In the criminal justice system, one thing is certain—that on occasion, an individual or a circumstance will unveil a brief moment that makes everything absolutely worthwhile. These are such moments.
Olivia had a handful awesome moments during the episode "Undercover".
Moments after Fin rescues Olivia from being orally raped by a violent-psycho prison guard, Olivia looks her would-be rapist right in the face and says, "Who's the bitch now?"
Immediately following that scene are 3 instances where Olivia looks her would-be rapist in the face showing 0 fear: first when she faces him one-on-one in the interrogation room (he even jumps in her face and she barely bats an eye), then a second time when she and Elliot go back to the prison to officially arrest him (they have a quick stare down as he's being led away in handcuffs) and finally in the last scene after taking photos of his privates for evidence, Olivia basically tells him to piss off and that he'll be in prison for at least 20 years.
The detectives find out that Jacob's Ladder-esque experiments carried out by the army caused a soldier's disturbing behavior and subsequent suicide; Novak wants justice, and she sure as hell doesn't mess around:
Arthur Branch: Casey! My office! (storms out)
Elliot Stabler: What's that about?
Casey Novak: Oh, probably just another of the subpoenas I sent out.
Casey gets another, arguably even better one in "Svengali": she makes a deal with a famous murderer who thinks of his killings as "works of art" to testify against one of his "fans" in a murder trial. The "artist" sandbags his testimony and plays up the drama to the hilt, which results in a huge scene in the courtroom involving the defendant — but Casey thought he might pull that sort of stunt, so she prepared a special "thank you" for the testimony:
Casey: [approaches Morton as he leaves the courthouse in chains] Well, you were great.
Robert Morton: Did you like it? Bet you didn't know what was gonna happen next.
Casey: You put on quite a show. You got her off; she's going to a psych ward.
Morton: Is that a frown on your pretty face?
Casey: Actually, I think Cecilia is going exactly where she belongs. And so are you.
Morton: [smirking] You're backing out on the deal.
Casey: No, you're being transferred to a federal prison.
Morton: [looking surprised] I thought you'd be a sore loser.
Casey: [smiling smugly] You're gonna love Florence SuperMax: 23-hour lockdown, no visitors, no mail, no phone calls — no human contact for the rest of your life.
Morton: You can't do that to me!
Casey: Why don't you wave bye to all of your fans?
Morton: We made a deal!
Casey: And it's a masterpiece. How do you like my work?
Casey gets an entire episode of CMOA to show off her dedication to doing The Right Thing when she tries a case before a biased judge with very definite views of what makes a good mother; the judge ignores practically all the evidence saying a woman attempted to murder her adopted daughter. Casey soon discovers another case the judge presided over where a junkie mother ended up convicted of her baby's murder despite the possibility of a genetic defect that could account for the death — evidence the judge had not allowed to be presented. In both of these cases, the right to a jury trial had been waived and the judge made the decision to convict or acquit on his own. Novak goes on a crusade to get the guilty mother convicted, the innocent mother out of jail, and the judge thrown off the bench even though it could harm her career. Casey gets her mentor to represent the innocent mother, and the two manage to get her conviction overturned. When the guilty mother ends up murdering her daughter, Casey takes great satisfaction in cross-examining the judge on the stand during the murder trial. Once the trial is over, the judge finds himself beleagured by the press, whose questions make it seem likely he will end up demoted to a much lower court.
Casey again in "Mean," when she spots the thread in the middle of a defendant's testimony in court. The defendant, a teen girl who participated in a murder, gives herself away by mismatching her birth date with the zodiac sign on the class ring she'd taken off the victim's body. When it's Casey's turn to cross, she absolutely hammers the girl on the inconsistency, driving the girl into a meltdown where she spills the entire story on the stand.
"Avatar" had a Genre SavvySmug Snake elude the team's attempts to pin him down for anything. They try to track down his suspected "first" victim, but she's actually still alive. Meanwhile, he's walking calmly towards the airport, fully aware that Elliot is following him, and crosses the street—whereupon Elliot arrests him for jaywalking. This arrest gives them enough time to find the first "victim".
