacher who holds the key to stopping a school massacre by a disgruntled fellow teacher is forced to keep silent by her lawyer — and when McCoy tries to change her mind, the lawyer tells McCoy about all of the reasons teachers get so disaffected with their jobs. McCoy fires back and tells the lawyer to shut up and let the teacher talk — then Jack threatens the lawyer by saying he'll convict him of negligent homicide, resign as District Attorney, and represent every family in a wrongful death lawsuit to ensure the lawyer's career and life are left in ruins. The lawyer promptly shuts up and lets his client talk, which allows the police to stop the massacre without any loss of life. Here's a link to the moment of awesome.
A junior ADA cross-examination of a suspect often ends up being an Awesome Moment. Two examples are Serena Southerlyn's cross-examination of a sexist Islamic extremist and Alexandra Borgia's goading of a Smug Snake / Manipulative Bastard con-artist (who'd already managed to fool SVU in a previous episode) into implicating herself and her mother (in one of her first crosses, no less).
For some context: the guy’s friend was killed by a girl at a party, and after being arrested, the killer claimed the producer raped her and was afraid that his friend would do the same thing. McCoy charged the friend of the victim with both rape and murder. It turns out the girl had agreed to sleep with him in exchange for footage he had previously shot of her and she had signed over to him, which the prosecution was able to get stricken from the record. The producer even had her sign a consent form (the kind some celebrities have specifically so the girls they sleep with will not falsely accuse them of rape) and there was footage of her willingly going to sleep with him and waiting for his friend, meaning the prosecution had a weak "he said, she said" rape case (and the assumption that after being raped, a woman is not responsible for he own actions). McCoy was able to find that another woman the producer had slept with had killed herself afterwards; he brought the woman's mother in to claim the producer was responsible. The fact that this case should have been thrown out on numerous occasions for lack of merits and unrelated testimony, but McCoy was able to keep it in court and get a murder conviction on probably the flimsiest evidence ever presented in the entire franchise, is what made it an MoA.
DA Adam Schiff was everyone's favorite curmudgeon, but in "Jeopardy", he gets his own Awesome Moment. An old law school friend of his - who is now a judge - throws out a triple-murder case against the son of a wealthy family, and when Schiff orders an investigation of the judge's finances, the police and the DA's office discover the family matriarch secured a favorable loan for the judge to keep him from being financially ruined. Schiff personally goes down to the 27th Precinct, walks into the interrogation room where the judge is being questioned, tells the cops to turn off the audio pickup, and then proceeds to quietly ask the judge why he did it. The judge says his wife left him and was cleaning him out in the divorce, and the bribe was too good to resist - and he also claims claims McCoy would've lost the case anyway. Schiff, disgusted, tells him it shouldn't have mattered - he's going to tell the police everything, and then spend a very long time in prison.
As a side note, another Mo A for Shiff was walking into the interrogation room and, with just a look, gets Jack and the cops to leave.
Jack McCoy gets one in this episode as well by successfully convincing a new judge to vacate the original dismissal of the case, as double jeopardy protections did not attach at the rigged trial ("This defendant was never in jeopardy to begin with"). After securing a second chance to convict the murderer, McCoy manages to squeeze a plea bargain out of said murderer by threatening to convict his mother - the family matriarch who bribed the judge in the original trial - of bribery and conspiracy and send her to prison.
Schiff: "You got around double jeopardy. You climbed Everest in your shorts, on a very cold day."
In the episode "By Perjury", ADA Mike Cutter blasts Detective Lupo for an error, which results in considerable animosity between the two. By the episode's end, Cutter has a nasty confrontation with an Amoral Attorney whose career is likely to be destroyed thanks to Cutter's efforts in court. As Cutter walks away, the man follows him, but Lupo and Bernard — who have witnessed the exchange — get suspicious and follow suit, which is how Lupo manages to save Cutter's life when the aformentioned Amoral Attorney pulls out a gun.
In the episode "Red Ball", a little girl is kidnapped. The perp, life-long criminal offender Dwight Jacobs, is caught shortly after, but he knows enough about the justice system to exploit it: Jacobs says he'll only reveal the girl's location if the prosecution offers him a plea bargain with no jail time. McCoy, who realizes he's working against time, tries everything possible to both rescue the girl and put Jacobs in jail — but he's eventually stonewalled by the system, which is when he realizes he can't save the girl and put the bad guy away. (This is one of the few times McCoy comes close to legitimately punching a suspect, judging by the look on his face.) McCoy finally succumbs and takes the deal so the girl can be saved from dying. When Jacobs appears to be getting off scot-free, the presiding judge — who had been described as a stubborn battleax — proclaims she won't accept the plea bargain, since honoring the deal would be a "perversion of due process". The judge cranks Jacobs' sentence to the max, which results in a massive Villainous Breakdown as the cops drag him out of the courtroom:
Dwight Jacobs: That's not right. We had a deal. You can't do this!
