Hollywood Law

Hollywood Law refers to a fictitious legal situation which in no way resembles the actual legal system in the place portrayed, but rather is played up for dramatic purposes. Since the ins and outs of the legal system in Real Life are far less dramatic and tense than anything the average viewer would want to sit still for, it's considered one of the many Acceptable Breaks from Reality for Hollywood to prioritize drama over factual accuracy about the legal system, especially when it comes to shows not directly related to law enforcement. Even in works that focus on the legal system, Hollywood will over-dramatize it to the point of trotting out things that would be disallowed in real life, or misuse a valid aspect of the law without regard to any actual procedural constraints that would prevent it being misused so blatantly.

At the extreme, many a Broken Aesop occurs when Hollywood Law is used to debate the effectiveness of the legal system itself. For instance, depicting violent criminals getting Off on a Technicality via some oversimplified nuance (such as forgetting to dot the 'i' on the arrest warrant) to suggest that we should just use a simpler and common sense-based legal system that looks more lightly on police or prosecutorial misconduct or trust in the Vigilante Man to clean up after the government's failings.

Unfortunately, the media exerts a pervasive influence in people's perceptions by being the average viewer's most easily-accessible window into the justice system; after all, most people's only direct contact with the real legal system are traffic offenses and divorce. Some of the most common misrepresentations widely used in dramatic fiction can fuel misconceptions in the audience if they believe these depictions accurately reflect the justice system in real life, and can influence how they vote in elections or result in The CSI Effect when they sit on a jury, with disastrous results.

Note that it only falls into Hollywood Law if someone (like the opposing counsel) is aware of the improper conduct/law and fails to object or call anyone on it without good reason. If both sides agree to an unusual arrangement (surprise witnesses, last-minute evidence, even calling the prosecution as a witness), it's not unrealistic for a judge to allow it. Or if a judge and a lawyer have an ex parte meeting without opposing counsel present but they agree to keep it a secret (it would be illegal, but such things happen). Also, a setting that is Like Reality Unless Noted might have fictional aspects of the law under "noted", that explain things you might see as Hollywood Law, such as a Super Registration Act in a superhero setting that lets superheroes testify without revealing their Secret Identity. For a steady supply of examples, see the blog at lawandthemultiverse.com, and its outgrowth book THE LAW OF SUPERHEROES.

    Common examples: 
  • Victim of the System: An innocent character is arrested at the drop of a hat for some legitimate but otherwise minor offense that does not carry such a harsh punishment in the real world or wrongfully convicted/sued/imprisoned/executed. While innocent people do get wrongfully convicted in real life (indeed, this is why The Innocence Project exists), fiction will exaggerate how often or how easy it is for the legal system to railroad an innocent person.
  • The Strip-Search: A person is subjected to humiliating police procedures (strip searches, cavity searches, etc). Typically, such procedures are reserved for persons for which there is a reasonable suspicion that they are smuggling either drugs or weapons, and they are limited to suchnote ; however, Hollywood extends the right of police or airport security to do a deep cavity search on anyone, mostly due to Rule of Funny in commercials (e.g. the Sierra Mist "Airport scene" sketch) or in movies (e.g. Wayne's World).
  • The Cornered Stool Pigeon: This trope involves a lawyer who "corners" a lying witness, catching him or her in a lie and calling them on it; instead of invoking their 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination or just staying silent, the witness breaks down and confesses everything on the spot—while the opposing counsel looks on and says nothing. This often involves a lawyer badgering and bullying the witness into a confession. In real life, a witness will typically stick to their story even when caught in a lie, or the opposing counsel will intervene at the very least to confer with them and prepare for their questioning. However, if a witness on the stand declines to answer a question, the attorney can have them compelled or get any prior testimony thrown out.
  • The Ambush: Similar to The Cornered Stool Pigeon, this involves the "hero" lawyer "ambushing" a testifying suspect by suddenly introducing hitherto unknown evidence, which absolutely proves the suspect to be guilty. In a real-life criminal court, both sides have to make available all evidence they intend to use before the trial; the prosecution in particular has to produce for the defense any exculpatory evidence in the government's possession that might exonerate the defendant (while the defense is actively barred from sharing any evidence that might incriminate their client). This goes for "surprise witnesses" as well; with rare exceptions, witnesses must be approved by the court in order to be admitted to testify. In a civil suit, however, the plaintiff and defendant both must turn over any evidence properly requested, without exception.
  • Off on a Technicality: A ruthless criminal-typically a killer-is released on a "technicality" (i.e. a meaningless legal slip-up in bureaucratic procedure) despite being proven absolutely guilty of the heinous crime in question. This trope serves to spark cheap outrage at an obvious miscarriage of justice-as well as outrage and disrespect at the legal system in general. The most common use is the "Fruit of the Poisonous Tree" loophole, whereby an error in one aspect of the government's case suddenly precludes the whole batch of validly-obtained evidence that came as a result of it, regardless of the nature of the initial error. In reality, such "loopholes" are not the result of mere obscure legal games, but rather are due to serious policy concerns such as sloppy police work or vague legal definitions, or serious rights violations by police or prosecutors (i.e. reversible errors) and the remedy of inadmissibility is generally intended to deter police from treading on the rights of citizens (guilty or innocent) and punish those who do; meanwhile actual "technicalities" are typically overruled as harmless errors. Hollywood will not only exaggerate just how common these technicalities occur, but will also ignore valid exceptions such as good faith (if the police had reason to believe when they obtained some evidence, then it's admissible, even when it turns out they didn't have legal permission-say, the warrant misstated an address) independent source (the police discovered the same evidence through another legal means) or inevitable discovery (they would have found the evidence legally anyway, so it's let in) to push through the defendant's release.
  • "My Hands are Tied": Indifferent bureaucrats such as police, judges or other persons in government, refuse to help a legal victim, claiming that "there's nothing they can do" against an obvious injustice, or grant a warrant against a suspect due to lack of tangible evidence or There Should Be a Law but isn't, resulting in the suspect's guilt being Not Proven. While these types of situations can exist (as with domestic violence), it's typically exaggerated solely to spark outrage in the audience.
  • Colombian Drug Lords, aka the Chewbacca Defense: It is not permitted for the defense to offer unusual defenses without first showing proof. Attempting to call seemingly unrelated witnesses or enter such things as evidence will not be allowed. Your claim of a big conspiracy or that someone else committed the crime will not be permitted unless you have some solid proof before they allow you to call someone as a witness. The Insanity Defense applies as well; you need a credible psychiatric expert to confirm your client isn't just making up his story about hearing voices to sway the jury. This rule doesn't apply to a lawyer's "closing statements" though, hence the accusation from Johnny Cochran at the end of the OJ Simpson trial that unidentified "Columbian drug lords" were responsible, the Trope Namer here (and the parody from South Park providing the actual Trope Namer).
  • One very common mistake is when someone in the courtroom audience is called to the witness stand. Witnesses are not permitted to attend the trial or talk to other witnesses about the case before they testify. If a witness is finished with their testimony and it is agreed they will not be called back, then they can attend the rest of the trial. Calling the prosecutor to the stand is possible if The Judge allows it, but almost never done, although it happened once in the famous Scopes "monkey" trial when defense attorney Clarence Darrow requested that prosecuting attorney William Jennings Bryan take the witness stand.note 
  • Jury Nullification: When the defense argues "Yes, my client did exactly what the government says he did. But the law sucks/is unfair, so you should find him not guilty anyway." Technically the jury can also do the inverse, i.e. declaring an innocent man guilty, but judges are empowered to strike down guilty verdicts to prevent this from happening. Jury nullification is technically perjury, the jurors having been sworn against it. It also undermines separation of powers: judges and juries are supposed to reach a verdict according to existing laws, not to judge the laws themselves—that's the legislature's job. Even though it's been upheld time and time again (in the US) that the jurors aren't liable and their decisions hold, it certainly can't be suggested by the defense. On the other hand, the prosecution can't argue against it because some courts (and state constitutions) have held it to be a right of the jury that the defense is simply forbidden from instructing them about. For this reason, Hollywood defense lawyers sandwich the "nullification" argument within another legally viable one, such as in an episode of L.A. Law in which a rapist, a diplomat from a sexist country, was released on Diplomatic Immunity and his victim killed him in revenge. In her trial, her attorney told the jury to use the "temporary insanity" defense (notwithstanding that there is no legal concept of "temporary insanity," although there is a somewhat related concept of "automatism", though it would not apply here), saying that this is the only way that they could acquit her, but really it was the only way for the defense to legally ask the jury to acquit her.
    • Also, this is an ongoing controversial issue; people have been harassed for various "unrelated" reasons (they can't be arrested for the act itself; how do you keep a jury from being informed about jury nullification if informing juries is the crime for which they are being tried) for passing out FIJA pamphlets outside courthouses. During the jury selection process, lawyers and judges usually would ask a few roundabout questions (generally something to the tune of "do you have any beliefs that would prevent your from making a decision based strictly on the law?") to gauge if a potential juror is likely to nullify, people who say "yes" would probably be disqualified on short order.
    • Some hold that nullification is a de facto power of juries; if the idea was for the law to be applied blindly, the facts could be fed into a computer program, or they could be given to the jury independent of any human quality, e.g. giving them a transcript of a witness's testimony rather than letting them see and hear the witness's emotional state.
    • A similar such law applies in British jurisdictions, commonly known as "the Rule in Stonehouse." Effectively the rule is that a judge cannot direct a jury to find a person guilty of a crime (although he can direct the jury to find them not guilty). Lawyers can't resort to that in appeals to juries, though, because it's a breach of their ethics: they cannot ask a jury to ignore the law they are sworn to uphold. But accused people representing ''themselves'' in politically charged cases have been known to resort to this defense and be successful with it.
  • Spousal Privilege: In TV shows, spousal privilege is treated as if it is impossible for a witness to testify against their spouse under any circumstance. Sometimes, a surprise marriage during trial will throw a wrench in an prosecutor's case. In reality, exceptions to this exist:
    • The information had to be spoken in confidence (i.e. not in public or in company, and with an express expectation of privacy)
    • The parties had to be married at the time any information was exchanged. Anything before is free game.
    • Spousal privilege doesn't preclude someone from testifying of their own free will. It only prevents a spouse from being compelled to testify by the state. A spouse still isn't allowed to testify (at least not without the other spouse's consent) about confidential conversations, but this also has an exception: if the conversation was part of a criminal conspiracy, privilege does not apply.
    • It doesn't apply to cases when one spouse is charging the other with a crime, or suing them. In those cases, the whole concept of spousal privilege goes out the window.
  • Non-Extradition Countries: Very often, TV shows and films will have a character run away to a South American country (usual examples being Brazil or Venezuela) under the pretense that the US has no extradition with them. In fact, the US has extradition treaties with every country in the western hemisphere (though there were periods where some South American countries did not have extradition treaties with the US—for example, Brazil's only came into effect in the mid-sixties, meaning it would make sense in stories written or taking place before that time period, such as The Producers, which is set in 1958). And even if there is no extradition treaty, that doesn't mean that the country you're living in can't turn you over to the nation you committed a crime in if the host country decides it is in their best interests to do so, it just means that there is no standard process for the nation seeking your arrest to request it, and little they can do to your host country if they don't feel like honoring that request.
    • Even with a treaty in place, however, the host country can refuse for several reasons, most notably if the fugitive is a citizen of that country.
    • Some countries that have banned the death penalty will refuse to extradite a suspect if that person would be sentenced to death if found guilty. This normally results in an agreement between the two countries (country of refuge and country that wants to put the suspect on trial) that the suspect will not be given the death sentence, immediately followed by extradition.