ADA Alex Cabot gets one in her very first episode:
Cragen: Let's see how good our new ADA really is.
Alex: You want me to secure a search warrant for the offices of a defense contractor to search classified national security files for evidence in a sexually motivated homicide?
Cragen: Yeah, you got a problem with that?
Alex: Hello? Judge Herriman please. Alex Cabot with the ADA's office. [pause] Uncle Bill? I need a favor. [warrant hits desk]
The time they get a particularly Genre SavvyCriminal Mind Games type baddie to reveal where he's hidden a near-dead kidnap victim by bringing in his mother—who reveals he's afraid of the dark. Elliot and Olivia immediately haul him into a nearby closet, smash the light, throw him in, and then lean on the door like they're in high school. The guy won't confess. Once Cragen locks the door, he confesses.
Say what you will about Elliot, but the bitch slap he delivers to the perp during that interrogation was satisfying to watch.
Even a victim can get one sometimes. In "Hell", a perp sits in police custody in one of the interrogation rooms. The victim, a young African girl named Miriam who the perp had kept as a sex slave for years (and had cut her throat days earlier), wants to see him. Miriam, utterly calm and straight-faced, walks into the interrogation room and comes within inches of him — then spits in his face before walking out.
At the end of "Hardwired", Liv visits the mother of a molestation victim to tell her the man who molested her child got convicted of child porn possession and sentenced to two years for each one of the 1,500 child porn images on a flash drive in possession — consecutively.
At the end of "Disabled", a woman almost completely immobilized by MS manages to point out the man who had raped her and a number of other handicapped women. Even better: she points him out by flipping him off.
In "Pandora", Stabler travels to Prague in cooperation with Interpol to catch Erich Tassig, a man publishing pornography of abducted girls on the internet. When Stabler apprehends Tassig, the perp makes the mistake of saying American laws wouldn't let Stabler lay a hand on him during the interrogation. Stabler's Interpol partner reminds Tassig that he doesn't sit in an American jail and sends the stationed guard out of the room. Stabler, knowing he can do so without reprimand or punishment, takes great joy in dishing out some much-deserved punishment to Tassig before the perp coughs up the info Stabler needs.
After returning to the US, Stabler learns he "opened Pandora's box" by arresting Tassig: the info he gave up implicates numerous people in a child porn ring, including a couple acting as payment processors. After Stabler joins the Feds to bust the couple, he learns the address of the man he'd wanted all along: a molester who sold porn of himself raping his daughter over a period of years. Stabler and a federal agent show up to the man's house, and after the agent takes custody of the child (who answers the door), Stabler finds the molester sleeping. He puts his gun against the perp's head, which wakes him up, then tells him he's under arrest. After everything Stabler had seen and done in this episode, he still managed to keep his cool and make the arrest by the book.
In "Users", Dr. Huang treats an addict witness with an illegal drug so the witness can testify against his dealer. When the dealer — a psychiatrist — finds out and threatens to report Huang, he counters by saying he'd already reported himself; he considered his one-month suspension a worthy price to pay to take the dealer down.
In "Manhunt", murderer Darryl Kern escapes to Canada while on the run; after the authorites capture him, Munch — who had spent the episode hunting Kern down — learns Canada won't extradite Kern back to the US unless the death penalty gets waived. The attorney who fights Kern's extradition gets asked if Canada might become a safe haven for murderers trying to escape extradition; he says he prefers not to speculate on hypothetical situations which may or may not result from the high court's ruling. ADA Cabot fires back by saying the state of New York will only seek extradition on the charge of possession of stolen property — the car Kern stole to get into Canada — and when Kern's attorney objects, the judge retorts by using the same line about not speculating on the aforementioned hypothetical situations. The court grants the petition to extradite, Kern gets handed back over to the NYPD, and Munch takes great satisfaction in formally arresting Kern on first degree murder charges.
In one episode, the squad learns that the man who raped a woman while wearing a mask later met her and became her boyfriend without her realizing it was the same person. As he's being taken away on rape charges, the woman kicks him in the crotch.