Deirdre Hellstrom: You had no deal with me, Mr. Jacobs.
Dwight Jacobs: We had a deal! Son of a bitch! We had a deal, you son of a bitch! WE HAD A DEAL!!
Why did the judge refuse to take the plea as it was written? DA Arthur Branch had, in a way, encouraged her to do so after figuring out Jack was preparing to make the plea bargain — which was a variation of a trick McCoy himself pulled in an earlier episode to get out of a plea bargain he'd made with a murderer.
Psychologist Emil Skoda is interviewing a man who murdered a woman by stabbing her eight times. The man is unbalanced and troubled. At the end of the interview, the man loses control and gets right in Skoda's face. An orderly rushes in and Skoda, without taking his eyes from the man or losing his cool in the slightest, raises his hand to stop the orderly so he can finish his interview.
Junior ADA Connie Rubirosa is roped into working as a defense lawyer for an accused murderer thanks to a legal aid strike — and she's been handing Mike Cutter his ass in court. One of the paralegals in the DA's office asks her what it's like "working for the dark side" — but DA Jack McCoy answers the question for her:
Jack: Is that how you see it — us versus Them? Miss Rubirosa is conducting herself within the bounds of the canon of ethics and zealously representing her client to the best of her abilities. That's what she's expected to do, whether that client is a criminal defendant or the People of the State of New York — and if I hear any more crap from any of you, you'll all be working traffic court for the next five years.
In "Innocence", ADA Mike Cutter's law license is put under suspicion after Emily Ryan — an old law professor opposing Cutter in a reopened murder case — reveals he never received his bachelor's degree and lied to the bar overseers (and the DA's office) about it. To avoid embarassment, Cutter agrees to offer a plea bargain, and Ryan, the murderer, and his defense attorney are there to hear him out. A frustrated Cutter offers the murderer twenty years, which is refused (with the client uttering another slur) — and when Ryan threatens to take Cutter's license after he raises the deal to twenty-five years:
You can have my license — it'll free me up to testify about the hate speech your client just spewed in here! And after he's convicted of murder in state court, I'll walk across to the US Attorney's office and have your client prosecuted for violating the Matthew Shepard Act! Hate murder against gays is a federal offense now! Are you ready to do back-to-back life sentences, Mr. Stuber!? You will die in prison!
The murderer takes the deal, and Cutter also gets off relatively scot-free in regards to the deception about his bachelor's degree, which makes the situation win-win for him.
Nora Lewin has many. Despite being a academic she repeatly proves that those who try to push her around or intimiate her can't and she makes that very clear to them. Like the Judge who tries to make her drop the case against a prominent conductor. She might be the weakest DA but she did prove herself.
Judge: First off, I don't have to justify my decisions to you. Second, that sound you hear is the ice cracking underneath your feet.
Lewin: With all due respect, your honor, you weigh more than I do...If you threaten me again I'll report this conversation and our last conversation to the presiding judge of the appellate division. And if you step over the line in court just once, I'll take you down and you won't get up again.
The episode, "For the Defense," is full of them. First, Connie Rubirosa manages to stick it to Marcus Woll while she's being cross examined, then Mike Cutter goads Woll into saying something that makes some previously excluded (and pretty damning) evidence admissible, and finally, when Woll and his attorney seek a plea bargin, a lighter sentence in exchange for his testimony against the hit man he hired, Mike turns it down:
You know what? I think I'd rather make the deal with the stone-cold killer.
Jamie Ross gets one of these in Season 8's "Ritual" when the local Egyptian ambassador is stonewalling her. After brushing her off, he leaves his office for a meeting, only to find that his car is being towed for unpaid parking tickets. When he protests diplomatic immunity
Ross: You have it. Your car doesn't. We can have it towed...and towed...and towed.
Cut to a scene of Ross telling Schiff and McCoy that she's been assured they're now the ambassador's top priority.
Suspect: "Very good. A primate can regurgitate what it heard. Nice. Let's move on to sentences."
Ed: "Let me ask you something."
Suspect: "Primate? It's like a monkey."
Ed: "No, I want to ask you about Einstein's theory. Because I'm not sure he was right."
Suspect: "Headline! Cop cracks relativity!"
Ed: "No, not that theory. His theory on genius. See, and correct me if I'm wrong, Einstein said that genius has no personality. But you proved a negative. You definitely have a personality. And it makes this primate wanna whoop your ass. Now say something."