  • The Judge Takes Control: A judge, if sufficiently convinced that no reasonable jury could reach the verdict they have reached, may issue what is called a Directed Verdict or Judgement of Acquittal before the jury decides, or issue this after they already have, thus vacating the jury's decision. Since in the U.S. the Fifth Amendment prohibits an acquittal from being overturned, the judge can only do this in the defendant's favor. Thus, if the jury finds him guilty, the judge can still acquit him.note  But if a jury acquits them, even the worst Judge Hangemall cannot overrule them to find the defendant guilty. A judge's decision to set aside a verdict of guilty is appealable, and the original decision can be reinstated. However, if they acquit a defendant on their own before the jury has, this cannot be appealed, just like acquittal by jury verdict. Likewise, a judge does not have the power to issue a guilty verdict if the prosecution drops the charges.
    • None of this fancy business applies in civil trials, however; the judge can render final (if appealable) judgment at five discrete points (in the US at any rate):
      1. After the defendant files his/her answer (judgment on the pleadings, most often a defendant's motion to dismiss; amounts to "Look, Your Honor, even if what they say is true, we still win."e.g. ),
      2. During or after discovery (summary judgment; amounts to "Your Honor, anything they say at trial won't change a jury's verdict in our favor" e.g. ),
      3. After the plaintiff finishes making his/her case (judgment as a matter of law—JMOL for short—or directed verdict, depending on jurisdiction). Only the defense can move at this point-amounts to "Your Honor, now you've heard everything they have to say, no jury could find against us."e.g. )
      4. After the defense finishes making its case (JMOL/directed verdict, again based on jurisdiction; both sides may move),
      5. And after the jury reaches a verdict (JMOL or judgment non obstante veredicto—"notwithstanding the verdict"; amounts to, "Your Honor, the jury was clearly unreasonable."e.g. ).
    • In all these cases, the judge may find for the defense or for the plaintiff if either side has met the applicable burden (which changes; for instance, at summary judgment the moving party must show that there is no "genuine issue of material fact", while at pleadings the moving party must show that the opposing party's plea is "implausible on its face.")
    • Of course, there are many countries (Germany and the Netherlands, for example) where there is no such thing as a "jury" and the judge (or judges-many countries try cases using panels of three) is in control all the time. In many of those countries the prosecution can also appeal an acquittal, or a lenient sentence.
  • Hollywood/TV interrogations: Real interrogations are rarely as exciting, or quick, as portrayed in media. Police are very careful during interrogations not to lead, badger, or abuse a suspect, and risk a good defense attorney having the testimony be suppressed as evidence. Particularly in major felony crimes (the focus of most TV crime shows), interrogations can last hours or even days, and are mostly boring question-and-answer sessions designed to wear a suspect down over time. Stereotypical techniques like yelling, insulting, "good cop/bad cop", and other aggressive interrogation techniques are used whenever police think they are useful, and they can get away with them. Those situations just aren't as common as Hollywood would have you believe, largely because serious civil-rights actions in the mid-to-late 20th century exposed their rampant use of "third degree" police tactics including torture, psychological manipulation, and various other atrocious interrogation methods-which often were excused by both police and the US Supreme Court. Furthermore, while police are allowed to lie to suspects about certain things like the evidence against them, they are definitely not allowed to lie about the legal consequences of a confession (for instance, getting a guy to confess to attempted murder by giving him the 'Shoot the Dead Guy' spiel down below).
  • Miranda Rights: They must be read to every accused criminal upon arrest, and if Miranda rights are not read, the charges must be dismissed and the prisoner released... or so the misconception would have it. Miranda rights have to be read to a suspect before police ask questions about the crime, if he is in their custody at the time. If the police do not ask any questions, then Miranda rights do not apply. Anything a suspect says at the time of arrest is voluntary, so police rarely give Miranda warnings then for that very reason (moreover, if you're being arrested, the police probably don't have too many pressing questions to ask you). Furthermore, the remedy for failure to advise the accused of Miranda rights, when the officer is required to do so, is to exclude the arrestee's statement and any evidence discovered as a result of that statement from being used against him at trial. It does not invalidate the arrest, so long as the arrest is based upon other evidence.
    • This one is a very common misunderstanding in real life (and the bane of anyone familiar with the US legal system who gets a 3AM call from a friend wondering if their arrest for intoxication was valid because the cop didn't read them their rights, man). The critical aspects of Miranda Rights are in the right to counsel and the right to refuse questioning—but these rights only apply once a suspect is no longer free to exit interrogation. Law & Order often gets this one right (while falling into Hollywood Law in other places): in one case, a detective who spent a considerable amount of time with a witness had her retrace her steps on the day someone abducted her child; when the woman asked if this was necessary and to stop, he forced her to keep on, leading to incriminating statements and new evidence. Because the witness-turned-suspect was not able to leave police custody and end questioning, this became an issue for the prosecution, as it constituted a Miranda violation. This is the biggest stumbling block in most portrayals of Miranda rights: they have nothing to do with arrest, but questioning. If you are in a situation in which you cannot end questioning (e.g., you're in a police station and told not to leave, as the police are contemplating arresting you), you have the right to counsel, the right to silence (i.e., to not make self-incriminating statements), and, most crucially, the right to know you have the right to counsel. In order to make sure everyone is clear on this (and there are no legal issues later), after a suspect is informed of their rights, they then sign a waiver confirming that they understand each right and, knowing their rights, that they still wish to continue talking to the police (there are certain requirements officers must fulfill in order for the waiver to be valid, but this is rarely a part of Hollywood Law).
  • The One Phone Call: A very common misconception is that you're guaranteed by law one single phone call after you're arrested, to anyone at all, and if you blow it, too bad. The reality is that you are guaranteed access to legal counsel; beyond that, any outside communication is a privilege that can be given or withheld at the whim of the detaining institution. Nevertheless, most police officers allow you to have as many phone calls as you want, because unless you're talking to your lawyer or doctor, anything you say can be recorded as evidence.
  • Only Bad Guys Call Their Lawyers: The perception that a person must be either guilty or a sleazeball for requesting access to legal counsel rather than waive this right, because "it will make me look guilty". If you are arrested by the police on suspicion of having committed a crime, it is always advised to have your lawyer present, guilty or not. Simply put: the police can't have you charged because you "looked guilty", but they can and will use evidence against you that a lawyer would have prevented them from obtaining. If you've been arrested, the police's job is to collect evidence that proves you are guilty—they are not on your side.
    • As Better Call Saul put it, asking for a lawyer doesn't make you look guilty. Because innocent people get arrested all the time, it's the act of getting arrested that makes you look guilty.
  • Freedom of Speech: This is often misinterpreted to mean you can say whatever you want wherever. However, it only means that the government cannot prosecute you for things you say (with a few exceptions like inciting riot, death threats, or hate speech depending on country and jurisdiction) or force you to say anything (except if, say, you're called as a witness). In particular, you can't be arrested merely for criticizing the government or stating your opinion. Private entities and employers (including the government if you work for them) have an equally-strong right to protect their interests. Statements that induce violence, bigotry, obscenity, slander, or are simply in poor taste can still result in firing, expulsion, loss of advertisers, a lawsuit, or any other appropriate consequence.
    • Put this way: the prohibition is on the government, and what it prohibits is limiting the freedom of speech. Private entities can still limit your speech rights via contract (e.g. through an employee or student code of conduct), and both private and public entities can pursue you for cases where your freedom of speech interferes with someone else's rights: private entities can pursue you for defamation (as reputation is a liberty interest with a strong impact on property interests—e.g. if someone says the butcher's shop is unsanitary when it isn't, people will stop buying meat from him, even though the meat is fine) and the government can pursue you (as noted) for incitement (since if you actually did start the riot, your speech interfered with other people's rights to life—if anyone was killed or injured—and property—for property destruction).
    • General rule of thumb is: "Freedom of speech" means you can say whatever you want whenever but it does not protect you from the consequences of your speech.
  • Shoot the Dead Guy: Appears infrequently in detective shows. The culprit is busted for killing someone, and often confesses, but it transpires that somebody had beaten them to it, and they had actually only "killed" a corpse. Shooting a dead person is attempted murder at the least, if the aim was to kill the person, but they will be let off on the grounds that "shooting a dead man isn't a crime" (very often, someone actually says something like this or claims it's merely desecration of a corpse).
    • Averted on Law & Order, when Ben Stone relates the legal theory of the "Shoot the Dead Guy" story to prove his point about a con artist who framed a man for her miscarriage as part of a scam; not knowing how far along a fetus had to be before it reached "personhood" to be considered a legal "victim" of a crime was the basis for charging her with attempted murder of the unborn baby.
    • Also averted in an episode of Murder, She Wrote. A woman confessed to stabbing a man to death while he was sleeping on a bus. Jessica explained that the woman is only guilty of attempted murder (rather than being guilty of nothing at all) because the man was (unknown to the confessor) already dead at the time.
    • As a matter of English law, stabbing a 'sleeping' man, who it turned out was already dead, would not have been attempted murder prior to 27 August 1981. At common law if an offense was impossible to commit there could be no liability for attempting the offense. In the case of the 'sleeping' man, it would have been impossible to commit murder, since the definition of murder requires killing, and you can't kill someone who is already dead. The law was changed by the Criminal Attempts Act 1981, s.1(2) of which provides: "A person may be guilty of attempting to commit an offense to which this section applies even though the facts are such that the commission of the offense is impossible".
    • The pre-1981 English approach is technically still applied in some other jurisdictions, including some US states, and was historically applied more generally. Michigan and Maryland, historically bastions of the old, English-style common law of crimes,note  have a rich case law on the subject.
  • Only a Consultant: This one is a recent development in Western pop culture, due to the profusion of TV shows featuring a main character who works for the police, but as a "consultant" rather than a sworn officer (e.g., Monk, The Mentalist, Castle, etc.). Often, the consultant will do things that the regular police wouldn't be allowed to, like searching somebody's house without a warrant or using some sort of coercion to get a confession, then brush off questions of legality by claiming that he or she is a private citizen, and therefore not bound by the same rules as the police. In real life, an individual employed by a police department is considered an agent of law enforcement for exactly that reason. If they were not, the cops could just hire private detectives to solve all their cases and never have to worry about warrants or Miranda rights again.
    • For an extended discussion of this, see THE LAW OF SUPERHEROES. ("Is Batman a state actor?")
  • While any police officer who is authorized to carry a gun is of course legally permitted to use it in the performance of his duties, actually shooting somebody in the line of duty will often result in an inquiry into whether or not the use of their gun was justified (especially if the person who gets shot dies). A great many movie cops would find themselves on administrative leave pending the results of the inquiry (with their gun taken for ballistics tests by Internal Affairs) within twenty minutes of the opening credits, seriously restricting their ability to investigate whatever case the film is about. This is because most police forces are more willing than others to admit that there is such a thing as a Dirty Cop (even if they're reluctant to admit that there are any in their jurisdiction at any given time), and that it is quite possible that a Dirty Cop would be willing to commit murder and claim the victim was resisting arrest, assaulting them, or trying to escape.
  • Many shows give the impression that the statute of limitations expires the moment the credits run (unless it's a multi-part episode or the crime is a part of a major story arc): if there's not enough evidence to arrest a man for a crime committed this week, then he can't be arrested, even if the cops have more than enough evidence to bust him for the crimes he committed in last week's episode, when he simply managed to avoid capture. In real life, the length of the statute of limitations for a crime ranges from months to years, and for some crimes (such as murder), it never expires.
  • Attorney–client privilege is another one that crime shows often get wrong. In the media, it's treated as though anything a criminal says to a lawyer is absolutely confidential and can't be used as evidence, even if the lawyer wanted to. In reality, attorney-client privilege only applies to communications between client and lawyer for the purpose of obtaining legal advice or representation from the lawyer. That means that facts the client communicates to the lawyer for the purpose of explaining the situation he needs legal advice or counsel about are privileged, as is the legal advice that the lawyer gives in response. If, however, the lawyer is being asked for or is giving business, personal, or other advice, as lawyers are often asked for and often give, that is not legal advice and is not privileged. Contrary to what was previously written on this page, the privilege applies to legal advice about criminal and civil matters. That being said, the privilege can be waived if the client did not take reasonable steps to keep the communication private and confidential.
    • Attorney-client privilege absolutely does not apply if your attorney is assisting you in committing your crimes; a communication in furtherance of a criminal conspiracy can never be privileged.