Benson takes a few levels in ninja and knocks down a particularly nasty child molester down twice — the second time without even looking at him — in 911. Hell, pretty much the whole episode, even (or especially) on the part of the writers, counts. It won an Emmy for a reason.
In "Behave", Jennifer Love Hewitt plays Vicki, a woman raped four times in the last fifteen years by the same person — who had stalked her across the country. Benson picks up the case and goes on a crusade to get Vicki some actual goddamned justice. She strikes out in similar cases in Detroit and Chicago — because the rape kits were lost due to a backlog — and only managed a partial (and expired via statute of limitations) rape kit connecting the suspect to Vicki's rape in Los Angeles. When the suspect goes free after an evidentiary hearing, an upset Benson and Stabler prepare to close the case before finding something that helps them immensely: the perp kept rolls of duct tape labeled with dates corresponding to his rapes — including one of Vicki's. Vicki tells Benson the perp had duct taped her during that particular attack, which allows Benson and Stabler to arrest him for kidnapping just before he could leave New York. When the cops bring him into a holding cell at the precinct, Vicki sits waiting for him. The perp begs her to renounce her accusations as a "misunderstanding", but Vicki turns the control on him:
Now I'll always know where you are. Be a good boy. *Vicki closes the cell door* Behave yourself.
In "Crush," a dirty family court judge specialized in convicting innocent teenagers of major crimes so she could sentence them to a hellhole juvenile detention facility run by her cousin, who pays the judge kickbacks for each bed she fills. When the judge convicts a girl who had consensually texted a naked picture of herself to her boyfriend and no one else on child porn charges, Alex Cabot immediately questions the ruling. After some investigating by the police, Alex uses the boyfriend and Stabler (playing a juvenile delinquent and said delinquent's father) to get the judge to incriminate herself in a sting operation. As the judge gets dragged off in handcuffs by Stabler, she practically admits she's dirty right in the courtroom. To top it all off, the detention facility gets closed and investigated, and the girl convicted earlier in the episode has her conviction overturned and expunged.
In "Savior," a defense attorney attacks a witness's credibility on the basis that the witness has been a prostitute since the age of 12. Cabot, on redirect, has the witness estimate her pimp has forced her to have sex 13,000 times. Cabot then turns to the defense attorney and says "I hope I cleared things up for you, counselor. That (points to witness) is a victim, and that (points to defendant) is a criminal."
The end of the episode "Infected": Casey has been prosecuting a kid who killed the man who murdered his mother. His defense attorney was arguing that gun violence was like a disease and that seeing his mother shot caused the kid to become "infected", thus the murder wasn't his fault. Casey comes to agree and offers the kid a plea bargain, but before the judge can officially accept it, a lawyer for the national gun association comes into the courtroom with an injunction, forbidding the acceptance of the plea bargain until a civil case has been decided. The NGA wants to ban the use of the defense attorney's research because it goes against their idea that guns aren't responsible for gun violence, people are. If they win the civil case, it could create a precedent by which any interested organization could stop the use of plea bargains, which would be bad for the D.A. So how does Casey solve it? When the NGA lawyer calls the kid to testify, Casey and the defense attorney allow him to go on the stand, knowing that the NGA lawyer will badger him into admitting that he killed the victim because he hated him and not because he witnessed gun violence. The minute the lawyer gets his admission, the defense attorney appeals to the criminal judge for a mistrial, based on the fact that the defendant has been compelled to incriminate himself, thus violating his Fifth Amendment rights. The criminal judge agrees and declares the case dismissed with prejudice. Casey immediately uses this as a basis to argue for the dismissal of the civil case, since there is no longer any reason to contest the research.
ADA Rafael Barba (Raul Esparza) brutally tearing down Adam Cain in "Twenty Five Acts". Informed Ability, his isn't - and this is only his first episode. Have we got a worthy successor to Casey Novak at last??
Note that he does this by forcing the man to expose his violent and control-freak tendencies. How? By wrapping a belt around his own neck (Cain's preferred sex game) and provoking the perp into throttling Barba with it, right in front of the jury. Then he turns around and points out to the jury that, even though he's clearly struggling to breathe afterwards, there are no marks on his neck, which could not be said of the victim after Cain was done with her.