  • Dropping the charges. In various works, most egregiously in National Lampoon's Vacation and National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, the victim of a crime saying that they want to drop the charges against the perpetrator of a crime automatically absolves the perpetrator from any consequences. In Real Life, however, once the police have been called, such a decision may very well be out of the victim's hands, since it is now the prosecutor who makes that call. There are a number of parents who find this out the hard way. Their children take their cars or credit cards, and the parents report a theft to teach the kids a lesson. When the kids are arrested, the parents state that they won't press charges, only to find out that their children may now face felony convictions (and significant prison time), regardless. This is, of course, a matter of prosecutorial discretion, and a prosecutor may decline to pursue a case where a victim doesn't want to press charges. On the other hand, if the prosecutor feels that the case is worth it, he may be able to go forward without requiring the victim to testify, or may pressure the victim into testifying with a subpoena and the threat of contempt charges. Thus, while a victim's disinclination to press charges may resolve the matter, it is not the automatic "Get out of Jail Free" Card various media would suggest.
    • In a similar vein, on various cop show episodes involving underage sexual relationships, there's sometimes the mistaken belief that statutory rape charges can't be pressed, or at the very least, won't be successful in court, if the underage participant in question was willing and the sex was consensual. In most nations, this is never the case—indeed, that is the entire purpose of statutory rape laws.note  In fact, if the minor says that they were in a relationship, this pretty much seals the deal as far as the court's concerned, as the only defence against a statutory rape charge is denying that the sex ever took place to begin with. Minors are not considered mentally and emotionally mature enough to make their own decisions when it comes to sex, and for very good reasons, so their opinions on the case have no real bearing on anything.
      • Especially important to note that lack of awareness of/deception about your partner's age is NOT a defense in most jurisdictions. It is strictly a factual determination. Meaning, it doesn't matter that she told you she was 18. If she's 14 and you are 24, the prosecutor is perfectly justified in prosecuting, and you better hope for jury nullification.
      • On this subject, there's also the literal Hollywood Law concept that 18 is the universal age of consent. It is in California, but in most of the First World, it can vary anywhere from 16 to 20, and the age can also be different for opposite-sex and same-sex relationships (e.g. a state in the US where the "Romeo and Juliet" close in age exemption applies to a heterosexual 18-year-old and 17-year-old couple, but doesn't apply to a gay or lesbian couple). That said, within the US itself, most that go lower than 18 require that a legal marriage with the permission of the minor's parents exists (e.g. if you're 20 and marry your 16-year-old girlfriend with her parents' permission to do so, the relationship is legally not statutory rape regardless of whatever moral standards people may apply—but if you aren't legally married with said permission, it is most definitely so and you can and possibly will be arrested for it).
  • Read the Fine Print: In fiction, if you have signed a contract, then that means you have irrevocably agreed to whatever nasty thing was hidden away in it, up to and including actual slavery, or the contract holder being allowed to torture you to death if you fail to do what he wants. In real life, of course, this simply does not happen. You cannot be forced to sign a contract:
    • Under duress (well, you can, but it will never be valid in a court of law), whether that duress comes about as a result of someone putting a gun to your head or a more insidious means like someone threatening you financially.
    • If it contains illegal acts—you can't agree to a gag order over your boss murdering his secretary, nor can you sign a contract saying you will help your boss murder his secretary.
    • If the contract is "unconscionable," i.e. extremely unjust or overwhelmingly one-sided note  that no sane person would accept.
    • If it was written in such strange and confusing jargon that you had no idea what you were getting into (this also falls under unconscionability).
  • The Reading of a Will. Happens more often in fiction than in real life. Although there are a few lawyers and executors that actually do this, it's not a legal requirement. In reality, if there's anything in the estate and you either are a legal heir under the intestacy laws or you have been specifically left property in the will, you will receive a notice from the court with an option to appear at a hearing to contest the will if you so choose. Should you waive that right, you will simply wait until your inheritance (if any) is delivered to you.
    • Closely related to this is the Video Will, where the testator records a video of himself orally disposing of his estate, to be played after his death. Hollywood likes this for the same reason it likes the reading of the will: it is dramatic. In real life, however, a will must be in writing. There are a few states that allow nuncupative (i.e., oral) wills, but only under very limited circumstances, and only for a very limited amount of assets. A video will cannot be probated, and will not be an effective disposition of an estate.
  • The "Shouting Fire In A Crowded Theater" tactic, aka inciting panic through certain kinds of speech, the favored form of attack by lawyers when the First Amendment gets involved, was indeed a part of real law and might be a credible argument...provided the show takes place in, oh, the 1960s or earlier. The ruling, Schenck vs. US, came into place to help censor anti-draft/anti-war activists during World War Onenote  and was overturned by Brandenburg vs. Ohio in 1969.note  These days, your speech must be clearly advocating immediate criminal action to get you into trouble. Shouting "There's a fire!" is not a crime (under this particular case, anyway—the false alarm people might like to have a word with you) but shouting "There's a fire-everybody riot!" is.note 
  • Immunity from prosecution. In some legal shows, the prosecutors will be dealing with a criminal whom they want to testify in a case regarding an even bigger criminal. Unfortunately, in order to testify, the witness-to-be would have to implicate himself in crimes he himself has committed. Since the prosecutor cannot force the prospective witness to testify due to the protection against self-incrimination, there is one solution: immunity from prosecution. This means two different things under Hollywood Law versus Real Life. Under Hollywood Law, it means that the witness can testify to anything (murder, treason, child porn, terrorism, rape, child molestation) but can never be prosecuted for any of the crimes he admits during his testimony. However, in Real Life, immunity from prosecution simply means that the witness's testimony cannot be used against him in subsequent proceedings-he can still be prosecuted for these things if the authorities can make a case against him without said testimony. The kind of immunity that Hollywood Law depicts only exists in the form of a pardon, which can be granted only by the governor of a state or the President (depending on whose law was violated). note 

  • "Client, shut up!": A lawyer and his client are meeting with the prosecutor (or opposing counsel if this is a civil case. Turns out that the client is a little too talkative and says things that hurt his case. In a lot of works, his lawyer will interrupt him and tell him to shut up. Unfortunately for lawyers, while an overly-talkative client can be Truth in Television, the rules do not allow lawyers simply to tell clients to shut up. (Although lawyers can and should advise their clients that they do not have to answer specific questions).

  • "Counselor, control your client!": Said many a time by judges in courtroom dramas. In Real Life, however, it is the judge who is responsible for keeping order in the courtroom.

  • As works made and/or set in Japan become increasingly popular in the West, so do some Japanese variations of Hollywood Law. For instance:
    • The age of consent being 13. In fiction, this is treated as an absolute, so sex with, or between, thirteen-year-olds is treated the same as sex between consenting adults. In reality, according to The Other Wiki, thirteen is the minimum national age of consent in Japan, with individual prefectures free to set higher ages. (To put it in perspective for Americans, the U.S. has no national minimum age of consent.) In most of Japan, the age of consent is set at 18, with two qualifications: First, if the partners are in a sincere romantic relationship, determined by parental approval, sexual activity is legally permitted. Second, a person of influence, such as a teacher, clergyman, judge, coach, landlord, or other authority figure (in other words, adults who would most likely be in a position to exploit a minor) is forbidden from having sex with anyone who is under the age of twenty.
    • Carrying a sword in public. In modern times, unless you are a member of the self-defense force or the police, forget it. Japan has very strict weapons control policies, and swords are treated the same as guns.
    • Arranged Marriage: In fiction, even in modern times, this is an absolutely binding arrangement, which your parents can force on you completely without regard to your wishes. Avoiding such a prospect requires drastic action, including suicide or elopement. In reality, however, at least, in modern times, the Japanese practice of Miai or Omiai simply involves your parents setting you up with someone in the hope that marriage would result. There is no obligation to marry that person; at most, you may be obliged to go out on a date with him or her, but it's perfectly fine if it doesn't go any further.
      • On a related note, underage marriages. In Real Life, the age of marriage without the need for parental consent is twenty, the age of majority in Japan. With parental consent, the age of marriage is eighteen for men and sixteen for women. Any work featuring marriages below these ages (in modern times), whether it be an Old Man Marrying a Child or two kids marrying, is an example of Hollywood Law.

For Hollywood Law tropes on this wiki, see: Artistic License – Law.

Examples:

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    Comic Books 
  • In Manhunter, Kate Spencer's prosecution of Shadow Thief for the murder of Ron Raymond, aka Firestorm, is ludicrous. It's hard to know where to begin, but consider the fact that Spencer calls a bunch of superheroes to testify without giving their real names without first showing that they or their families would have been in danger. Under United States v. Ramos-Cruz, _ F.3d _ (4th Cir. Jan. 18, 2012); United States v. Zelaya, 336 F. App’x 355 (4th Cir. 2009); and United States v. Gutierrez de Lopez, a witness may testify anonymously only if the prosecution can show that the witnesses or their families would be in danger otherwise; but see the notes below about the Ingersoll Amendment to the Keene Act, although the issue would be whether an anonymous witness violates either the confrontation clause or due process, and a statute cannot override a constitutional provision. Secondly, most of the witnesses weren't even legitimate witnesses in the first place: they didn't actually see the crime committed, and she just asked them questions about what a hero Firestorm was, and what a great guy he was. None of that would be relevant at trial, although some of it might be allowed at a sentencing hearing, if Shadow Thief were convicted. The bizarre part is that there were other superheroes who were present at the crime and saw it happen, at least one of whom, Vixen, has a public identity and could have been called as a witness; needless to say, she wasn't.
    • There is evidence that trial law in the DCU has been modified to allow superheroes to testify without revealing their identities. The other points absolutely stand, though.
    • That would be the Keene Act and the Ingersoll Amendment, the latter so named for lawyer and comic columnist Bob Ingersoll, who analyzed and criticized poor representation of the law in comic books.
  • In one issue of Daredevil, a judge appointed under Norman Osborn overruled a "not guilty" verdict in a criminal trial and sent the innocent defendants to prison, ignoring 1000 years of legal precedent and the US constitution. To be fair, though, the Marvel Universe during Dark Reign seemed to be a fascist dictatorship under Osborn, so the law probably changed to allow this verdict (otherwise completely illegal and unconstitutional in our world).
    • Osborn getting that job he had in the first place, long after being exposed and jailed for being a superhuman homicidal maniac, whose standard M.O. was flying around a city throwing bombs and who once planned to murder all life on Earth, is however a pretty straight example.
      • Yes, in that you become ineligible for most and/or all political offices, especially at higher levels, if you've committed a felony, and Osborn was never pardoned.
      • Oddly enough, you do not become ineligible for the US Presidency. Numerous felons (mostly political activists like Eugene Debs or Leonard Peltier) have run for President while in prison for a felony conviction (Peltier is even serving two life sentences for murder, but if elected he could pardon himself, so no worries there).
  • Green Arrow
    • #32 features jury nullification with a slight difference: they find him not guilty, but the Judge still rules that he is exiled from the city for life, giving him 24 hours to leave and stating that he will be imprisoned if he returns.
    • In addition to that rather dubious ruling, the judge openly states that he could have Ollie thrown in jail anyway, despite the jury acquittal. This is utterly impossible under US law (while you can still end up being found guilty and sentenced for the separate crime of "contempt of court" — if you actually committed some — while being acquitted on the original charge, you cannot be sentenced for the original charge while simultaneously being acquitted of the original charge!) and going on the record with it would probably earn a judge official reprimands at the very least.
    • The trial isn't even in the correct venue. Exactly what jurisdiction does a California state court (Star City is in California) have over an alleged murder committed in another dimension, especially when the victim is of unknown nationality? (Prometheus' secret ID has never been cracked.) Even if jurisdiction is being asserted on the grounds of 'well, Oliver Queen is a US citizen and nobody else has any jurisdiction over this entire mess as it happened in territory claimed by no sovereign nation', that should still have landed him in US District Court.
    • The crowner of this entire mess is that the trial should not be happening at all. Prometheus died during the course of a lawful arrest by a deputized peacekeeping agent, while on his feet, armed, and facing his killer. How does this qualify as murder? Sure, Oliver Queen went there with the intent of killing Prometheus even if he didn't resist arrest, but you can't be placed on trial for what you would have done, only what you actually did do. And since Prometheus wasn't surrendering and was a highly dangerous felon who has already killed entire squads of cops who've tried to arrest him before, shooting him the instant he makes a sudden move is justifiable homicide. Sure, Ollie's confession as to his intent should have gotten him dismissed from the JLA for going way outside of policy, if not asked to go see a psychiatrist, but it doesn't sustain a charge of murder one. If Ollie had sniped Promethus unawares, then yeah, that's murder — except he didn't.
      • While it is true that there was only one living witness to the confrontation — Ollie himself — given that the arrow hole is in the front and Prometheus was clearly standing when he died and wearing his full battle harness, forensic evidence would entirely support the justifiable homicide interpretation. And while it's possible Ollie confessed to killing the guy cold (even if he didn't) out of some guilt complex, even then the scene would still contain a plot hole... specifically, that if Ollie had pled guilty then there shouldn't have been a jury trial in the first place.
      • A confession is not the same as a guilty plea, though, so if he'd confessed but didn't then plead guilty to a murder charge there would have to be a trial.
  • In X-Men, Josh Foley, aka Elixir, is told by Danielle Moonstar that his parents have signed total legal guardianship over to her, without Josh ever having been notified or called before a judge or any indication that either party set foot in a court of law. He's 16 at the time, so how did such important legal proceedings take place without him even knowing about them?
  • Marvel writers have repeatedly had a character charged with "treason" over acts which have nothing to do with the deliberately narrow definition of treason expressly spelled out in the U.S. Constitution (levying war against the United States or, in adhering to its enemies, giving them aid and comfort). It does not mean "acting against a government agency" or "insubordination". It's also really hard to convict someone of it-treason is the only crime specifically defined in the US Constitution (to prevent abusive prosecutions under looser definitions as went on under the British Crown) requiring two or more witnesses testifying to the same act, or a confession in open court, which is the only crime in US federal or state law with this high a standard to obtain a conviction. Thus, people who have committed treason are generally just charged with other, easier-to-prove offenses.
  • A Punisher story made hash of the Insanity Defense by having a judge not remand the Punisher for psychiatric examination, but simply decreeing that he was "insane" on the basis of counsel's rhetoric (and over his vehement objection).
  • It's a major plot point of Greg Rucka's Gotham Central that any case coming from the Internal Affairs Division of the Gotham PD against corrupt Crime Scene Unit technician Jimmy Corrigan would be tainted because Major Crimes Unit Det. Renee Montoya beat certain key information out of Corrigannote  in a fight outside a bar in order to clear her partner, Crispus Allen, in a shooting after being tacitly encouraged to do so by a detective from IAD. Supposedly this means that neither IAD nor MCU can ever touch Corrigan legally. Shockingly, losing a bar brawl to an off-duty cop does not actually give you legal immunity to anything. It is true that none of the information that Montoya beat out of Corrigan would be admissible, but any evidence gathered independently of that would be perfectly admissible. At worst, if Montoya herself were a key witness against Corrigan, his attorney could try to use the fight to call her credibility into question. Of course, it would be very risky for Corrigan's attorney to bring up the fight at all, because it might open the door for the prosecutor to ask what the fight was about, which would probably hurt Corrigan more than the prosecution.
  • This was very common in Dan Slott's run on She-Hulk, which is hardly surprising since it was a legal comedy written by a non-lawyer. Many of these were justified by Rule of Funny:
    • The most obvious is that the law firm Jennifer works for, Goodman, Lieber, Kurtzberg, and Holliway, has, in their law library, at least for their super-human law division, nothing but boxes and boxes of Marvel comics. It is explained that, within the Marvel Universe, Marvel comics are all true, and are licensed by the superheroes who star in them, and, prior to 2002, were certified by The Comics Code Authority, a government agency, and are therefore admissible in any courtroom in the United States. It's hard to know where to start with this one. First of all, the Comics Code Authority was never a government agency; it has always been a private ratings agency created by the comics industry itself. Secondly, even if it were a government agency, merely having a document certified by a government agency does not make it admissible, any more than does being licensed by the persons who star in the comics. Thirdly, and most importantly, even if there were no questions about the admissibility of Marvel comics into evidence, the comics are not a source of law; they may be a source of facts, but not law. A mere record of facts is only admissible if the facts are directly relevant to the case at hand. Also, facts recorded in a comic book would almost always be inadmissible as hearsay. The lawyers would have to provide some other source for the same facts to get them into evidence. This one, of course, is justified by Rule of Funny.
    • Then there's Jennifer's first case: Dan Jermain wants to sue the Roxxon corporation, for which he worked as a safety inspector, because he got knocked into a vat of radioactive material, transforming him into the larger, stronger, more powerful Danger Man, wrecking his life in the process. The problem is that, because it was a workplace accident, Jermain can only get workman's compensation; he is barred by statute from suing Roxxon in tort! Also, he can only recover his medical bills and lost wages for a limited time from workman's comp. Plus, as an example of the absurdity of using Marvel comics as a source of law, Jennifer's strategy for winning the case is based on the return of Jean Grey story arc, in which it was revealed that Jean was never the Phoenix, but rather that the Phoenix took her place; based on that, Jennifer decides to argue that Dan Jermain died in the accident and that Danger Man is a totally new entity. That might be true, but the Phoenix/Jean Grey story has nothing to do with it. Jennifer would have to actually prove, with evidence from the case, that Dan Jermain is dead, which is going to be hard since it's obviously not true: Danger Man obviously is Dan Jermain.
    • Then, in a subsequent case, Jennifer and fellow associate Augustus Pugliese sue J. Jonah Jameson for libel on behalf of Spider-Man. They are winning the case when Pugliese decides he wants to add Peter Parker as a defendantnote , which, shockingly enough, prompts Spider-Man to insist on settling the lawsuit. This is absurd on multiple levels. First, the plaintiff can't add a defendant when the trial is already underway. Second, the plaintiff's lawyer can't add a defendant without his client's permission. Third, no one is going to bother suing Peter Parker, for the simple reason that he's judgment-proof; that is, he doesn't have enough money to pay any judgment you might get against him. Again, this one was pretty much just Rule of Funny.
    • When another of Jennifer's associates, Mallory Book, defends Samuel Sterns, the Leader, on criminal charges, the trial is in New York, even though many of the crimes Sterns is charged with, including nuking a town in Arizona, happened in other states. Under Article III, Section 2 of the US Constitution, and under the Sixth Amendment thereto, the trial of all federal crimes must be in the state and district in which the crimes were committed, meaning the government can only try the Leader in Arizona for crimes committed in Arizona. Plus, Book's defense of Sterns is that, as a gamma-altered individual, he is of diminished capacity. That would be fine, if and only if gamma alteration meant that Sterns either did not know right from wrong, or that he was under an irresistible impulse to commit his crimes. The problem is that two of Book's key witnesses, Jennifer Walters and Dr. Leonard Samson, are also gamma-altered, and both are moral, law-abiding citizens; Walters, obviously, is a lawyer and superhero, and Samson is a psychiatrist (and also occasional superhero). That doesn't mean Sterns isn't insane, but Book certainly hasn't proved it. Plus which, even if Book had succeeded, that would just mean that the Leader would just end up in an asylum for the criminally insane instead of in prison; the story was published in 2007, the same year New York abolished the death penalty.
    • Around the same time Book was defending the Leader, Jennifer was suing Tony Stark for injecting her with power-inhibiting nanites that made it impossible for her to transform into She-Hulk. The problem is that, while she could theoretically sue for tortious battery, Stark would have an unbeatable self-defense defense: Jennifer, in her She-Hulk form, was beating him up at the time he injected her. At the very least, Stark would almost certainly have qualified immunity, since he was acting in his capacity as director of S.H.I.E.L.D. at the time. Stark would almost certainly win on dismissal or summary judgment, but the comic presents Jennifer as having a real chance of winning a big judgment.
    • The more recent She-Hulk series, written by Charles Soule, is generally more accurate, since Soule is a lawyer, but not always. For example, in issue 9, She-Hulk defends Captain America against a wrongful death action based on alleged negligence by Steve Rogers in 1940, before he became Captain America. The problem is that section 335.1 of the California Code of Civil Procedure establishes a two-year statute of limitations on actions for wrongful death in negligence, as in this case. The other problem is that even if the plaintiffs could still bring the suit, they would have to do so under the law as it was in 1940, and back then, California, like most states, still had a contributory negligence standard, not a comparative fault standard. In this case, the decedent's brother admitted that he was also partially responsible; since contributory negligence is a complete defense, it means that Rogers cannot be held liable at all.
      • To make matters worse, the brother's story, which seems to be pretty much the entirety of the plaintiff's case, is not testified to by the brother himself, because he's dead. Rather, a police officer who was with the brother when he died testified as to the brother's dying declaration, which he revealed what had happened back in 1940. The comic claims that this is acceptable because dying declarations are an exception to the hearsay rule. That is true, if and only if the dying declaration concerns the circumstances of the death. If a dying man says that so-and-so is the one who killed him, that is admissible under the dying declaration exception. If a dying man says that seventy-four years ago, his brother died partly through the negligence of Steve Rogers, that is not admissible.

    Films — Animated 
  • In Pixar's Up, Carl is involuntarily committed to a retirement home after he whacks a guy over the head with a cane. The guy, at the time, had been struggling with Carl over his mailbox, despite Carl's repeated demands for him to let it go. While he may have had to pay some damages as a result, a single incident borne of an obvious misunderstanding wouldn't lead to commitment, though the Corrupt Corporate Executive who wanted Carl's house might have pulled strings. After all, tampering with the mail is a federal crime. He could be prosecuted for assault (unlikely) or sued by the man, but involuntary commitment to a retirement home is only something next-of-kin with power of attorney can do.
  • The Incredibles: In actuality, 'Good Samaritan' laws have been passed which specifically protect people from prosecution or lawsuits for damages or injuries that occur when responding to a crime or disaster. In cases like those which open the film, the judge will dismiss the case on the pleadings for failure to state a claim (that is, telling the guy "This isn't something you can sue about") before a jury is even selected.
  • At the end of La Ballade des Dalton, the Daltons report that they have successfully murdered the judge and eight jurors who sentenced their uncle to hang (ignoring the fact that murder trials have twelve jurors, not eight), and thus have fulfilled the conditions needed to inherit his estate (ignoring the fact that conditional wills cannot require the prospective heirs to commit crimes in order to inherit). They then get lead into a side room, which turns out to be a courthouse, in which the still living judge and jurors find them guilty of trying to kill them and sentence them to be sent back to jail with more time added to the sentences they had at the start of the film (ignoring the fact that the victims of a crime cannot serve as judge or jury on a trial about that crime).

    Films — Live-Action 
  • 1997's Con Air is probably one of the single most egregious cases of Hollywood Law ever devised. Cameron Poe is sentenced to seven to ten years in jail for killing a drunk who was attacking Cameron and his then-pregnant wife, Tricia. It was clearly self-defense, which Cameron's wife could verify; in real life, he would probably not even have been charged. And even if he was, he would not have been tried in federal court, or sent to a federal prison, as this was not in federal jurisdiction. Also, no judge in the U.S. has ever used a person's military training against them in cases like this.
  • In Daredevil, the only scene of hero Matt Murdock actually acting as a lawyer that made it to the theatrical cut was of him seemingly seeking a conviction for a rape suspect. The catch? Murdock is a defense attorney, a fact emphasized by the voluminous material that was cut from the movie. So while, in Real Life, you MAY see a victim's advocate making submissions at sentencing in many jurisdictions, there's no way in hell that Murdock would have been making arguments in court and getting annoyed that the defendant was acquitted. Murdock could have been suing the guy in tort for the rape, but even in that case he still wouldn't be on the defense side of things. The comics' Daredevil is always a defense attorney-perhaps they didn't think that would be sympathetic enough?