Girl Dishonored proves that Barba is pretty much a male Novak. After a college dean lies about knowing that a infamous frat house rapes women and the staff all around campus covers it up, he get's a video that proves she's lying. When he shows it to her, she tries sucking up to Barba and he responds by telling her that she will be charged as an accessory to all of these rapes.
Barba again in "Downloaded Child." The victim is a woman who had been forced into child pornography, and now as an adult, is entitled to financial restitution from every person who has ever downloaded the videos and images she was forced to make. However, the list is in the thousands, and the already-traumatized victim is horrified at the thought of having to pursue and face every single one of them. Barba very calmly and competently goes into Crusading Lawyer mode, and takes it upon himself to go through the list. When he finds a wealthy CEO among them, he legally strong-arms the guy so that he (the CEO) is forced to pay her everything she's owed and then pursue the rest of the money himself (Truth in Television; it's called joint and several liability) and the victim can be left in peace.
In "Deadly Ambition," Amaro initially appears to be heading straight into What an Idiot territory by expressing sympathy for Rollins' lying scumbag sister and reciprocating when she flirts with him. He even takes Kim out to a nice restaurant for dinner on the spur of the moment. Except that nice dinner? Is basically Amaro pulling a male Honey Trap, where he charms Kim right into confessing the entire Frame-Up of Amanda on tape. Since Kim had spent the entire episode being a remorseless Manipulative Bastard to everyone in sight, watching Amaro completely own her at the same tactic is very satisfying. He's so good that he even has the recording device (his phone) right out on the table and she never even suspects.
Amaro's Big Damn Heroes shooting of the perp of the week in "Hunting Ground" right before the perp can kill Benson, especially because Amaro cleverly uses the guy's own creepy crawlspace to stealthily line up his shot (the crawlspace being a minor detail one of the perp's escaped victims had mentioned in passing).
Probably the most satisfying and well deserved What the Hell, Hero? moment to Stabler. Coming from Fin. To explain, in the episode "Cold", Eliot thinks Fin has tipped off a suspect (who happens to be their colleague, Chester) to run, and dumps his phone records to check. A correct move for a cop, but an absolute dick move to do to a friend and co-worker (even Olivia thinks he should've just asked Fin). Elliot tries (halfheartedly) to apologize, but Fin's having none of it:
Fin: You're a bulldog, Stabler. Quick to assume, slow to admit when you're wrong. Makes for a good cop, but a lousy human being.
Olivia: Fin, hear him out.
Fin: Stay out of it, Liv. That being said, I know what it cost you.
Elliot: Appreciate that.
Fin: I'm not done. The problem is you will still be the same rat bastard tomorrow, and nothing you say will ever change that. (walks out of the station, handing his transfer request to Munch on his way out)
The resolution to the three-part arc "Rhodium Nights" to "Above Suspicion," in which the squad takes down the biggest prostitution ring in New York. A turf war between a powerful pimp and an even more powerful madam has left several people, including an ex-governor, dead and Captain Cragen has beef framed in the death of one of these victims, a woman working for the pimp. As the case proceeds several other witnesses meet with, ahem, "convenient accidents" as well. How do the detectives solve this? Using tapes seized from the pimp, they discover he's a racist; they then use this information to convince his African-American lawyer, who previously seemed like an utterly slimy mob attorney type, to turn informant for them and get the pimp to confess to having the ex-governor murdered and then killing the assassin himself, who was also the woman Cragen has been accused of killing. But they're not out of the woods yet: the madam gets one of her prostitutes to charge Cragen with rape, and to make matters worse, the prosecutor has decided to drop all charges against the madam, since the pimp confessed to the initial murders and they can't prove the deaths of the witnesses weren't accidental. Essentially on a hunch, Olivia subpoenas the prosecutor's financial records and discovers that she'd recently come into a very large amount of money; confronted with this information, the prosecutor admits that the madam bribed her with money for her disabled daughter, and gives up the information necessary to put herself, the madam, all her henchmen, and the various rich men who'd covered for her, up to and including the Secretary of State of New York, behind bars.