  • Kevin Lomax in The Devil's Advocate is established as a Super Lawyer because he's "never lost a case". We're told that in his early career he worked in the local district attorney's office and had a string of 64 straight convictions, and he "didn't plead out often". This would actually indicate that he's a terrible prosecutor. First, prosecutors get to choose their cases, so he could have a string of "sure thing" prosecutions. Second, prosecuting these cases to trial would clog up the court's docket when he should be making plea bargains with the defendants. Odds are, the bulk of his victories would have been mundane cases where the defendant was guilty as hell and took a deal. It's worth noting that some real-life prosecutors trump themselves up by this claim, which usually comes from dropping or taking pleas on any case with a chance of failure.
  • Good Will Hunting gets a bunch of things wrong. In the opening, Will is arrested for assaulting a police officer. This is a very serious offense that he tries to get dismissed by saying it was "self-defense against tyranny". The judge acknowledges that Will defended himself on an earlier charge of Grand Theft Auto by quoting a two-hundred year old case on the grounds of "free property rights of horse and buggy". Most likely it would have either been reversed or ignored in favor of more recent law. Anyway, the judge denies the motion to dismiss and puts him in jail. The MIT professor says that he "talked to the judge" and got his permission to have Will work for him as a form of probation. The professor is not a lawyer and therefore has no right to "talk to" the judge on Will's behalf. The Professor might have put up his bail to get Will released, but Will would still have to stand trial for the assault charge.
  • The Lethal Weapon movies which have far too many to count, starting with the fact that Murtaugh should never have been assigned to the Hunsaker case (which is the plot of the entire movie) in the first film because the victim was the daughter of a war buddy of his (The whole scene where Hunsacker starts yelling "You owe me! I want you to kill them!" in front of several witnesses would cast a great deal of doubt on whether the shootings of the villains was genuinely necessary or simply engineered to look that way by a cop who felt morally obliged to kill them anyway). Perhaps most famous is the second film's insinuation that diplomatic immunity is a license to commit crimes with impunity. In reality, once the LAPD found out that the South African diplomats were running a drug ring, they could have just notified the State Department, who would have them deported. Since South Africa was a US ally, it's probable they would then be extradited, or at least tried in their home country.
  • A Nightmare on Elm Street: Part of Freddy's backstory is that he was arrested and convicted of being a serial killer who targeted children, then was released because his arrest warrant was signed in the wrong place. In the TV spinoff's pilot, it was because he hadn't been read his rights. Two invocations of this trope for the price of one incident!
  • In Pacific Heights, Michael Keaton engages in various outrageous illegal acts against his landlords, who are thwarted from any recourse by a system of indifferent police, judges and attorneys, as well as Keaton using the Loophole. This movie was a nonstop sequence of Hollywood Law and later Vigilante Execution as the victims were driven to take the law into their own hands—which the police even stated would be the only real recourse.
  • RunawayJury:
    • Super Lawyer: Gene Hackman. He's evil, has a command center filled with computer screens, and apparently capable of quickly breaking into encrypted files.
    • Dream Team: Dustin Hoffman and the two conspiring protagonists. In real life, it would mean serious prison time if caught (just as with Hackman's own attempted jury tampering.)
    • Deus ex Machina Lawyer: The Hero lawyer only wins because one of the Super Lawyer's employees betrays him.
  • Played for laughs in both Reckless Kelly and Rocky and Bullwinkle in which celebrities are legally exempt from any laws.
  • Revenge of the Nerds,
    • The antagonists commit various crimes against the "Nerds," but are told by police that it's "out of their jurisdiction;" since it's "college pranks—" even regarding outright crimes, including assault, battery, terrorism, and malicious destruction of property; in response, the Nerds commit other crimes against the jocks in "revenge—" including one "Nerd," Lewis, raping a cheerleader by posing as her boyfriend (a serious felony). In reality, state laws do not recognize college campuses as sovereign boundaries or "no-man's lands;" however here, even felonies were entirely subject to judgment by Hollywood Law.
    • Aside from the pranks, the football players burn down their own frat house and are encouraged to take over the freshman dorm, evicting the new students and throwing their belongings out the windows.
      • However, as a counter-point to this, these are athletes and/or otherwise students with rich parents. It is entirely possible (and even implied, given the behavior of some of the adults) that pressure was brought to bear to avoid consequences for the Alpha Betas. This is, unfortunately, Truth in Television.
    • In the second sequel, the protagonists take their grievances to court, only for the judge to say to their faces "Nerds don't have rights". Um, yes they do. How that judge managed to keep his job is a mystery. Doubtless it's Rule of Funny.
  • For a film based on real events, The Untouchables gets just about everything about Al Capone's trial dead wrong:
    • The judge orders the jury switched with a jury next door. No judge has the power to call in a jury that the parties didn't select. Also, the new jury was brought in after the key prosecution witness had testified. Any defense lawyer would love to have a jury that never saw the prosecution's evidence! The actual judge did switch the pool of available jurors when he saw evidence Capone bribed them, but that happened prior to the trial's start. In the movie's scenario he would have just declared a mistrial and they'd select uncorrupted jurors for a new trial.
    • Income Tax Evasion is a Federal, not a State crime. The Real Life case was prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney's office, not the Cook County District Attorney, and tried in United States Courthouse, not the Cook County Courthouse, by a federal judge.
    • Capone’s lawyer also enters a plea change without his client’s request or consent. Apparently, the fact that Capone clearly does not want to plead guilty (via assaulting his lawyer) counts for nothing. In Real Life, a court cannot accept a plea that is not made with the defendant's consent; doing so would be thrown out on appeal. Likewise, any lawyer who tried to enter a plea without his client's consent would most likely be disbarred. Capone was actually convicted by the jury, rather than having a plea deal (there was no offer of one anyway). But if you've ever seen it in real life or in a work which does this right, you'll have noticed that the judge asks the defendant if they agree to plead guilty and if they understand what that means.
  • In the first Wayne's World movie, one police officer is infamous for performing cavity searches on random motorists. This is a serious felony, when performed without a warrant; while the movie, as usual, attempts to justify this under Rule of Funny, it qualifies under the law as rape.
  • In Double Jeopardy, Ashley Judd is framed by her husband for his own murder and serves prison time. When she gets out, she hunts him down and brags that she could kill him and get away with it because she's already been convicted of that crime and double jeopardy means she can't be prosecuted for it again. Problem is, she was convicted of that crime (that is, of "murdering" him at that specific time and place). Hunting him down to another city and killing him there, then, would be another crime entirely, and thus she could be justly convicted of it (not to mention simultaneously clearing herself of the first murder). There's also the host of other crimes she committed, including burglary, theft, destruction of property, escape from custody, assault on a law enforcement officer, unlicensed possession of a firearm, transporting an unlicensed weapon across state lines, assault with intent to kill (all of them violating her parole, which would send her back to prison) and probably more, which could put her away for years themselves, perhaps even for the same time or longer than her original sentence.
  • In The Mighty Ducks:
    • Lawyer Gordon Bombay is charged with DUI. His boss Ducksworth tells him that he has "talked to" the judge, who has agreed to "suspend the disposition of [Gordon's] case" and sentence Gordon to community service (coaching the titular pee-wee hockey team). It isn't at all clear what exactly the judge has agreed to-the judge can't impose a sentence unless the defendant has either pleaded guilty or been convicted at trial. Presumably Gordon pled guilty to this after Ducksworth told him of the deal.
    • In an earlier scene, Gordon strikes a nerve with the judge by citing an appellate court case in which that same judge was overruled. But the case Gordon cites is called Minneapolis v. Higgins, which is an implausible name for a criminal case (in Minnesota, criminal prosecutions are always titled "State v. [Defendant's name]".) The only way this name would make sense is as a civil case in which the city of Minneapolis had been sued, lost, and then appealed-the trial case would have been Higgins v. Minneapolis (though it would be "City of Minneapolis"). It wouldn't be precedent in a criminal case, however.
  • Law Abiding Citizen:
    • The judge rules DNA evidence is inadmissible against the criminals who broke into Clyde Shelton's home and killed his family, later explained as one of the crime scene technicians having contaminated it. According to the DA, the "Exclusionary Principle" rules out most of the other valid evidence against them. The Exclusionary Rule would apply to evidence the police obtain in violation of the suspect's legal rights and any "fruit of the poisonous tree" (i.e. other evidence obtained as a result of what's been ruled as illegally obtained, not evidence that was compromised or mishandled after it was collected).
    • They should have been able to get both intruders convicted based on Clyde's testimony alone, even if the DNA evidence was contaminated. Ames seemed more likely to have rolled than Darby anyway, since he apparently didn't participate in the actual murders/rapes (though he would still be on the hook due to the Felony Murder rule) and appeared upset by them (though whoever rolls on their accomplice first often gets the deal).
    • While the City and County of Philadelphia are consolidated, which therefore gives the Mayor powers ordinarily wielded by the commissioners of other Pennsylvania counties, the District Attorney's office is independent. DAs in Pennsylvania are elected county officials, and the Assistant District Attorneys like Nick are county employees. The mayor of Philadelphia has no authority to fire an ADA, or promote an ADA to the position of county District Attorney.
  • Ocean's Eleven (the remake). There is supposedly a Nevada Gaming Commission law stipulating that casinos in the state are required to hold a minimum amount of cash on the premises, in the event that a high-roller strikes the grand jackpot. Not surprisingly, the title characters hatch a plan to exploit this. In real life? No such law is in place, since casinos would never dole out that much physical cash at once. They would start making payment negotiations for checks or electronic transfers after taxes are deducted, if for no other reason than the fact that the hypothetical high-roller would need a forklift truck to get the money out the door: $160 million in C-notes would weigh about 1.5 tons.
  • Wall Street:
    • While several actions noted as bad would count as immoral, the fact that the movie takes place a couple years before it was filmed means that several of the actions shown were not actually illegal during the film's time frame, despite Bud Fox's fears of losing his license or worse. In fact, Gordon Gekko most likely didn't break the law at all, but Bud Fox definitely broke the law by disclosing confidential information from his client (Gekko) to a competitor (Wildman) and using that information to cost his client millions.
    • It's a bit of a stretch for this trope perhaps, but in the final shot Bud is shown walking up the courthouse steps in Lower Manhattan's Foley Square, presumably to his sentencing. However, he's walking up the steps of the New York County Supreme Court building—i.e., state court, when the insider-trading charges he would be allocuting to within are strictly federal, and so he should have been walking up the steps of the Thurgood Marshall U.S. Courthouse next door.
  • Changing Lanes. Everything from leaving the scene of the accident to turning off credit accounts without cause by themselves would get a real lawyer disbarred, not to mention prosecuted. At the scene where two firm partners started colluding with Gavin to forge a signature on a document, any real lawyer will declare "You Fail Law Forever" and walk out, not just because they're breaking four different ethical rules, plus numerous laws, the senior partners are trying to cover up the mistakes of a junior associate...by breaking the rules themselves! Seriously, anybody who pens a movie about lawyers behaving badly could at least try to read the actual rules first.
  • In The Addams Family, Gomez challenges the (presumed fake) Fester's throwing his family out of the family estate and loses the case. While the court hearing is not seen apart from the verdict, the hearing is run by Gomez's neighbor, who rather obviously ruled against Gomez to get rid of him (being sick and tired of Gomez knocking golf balls through his windows), and in fact had been prepped to do so by Tully before the suit was filed. There is no way a judge with an easily provable association (positive or negative) with the plaintiff of a case would be allowed to judge that case in real life due to the massive amount of conflict of interest on hand.
  • In the remake of Miracle on 34th Street, when the villains move to have Kris Kringle forcibly committed, the entire commitment hearing hangs on Kringle's attorney proving that his client is not mentally ill at all. While that may have been the case when the original film was made, a Supreme Court ruling in 1975 states clearly that whether or not Kringle was simply mentally ill would be irrelevant to such a proceeding. The question would be whether or not he was a danger to himself or others. If he wasn't, he could believe he was Superman or Captain Nemo and it wouldn't matter. They couldn't commit him without his consent. He could still be charged (or more likely sued) for assault though. This is brought up and subverted in the original; the staff psychiatrist attempts to have Kringle committed based on his belief that he's really Santa Claus, but a geriatrician who works with Kris explains that this belief doesn't make him a danger to himself or those around him, so there's no need for such action.
  • 12 Angry Men:
    • The entire case, in real life, would have ended in a mistrial the moment it came to light that #8 had bought the exact same type of knife as used in the murder specifically to use in the deliberations. His wandering around the defendant's neighborhood conducting his own investigation is also major juror misconduct. He could be charged should it come out.
    • The judge (in the original film) does not say that capital punishment is mandatory in the case (as it was until 1963 in New York-the film came out in 1957), but that he would pass one if the jury delivered a guilty verdict. It wasn't up to him-he had no choice about it. The judge in the 1997 remake echoes the original line, stating that she will not consider pleas for leniency should the jury find the defendant guilty. However, nowadays the jurors decide what sentence the defendant should get too in capital cases after considering all the various aggravating vs. mitigating factors, following US Supreme Court rulings which struck down most of the capital punishment laws in the US. Without such a recommendation for death, the judge can't sentence the defendant to it. Given that change, this is nonsensical and legally meaningless (though it could mislead jurors, which thus might get any death sentence they passed overturned).
  • In the HBO movie Mistrial, a key witness, drug dealer Willy Sandoval, ends up not testifying against accused cop-killer Eddie Rios because he had agreed to testify in the first place because he had been arrested for drug possession, and had made a deal to avoid punishment in exchange for his testimony. Judge Friel, the presiding judge in Rios' trial, rules that Detective Donahue's search of Sandoval was illegal, and thus excludes the evidence against Sandoval, forcing the prosecutor to drop the case against Sandoval, meaning that Sandoval ends up not testifying against Rios. Where to start with this? First, Judge Friel would have had no jurisdiction over the Sandoval case, and therefore no authority to suppress evidence against Sandoval. Secondly, Rios and his attorney would have had no standing to move for the suppression of evidence against Sandoval. Thirdly, there would have been no case against Sandoval, precisely because of the deal he made for his testimony, and thus no reason or opportunity for Sandoval to move for the suppression of evidence against him. Fourthly, even if the evidence against Sandoval got tossed by some other judge, Sandoval is a career drug dealer. Does anyone seriously think this would have been the last time he was in trouble with the authorities? He was a key witness in the murder of two police officers. Don't you think the police would have offered to let him walk on future drug offenses in exchange for his testimony?
  • In The Fugitive:
    • Kimble commits many crimes along the way prior to his exoneration. In spite of being innocent of the original crime, he still might be going to prison for a long time over all of that. Then again, maybe not because of what's stated down below:
    • During the climax, the police officer in charge at the scene orders the sniper in the helicopter to kill Richard the moment he gets a clean shot. There are strict rules about when police officers are allowed to use lethal force, and those orders, given regardless of whether or not lethal force was necessary to subdue the fugitive at that time because of Kimble's status as an alleged Cop Killer, could be considered an order to commit murder. Especially since the shots fired ended up putting Gerard and the other Marshals on the ground trying to take Kimble in alive in fear for their lives. Then again, all of these instances would put forward the Unfortunate Implications that, since the real killer was an ex-Chicago Police Department cop, the police deliberately tampered with the investigation and trial, and then had been trying to kill Kimble, all to cover up the crimes of their colleague whom they fully well knew was guilty, and to silence a witness to police corruption.
    • The trial itself had its own issues:
      • Helen Kimble's 911 call starts with her saying "There's somebody in my house", and her last words before dying, "Richard... he's trying to kill me...", is treated as the most damning piece of evidence against Kimble. Helen was calling to her husband and begging for help, not identifying him as the killer. Richard knows this. His lawyer should have been able to convince the jury of it, or at least instill reasonable doubt.note 
      • There's also the issue of how Kimble was either at the hospital or on his way home when his wife was attacked (the time she was attacked would have been calculated by the coroner), which could be confirmed by any of the surgeons with him or anyone who saw him on his way home. In other words, Kimble's alibi could have cleared him if the exact time of death could be confirmed.
      • Of course, there is DNA evidence against him from his skin under her finger nails, plus the financial motive (though that's thin since he was already rich, as a character points out).
  • Primal Fear acts like avoiding prison by pleading insanity is getting off easy. In reality, the institutions for the criminally insane are in fact often more confining than prisons. And those committed can expect to stay there for a very long time. The doctors there do, in fact, understand that their patients are extremely dangerous.
  • In A Time to Kill:
    • Carl commits cold-blooded premeditated murder. He pleads temporary insanity (which is not a real defense-it's just insanity, temporary or not). The defense's closing argument does not mention insanity, but plays on the jury's emotions to convince them of justifiable homicide, after failing to prove insanity. And that's just the biggest example. Of course, they are not actually trying to prove insanity, and it's privately acknowledged several times that he knew exactly what he was doing. What they're trying to do is go for jury nullification, which no respectable judge would allow. Of course, the jury can still ignore his instructions, and once they acquit, no one can overrule them. It's very unlikely a Real Life judge would let him go through with his speech. However, in the book it's a juror who does the "imagine she's white" talk, while in the jury room, thus getting the rest to acquit. This could be punishable if it came out-jurors take an oath to follow the judge's instructions to consider only the evidence presented, so this might be considered perjury. Admittedly, it's pretty rare to actually prosecute such a case.
    • The prosecution also made a significant error when it placed Deputy Hastings (who had been accidentally struck by one of the assailant's bullets) on the witness stand and invited him to speculate as to the possible motives of the man who'd attacked him. At this point the defense was handed a gift-wrapped opportunity to pontificate at length about their client's anger and motivations on redirect, in a manner the judge couldn't stop even if he wanted to.
  • In Beverly Hills Cop, there is a great deal of discussion of how they can legally search suspected drug trafficker Victor Maitland's warehouse, and whether it is possible to get around a need for a search warrant. At one point, Axel Foley tells Det. Rosewood that he can't come with Axel and Jenny into the warehouse, because Billy is a cop in Beverly Hills and therefore needs a search warrant, such that if Rosewood comes with them anything they find will be ruled inadmissible on the grounds of it being the fruit of an illegal search. The problems with this are twofold: first, any judge with a triple-digit IQ is going to hold that Axel was acting as an agent of the Beverly Hills police, and therefore apply the same standards to him as to Rosewood. Secondly, they don't need a warrant, because Jenny Summers, who is with them, is the manager of Maitland's legitimate business interests and has a key to the warehouse, which she uses to admit them; this would make the search consensual. If the police are admitted to a place, such as a warehouse, and given permission to search there by a person who has been given access to the place by the owner, as Jenny has, then the search is reasonable on its face. That is, Jenny has the authority to consent to the search, and a consensual search does not require a warrant or probable cause.
  • In Dream Lover, main character Ray is committed to a mental institution when his scheming wife Lana makes him look crazy. He gets revenge by luring Lana in to visit him and killing her, proclaiming that since she's had him declared insane, he isn't legally responsible. As with Primal Fear, that might be the case (although it's hardly a given). Even if an insanity defense were successful, though, he'd likely go right back into the hospital, and might never get released.
  • Fracture has Ted Crawford (Anthony Hopkins) on trial for the attempted murder of his wife, who'd cheated on him. Due to various ploys, he has some of the prosecution's key evidence excluded and gets acquitted. Then, to make things worse, he decides to remove his wife from life support (who's in a coma since he shot her), as he's her next-of-kin. Young prosecutor Willy Beachum (Ryan Gosling) gets a court order to stop him, but hospital security prevents him from entering the room, and his wife dies. Beachum then finds some new evidence, and looks up exceptions to double jeopardy with which to file a murder charge against Crawford. The movie closes with Crawford on trial again, this time with the expectation that he'll get found guilty and justice will be served. First of all: security guards likely would get in trouble for stopping a person waving a court order.note  Aside from that, the supposed exception to double jeopardy doesn't hold up. Attempted murder is a lesser included offence to murder, meaning it merges with the other. Thus, if you're acquitted of one, it applies to the other as well. Collateral estoppel also prevents a party from re-litigating the same facts that were decided on previously. The Volock Conspiracy blog discusses all this here, including the fact that there was a lot more evidence against Crawford than was excluded which he could have been convicted on to begin with.
  • ...And Justice for All: It doesn't seem that Kirkland should be in danger of losing his license over telling the police his former client was probably the one forcing lit cherry bombs into people's mouths. Attorney-client privilege only applies to past crimes, and this was a crime the client fantasized about committing in the future. In that case, attorneys are actually required to notify the police of what their client plans.
  • Red Lights: It's quite unlikely Leonardo would get arrested when his act is exposed as fake, let alone imprisoned. The scene is obviously based on the debunking of faith healer Peter Popoff by James Randi, and not only was Popoff not prosecuted, his followers were outraged with Randi for exposing him (Popoff is still going strong to this day). In the same way, if the people hoodwinked were unwilling to press charges (very likely) he obviously wouldn't go to jail. These cases are notoriously hard to prosecute in Real Life, though Randi offers to testify for the prosecution if they do, and has done so before.
  • The Butterfly Effect: Evan wouldn't go to a regular prison, but county lockup, since he hadn't even been tried. The filmmakers knew this-it was cooler filming in a prison though.
  • In True Believer (1989), James Woods plays Eddie Dodd, a former radical attorney who's sunken to defending drug dealers. He seems to defend them solely by arguing for jury nullification, citing the invasions of constitutional rights in the war on drugs, and saying they should find his client "not guilty" in protest. In reality, the prosecutor would immediately object when he started on anything except the evidence presented, and the judge would sustain. No respectable judge allows lawyers to argue for jury nullification in front of them. It's also somewhat unlikely his client would get a new trial due to just one eyewitness coming forward to say someone else committed the murder (and a less than credible one at that). It's forgotten as well that, although he didn't commit the murder he'd been sent to prison for, he did kill another inmate during a staged death match. It's mentioned the prosecution will make a deal for that if he pleads guilty to both crimes early on, but then that's dropped when he goes to trial on the original murder charge instead. He gets acquitted of that, but not for the prison killing. Presumably that charge was dropped too, but it's never made clear.
  • The Violent Years: So the grandparents of an orphaned child have to specifically petition the courts for custody, and the same judge that just presided over a murder trial can turn them down because he thinks they're neglectful and a state orphanage is a better place for the baby than with an affluent family? In Real Life-even then-the judge would be overturned on appeal at warp speed, likely followed by a rebuke from the state judicial review board.
    • The judge then advises that families turn to the church, neglecting the idea that there are religions other than Christianity, much less the separation of church and state.
    • The judge also states that the man is an old friend, aka a clear conflict of interest that would never be allowed.
  • Discussed in Nancy Drew by an actor playing a detective on a TV series set in the 1950s (Bruce Willis in a cameo) who notes they have police in the show give Miranda warnings, which didn't come about until 1966.
  • Dirty Harry got hit with this bad when it came to Scorpio getting released from prison. Basically the only thing that would be inadmissible is his confession due to the fact that he hadn't been read his rights and had been tortured into giving it. Nothing else would be thrown out. Scorpio could've been arrested for assault, possessing a deadly weapon, and attempted murder. The evidence they found would be admissible under an "exigent circumstances" standard today, but at the time this had yet to be enacted by the courts. Scorpio also may not have had a constitutional right against unreasonable searches and seizures, given that he was squatting (the groundskeeper let him live in his shed, which isn't legal without permission by the stadium's owner). However, courts have held that even homeless people squatting in public parks have the constitutional right against unreasonable searches and seizures-the key is whether it can be considered their "house", even if they're squatting there, so that part's unclear.
  • Practical Magic: Without a search warrant, any evidence Gary collected would be deemed inadmissible in a court of law and thus could not be used against them. Not to mention that by repeatedly stealing Sally's mail, he is in fact committing a felony himself.
  • In Goodnight For Justice and its sequels, John Goodnight, a 19th century US circuit judge in Wyoming Territory is shown presiding over even murder trials without a jury, in blatant violation of the Sixth Amendment to the US Constitution. It's possible for defendants to waive this right (usually when they think a judge would be more sympathetic than a jury) but very unlikely that so many people did.
  • The 1987 film Rampage1987 portrays the case of an accused serial killer using the insanity defense fairly realistically until the end, when the jury finds him guilty. New evidence comes to light proving he has paranoid schizophrenia, causing delusions his blood was poisoned and that he needed to kill people for theirs. His defense attorney says (accurately) that it can be used as a mitigating factor when the jury decides if he should be sentenced to death or life without parole. But then the film ignores this, with the jury recommending that he be committed to a mental institution based on the new evidence, when their only legal options were death or life, having already rejected his insanity defense (Truth in Television: the insanity defense is successful only about 25% of the time, and is used in just 1% of cases. In some states it's also been abolished entirely). If they acquitted him by reason of insanity, then he would be committed (and, unlike the film's suggestion, most likely never be released). An appeal on the new evidence might be a possibility, but that's less dramatic (80's films apparently liked to show obviously guilty bad guys being freed on "technicalities", even when legally impossible).
  • In The Tortured, a young couple seeks revenge on their son's murderer, abducting him on the way to prison and taking him to a remote cabin where they torture him in a slow, agonizing manner. In a twist ending, it turns out that the prison transport was carrying two different prisoners, and they didn't abduct their son's murderer but the prisoner with him, whom they mistook because of the (unlikely) resemblance they had plus the facial injuries he suffered from the crash, while the murderer got away. This prisoner was only incarcerated for tax evasion and embezzlement, however, so he wouldn't be going to the same prison as a murderer sentenced to life without parole, meaning he shouldn't have been in a transport with one (they don't send prisoners convicted of tax evasion to the same prisons as murderers), negating the whole plot twist at the end.
  • In Doc Hollywood, the main character is taken to court for accidentally crashing into a fence on the property of a local judge, who tries the case personally. A judge cannot try a case in which he is the plaintiff or defendant, as that is an obvious conflict of interest.
  • Class Action. First, the eponymous lawsuit is not even a class action. A class action is when a group of similar plaintiffs combine their case as a class to sue particular defendants. The movie's case is actually a wrongful death suit brought by a single plaintiff whose wife died when her car caught on fire following a rear-end collision. It revolves around whether the defendant automaker knew the cars were defective. The problem is that automobiles are products, and product defect cases fall under strict liability. That means that the plaintiff does not have to prove that the defendant did anything wrong—they only have to prove that the cars were defective and that they were injured as a result. Furthermore, it would be trivially easy for them to prove that the cars were defective, since the cars did in fact burst into flames. The plaintiff would almost certainly prevail on a res ipsa loquitur (the thing speaks for itself) claim: the car burst into flames, ergo the car must have been defective. As such, on the facts presented in the film and not disputed by either side the plaintiff would almost certainly win on summary judgment, or even more likely the defendant would settle before the case got anywhere near trial.
  • The main character in Fatal Instinct makes his living by arresting criminals in his job as a police officer then getting them off in his job as a defense attorney. Defending criminals he arrested himself is a conflict of interest. Even moreso when one of those people happens to be your own wife! Fortunately, the film runs on Rule of Funny.
  • In The Chase, Jack Hammond is convicted of bank robbery after evidence that would exculpate him is excluded on the grounds that it was improperly collected from the crime scene by the police. This is an obvious absurdity: first, improper actions by the police can only prejudice the prosecution, not the defense. Second, mere errors in collection of the evidence would not normally raise constitutional (or statutory issues) that would lead to exclusion of the evidence. That is, if the evidence (blood left by the actual thief at the scene of one of the robberies) had been contaminated, that would not be grounds for its exclusion even if brought by the prosecution, unless the contamination left it completely useless so that it had no probative value whatsoever. The other side would be able to challenge the evidence, and the jury would have to sort it out.
  • Kramer vs. Kramer: The book Reel Justice notes that Ted's fear of Billy having to testify if he appeals is ridiculous, considering that an Appeals Court does not hear new evidence, and nobody testifies as a witness. Also, the "tender years" doctrine (that mothers are better parents than fathers of young children) was on the wane by the late 1970s, when the film came out, thus it's unlikely a judge would still make that the sole basis of his decision.
  • Witness for the Prosecution: Surely a barrister of Sir Wilfred's experience could have gotten Christine's testimony for the prosecution disallowed by arguing that since Leonard Vole did not know she was already married, that would make her his putative spouse and thus spousal privilege would still apply.
  • The Verdict: The defense should have been able to win at the close of Galvin's case by making a motion for "judgment as a matter of law" (i.e. the judge ruling in their favor as no rational jury could find against them). However that doesn't happen, and then Galvin puts on his surprise witness Nurse Kaitlin Price, who shows Dr. Towler was indeed negligent. Judge Hoyle then incorrectly rules that her testimony is inadmissible hearsay, though it fulls under the "admissions" exception. Topping it off, the "best evidence" rule (that when witnesses testify to the content of a document, it must be produced) gets utterly bungled, as the document (a photocopy that Price brings in showing that she altered an admissions form at Towler's order to cover up his negligence). To explain, the form is a photocopy of the original, and the best evidence rule requires that the original document be entered into evidence. The real problem was that the best evidence rule allows the exclusion of a copy of a writing; it does not bar a witness from testifying about what she wrote in the original document. Galvin does not even attempt to offer the document into evidence. Rather, he just asks the witness what she wrote in the document. Furthermore, there is an exception to the best evidence rule: when the original is unavailable owing to a bad act by the party against whom the copy would be offered. Here, the witness is claiming that she altered the original document under the threat of the defendant, but made a photocopy of the original before she did so. So in real life, the copy would almost certainly be admissible. As for the hearsay issue, while the admissions exception would apply to Towler's out-of-court statement to Price, the statement was not hearsay to begin with, because it was not being offered to prove the content of the statement; whether Dr. Towler would have actually had Nurse Price fired for refusing to alter the admissions form is completely irrelevant to Galvin's case. It is only hearsay when the out-of-court statement is offered as evidence for the truth of the statement.
    • Judge Hoyle, who was obviously in the defense's pocket, could have issued a judgment notwithstanding verdict]] nullifying the jury's decision, if only Concannon had asked for it.
    • And of course Galvin could have appealed and gotten a new trial based on the defense's misconduct in placing a mole in his office.
  • Presumed Innocent: It's unthinkable that the police wouldn't search for the murder weapon because "if they didn't find it that'd make Sabich appear innocent." Not finding it hurt the prosecution no matter what. Of course, this was necessary to the film's plot, since finding it earlier would have insured Sabich's conviction and prevented the twist ending. On that note, the dismissal of the case is unlikely, as there was plenty of evidence against Sabich remaining after one key piece was successfully discredited by his attorney with the implication that it was fabricated. Dismissing the case solely on this basis was suspicious, not only due to that but because Sabich's defense attorney had told the judge they knew he'd taken bribes. Sabich's attorney insists the judge didn't rule for them because of this, but it's left nebulous. The dismissal could get overturned if the prosecution appealed the ruling, and Sabich might be tried again on the same charges.
  • In Other People's Money, Kate never suggests to Jorgy some of the most common anti-takeover defenses, notably the poison pill or the crown jewel defense. The film was released in 1991, and is presumably set in the late eighties, except that by that time the takeover movement of the eighties was waning in no small part because of defenses like the poison pill. Any competent corporate attorney at that time would have suggested those defenses to her client, but Kate never does. Probably the filmmakers knew this but decided that, one, they didn't want to have to have Kate explain to the audience what a poison pill is, and, two, if Jorgy had used either of those defenses that probably would have been the end of it and there would have been no movie. The whole point of those defenses, after all, is that they can pretty much stop takeovers dead in their tracks.note 
  • Liar Liar
    • After Samantha Cole leaves Miranda's office following her introduction to Fletcher, Miranda tells Fletcher that Samantha's case is worth a lot of money to the firm, hinting that the firm is being paid a contingency fee since it's later revealed that a settlement offer has been made and refused, whereas if the firm were accepting a flat fee, the amount of Samantha's settlement would be irrelevant, and there would be no need to bring Fletcher in to replace the attorney who refused unethical behavior earlier in the movie. Attorneys are barred from accepting divorce cases on a contingency basis, unless it's a suit to recover past due alimony or child support.
    • Contracts with a minor are considered voidable, not void ab initio. A minor who enters into a contract can choose to void it, but if she turns 18, she only has a limited window in which to declare the intention to void the contract. This window is usually six months-for marriage in California, it is two years. Past this window, the contract is considered ratified and must be executed. Given Samantha Cole's age at the time of the divorce hearing, both her marriage AND the prenup should have been considered ratified. However, even if the marriage were valid but the prenup not, her husband clearly states that he "didn't know she was a minor!" At this point he could probably get an annulment on the grounds of fraud, reverting Samantha to status quo ante matrimonium - i.e., legally in possession of none of his wealth.
    • In addition to this, even in the unlikely situation that lying about being a minor on her wedding day (which is illegal if Samantha didn't have explicit parental consent) invalidated the prenup but not the marriage as well, all this really does is establish that Samantha's demands for alimony can't be rejected out of hand because of a clause in the prenup. Whether she is actually entitled to alimony, and how much, would be the decision of the court, and given that it was already on the record that 1: Samantha had been unfaithful to her husband, and 2: she had lied to her husband about being a minor when she married him, it's likely that the court would not look favorably upon her demands for a multi-million dollar alimony deal.
    • One scene is premised on the idea that the judge can't stop Fletcher from badgering a witness because "It's his witness." Of course, that might mean he could but won't, since objections to badgering usually come from the side whose witness it is. Possibly he was bewildered that Fletcher was badgering a witness into giving evidence against his client.
    • Fletcher's secretary claims someone broke into her friend's house, fell and injured himself in her kitchen and sued her with the help of a lawyer like Fletcher. Fletcher then claims he could have gotten him more. Such a suit is legally impossible, even in California — an intruder illegally entering a dwelling cannot sue for injuries caused by breaking and entering.
    • Samantha's husband's lawyer presents a tape recording to be used against her in court. Tape recordings are not admissible as evidence in a court of law, even though the content of the tape is irrelevant in her case.
  • The Incredible Hulk:
    • General Ross decides that undergoing a government-funded medical procedure makes the person who did so the property of the government. This would probably be considered slavery under the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.
    • Ross justifies his hunt for Banner by declaring him to be responsible for the deaths and destruction caused by Hulk's initial rampages (something he might have a good case for). This provides a legal justification for tracking down and apprehending the fugitive doctor. Unfortunately, it also makes it blatantly illegal for Ross himself to be part of that manhunt. The Posse Comitatus Act severely restricts (and in most cases, outright prohibits) the use of military personnel in law enforcement roles.
    • After finding evidence that Banner is in Brazil, Ross blatantly ignores the fact that they have had an extradition treaty with the US in place for over forty years and sends in commandos to retrieve him instead of going through the established channels to have Banner arrested and shipped home. This would cause a major international incident that could be considered an act of war.
  • In the 2009 version of The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, Ryder makes Garber confess to taking the bribe. People around him speak as if that is an actual confession, but no one brings up that this confession was made under duress - Garber would have a very solid case in any court of law to have that particular confession thrown out as evidence because if he continued to deny the allegations a man would have died - which is far worse than taking a bribe.
  • CinemaSins points out one from The Wizard of Oz: "How can you order the removal of a dog without any investigation into whether or not it was in fact the same dog that did the biting? For that matter, how do you issue this order but then have the victim carry out the eviction?"
  • In the Smokey and the Bandit movies, Sheriff Buford T. Justice seems to be under the wrongful impression that being in 'hot pursuit' means that he has the authority to pursue the Bandit wherever he goes. While that part of the hot pursuit doctrine does grant him the authority to chase Bandit over the county line (it was written so the police would not be hamstrung by red tape when dealing with criminals who immediately cross the border to another jurisdiction), it does not give him the authority to continue chasing him all the way across that county and into the next, and the next, and the next, ultimately resulting in a chase across multiple states. There is a point where Buford would be obligated to turn over the chase to people with either local jurisdiction for that region (the local sheriff) or simply a wider jurisdiction (state police or the FBI).
    • Though even that could cause some potential difficulties too, as at the beginning of the chase Buford didn't even have any proof that Bandit was doing anything illegal. Yes, Bandit was hauling several hundred cases of beer that was illegal to ship in bulk to that part of the country at the time (Coors was not licensed to do business in the southeastern US in the seventies, because they had yet to apply for said licenses), but Buford didn't know that. He was chasing the man for purely personal reasons. Making the entire pursuit illegal even within Buford's own jurisdiction.
  • The low-budget sci-fi movie R.O.T.O.R. bungles law as badly as it bungles everything else. To pick just one example, the conflict begins because the protagonist's benefactor, Senator Douglas, wants to unveil a new law-enforcement robot and ride the publicity to win a Presidential election in six months — or else he will have everyone associated with the project jailed for graft and corruption. Never mind that such a move would likely get the Senator in trouble as well,note  how would the Senator become one of the major parties’ candidates for President just a few months before an election?
  • John Q.: There is no way that John would only spend 2 years in prison for all his crimes in any reasonable court of law, whether or not his intentions were good. He's found not guilty of attempted murder and armed criminal action simply because there were no bullets in the gun, which would not hold up, because an empty gun is still considered a deadly weapon. The jury can ignore the evidence and acquit him, which is likely what happened here since he had lots of public sympathy, but that still doesn't explain getting only two years on multiple kidnapping charges. In many places kidnapping is punishable by up to a life sentence.
  • White House Down: The characters, particularly Carol, act as if invoking the Twenty-Fifth Amendment is some irrevocable order that essentially means they're writing the current president off as dead. In reality, this would only last as long as Sawyer was under duress, and his position would be his again as soon as the crisis was averted. Indeed, if they wanted to solve the situation, they shouldn't have made such a fuss over it and done it as soon as possible.
  • Persecuted: The film revolves around a bill called The Faith And Fairness Act, which will somehow force religious institutions to give all religions equal status (or something like that). As Hugo and Jake of The Bible Reloaded pointed out in their review, the bill (as far as they understood it, anyway) is hopelessly unconstitutional and would never get passed into law, or, assuming it somehow did, ever stand up in court.
  • The Accused: When one of the rapists is arrested and his rights are read, the "One Phone Call" line is dropped.
  • In Carefree (1938), legal proceedings (or threats of them) exist to drive the romantic plot and bear very little reference to real-world practices. All legal matters seem to be handled on a personal basis, as Judge Travers is a friend of both Stephen and Amanda.
  • Superman Returns: Lex Luthor gets off when the appellate court calls Superman as a witness and he doesn't show. First, appellate courts don't call witnesses or take witness testimony, they only review prior court cases to make sure they followed proper legal procedure. Second, if the appellate court did find a defect in the original conviction, it would result in a new trial. Third, even if the appeals court granted a new trial and Superman was unavailable to testify, that would be grounds for his testimony from the original trial to be entered into evidence.
  • A Few Good Men:
    • The prosecution would never be able to get to a jury with a murder charge. The victim, PFC Santiago, died after the two defendants tied him up and gagged him. The prosecution alleges that there was poison on the gag, and that that is what killed him. The problem is that the prosecution offers no real evidence for the existence of the poison. He puts a doctor on the stand who testifies that Santiago died of lactic acidosis, which could have been caused by poison, but who acknowledges on cross that the lactic acidosis could also have resulted if Santiago had had an undiagnosed heart condition, and that there was no trace of poison found on the gag. In other words, the only evidence for the theory that he died from being poisoned is the fact that he died; that would work if and only if the only reasonable explanation for his death is poison, but the moment the defense points out another reasonable possible explanation, the poison is pure speculation. At the close of the prosecution's case in chief, no reasonable jury could conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that there was poison on the gag. Since no one would reasonably anticipate that a healthy young marine would have died just from being tied up and gagged, no one could possibly have intended that outcome, unless the gag was poisoned. Intent to kill is an element of a murder charge, meaning that without that intent, the jury cannot convict. In fact, the prosecution could not even make out a case for voluntary manslaughter. Long story short, no poison, no murder, and the prosecution offers no real evidence for the existence of the poison. The judge should have dismissed the murder charges at the end of the prosecution's case. It's not very dramatic to have the top count of the indictment dismissed without ever getting to a jury, however, so of course the movie does not do that.
    • Related to that, there is Jo's infamous "I strenuously object" scene, which she justifies by saying that she got their objection to the doctor's testimony noted for the record. Objections spoken out loud during the trial are always noted for the record. Everything (with certain particular exceptions) said in the trial is supposed to be noted for the record; that's what the record is for.
    • At the end of the movie, Dawson and Downey are acquitted of the most serious charges, but convicted of "conduct unbecoming a Marine". This is a fictional charge that does not exist in real life. There's only "conduct unbecoming an officer" which doesn't apply as they're enlisted men.
  • In Inside Man, NYPD Detective Keith Frazier is ordered to drop the investigation into the bank robbery on the grounds that "nothing was taken" = "no crime was committed"... ignoring the fact that the hostage taking and associated actions could result in any number of charges - and surely the hostages would like someone to pay for what they've been through. However, at the same time, it could just be that Frazier's higher-ups, plus the media, found bigger fish to fry, since the faked heist resulted in a member of New York City's high society being outed as a former Nazi collaborator. Considering the field day the media's probably having once they find out about Case's connections, they'd probably laud the robbery team as akin to Robin Hood. Plus without any visible leads and no one pressuring the NYPD to actually look more closely for the gunmen, there wouldn't be much push to keep the case open. As for the hostages, they won't forget what happened, but they probably are either thankful to have survived or just as amazed and confused as anybody about what really happened.
  • In Criminal Law, defense attorney Ben Chase becomes aware that his client Martin Thiel is a murderer and has reason to believe he will commit further murders. At this point he should go to the police, since attorney-client privilege doesn't cover planned crimes, nor ones the attorney discovers on his own without the client telling him. Of course, he doesn't do anything sensible like that, but tries to prove his client guilty while simultaneously defending him in court. This is an unbelievable violation of professional ethics which he could be disbarred over, along with him also being charged for not reporting the client's earlier crimes.
  • God's Not Dead 2:
    • You cannot be sued for simply mentioning Jesus in a public school, especially if it's just responding to a student's question whether he taught nonviolence (public schools have comparative religion classes, you know). The case would have been dismissed, or a summary judgment entered for the teacher. Even if she were fired (which she could sue for) they couldn't take away her teaching certificate. Assuming the case somehow went to court, Jesus' existence would be legally irrelevant.
    • Students are allowed to pray in public schools. The law just prevents a government worker (aka a teacher) from leading it.
    • Practically everything that had to do with the court scenes. Examples are:
      • No experts brought forth on the other side of the case.
      • A preacher would most likely be stricken from the jury in a case like this, due to perceived bias in favor of the defendant.
      • The lawyer's grandstanding has him state that if Christianity has to be held to the same standards as all other rights then it isn't a right at all. As a lawyer, how does he not know of the 1st Amendment?
    • The case is brought to trial much faster than it would be in real life (cases like this can take years to resolve) and there's no attempt at out-of-court settlement (which is how most end).
    • Rather than having Grace be sued for mentioning Jesus, she could sue them if fired over it. Additionally, in real life her union would not simply let her be fired, but file a grievance and dispute her dismissal by the school.
    • As a practical matter, it's especially unlikely to have this happen in Alabama, a very conservative state. In fact, the opposite would be much more likely.
  • In the HBO original movie The Enemy Within, a remake of the film Seven Days in May, the President, discussing with Col. Casey the coup that the military and members of the President's cabinet are plotting, says that the coup-plotters will have to do something to give the coup "the illusion of legality". They then realize that they plan to use Section 4 of the 25th Amendment to the Constitution, which allows a majority of the cabinet to remove the President temporarily by sending a letter to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives saying that the President is unable to discharge the duties of his office; permanent removal requires a vote of two-thirds of Congress. It eventually comes out that the conspirators are banking on the fact that the President has become so unpopular that two-thirds of Congress will go along with his removal. The problem is that that's not the "illusion of legality", that's actual legality. That is, what the "coup plotters" in the movie are doing is perfectly legal. In point of fact, there is no reason whatsoever to involve the military. In the original film and in the novel on which it was based, both of which, incidentally, came out before the 25th Amendment was ratified, the military was planning a straight-up coup.
  • Suspect Zero: Mackelway retrieving a suspected serial killer illegally in Mexico would not result in him going free, unless he also somehow tainted evidence they needed to hold him (which isn't shown). In the 1800s the US Supreme Court ruled the manner of a suspect's delivery into custody was irrelevant regarding whether they could be tried. On the other hand, he might be disciplined or fired for this, and even charged with kidnapping by Mexican officials.
  • A small one occurs in Bridge of Spies. Attorney James Donovan informally discusses the sentencing of his client with the judge outside of court without the opposing prosecutor being present. This is called ex parte communication and is a serious breach of legal ethics, certainly unintentional given how much focus the movie gives on Donovan's refusal to compromise his integrity.
  • Lord of War: Interpol gets portrayed as something of an international FBI, with field agents who hunt down arms traffickers. This is not the case. Interpol serves as a network to coordinate the efforts of national police combating international crimes (including arms trafficking). It has no agents who can make arrests. Interpol primarily serves to put different national police agencies in contact with each other, maintain a criminal database and put out notices of wanted criminals. In any case, a US Army general would have no authority to have Interpol agents release an arms trafficker (which they would not be holding anyway). The same error crops up in Assassins, which had not only Interpol field agents conducting a sting, they also get compared with the CIA regarding their supposed influence.
  • Intolerable Cruelty: In America, if you were in your spouse's will before, but the two of you divorce later, the part of the will that left his/her property to you is automatically nullified.
  • Office Space: While the events of the film would probably prevent Initech from being able to track Peter down internally, he still had his photo taken at the ATM. Given that none of the participants had the rank at Initech to open an account in the bank's name (they're engineers, not bursars), and given how quickly the account drew money from Initech, it's likely that Peter should be expecting a visit from the FDIC over his obvious attempt at embezzlement.
  • My Cousin Vinny got a lot of things right about the legal system. It still had a few mistakes, though:
    • Vinny is licensed to practice law only in New York State. In order for him to be able to act as a lawyer in Alabama, a lawyer that can practice in Alabama would need to file a motion, and be a part of his legal team. But if this happened, there would be no movie.
    • Judge Haller had no legitimate reason to overrule Vinny's objection to Wilbur's testimony. While he can theoretically overrule it, the verdict would've almost certainly been overturned by a higher court simply for this reason, as this shows extreme prejudice against the defendants.
    • Although probably staged this way for humorous effect, a real police line-up would not have people with wide discrepancies between height, weight, build and facial features. Real police line-ups are made up of the suspect(s) and a couple of volunteers who look similar to the suspect in height, weight, build, skin color, hair color and general facial features so that when an identification is made, if it is the actual suspect, they are chosen because they are truly recognized by the witness(s).
    • When Bill and Stan get arrested, they're under the impression that they're in jail for shoplifting until Bill figures it out during the confession. Due to the Writ of Habeas Corpus, it's nearly impossible for someone in custody to go that long without being told what he has been arrested for.
    • The black lady on the jury (seen when Trotter talks of "our ancestors from England") also serves Vinny in the café during the lunch recess before his presentation of evidence. If she's on the jury, she would not have been allowed to leave the court to work, and least of all to serve the defense attorney.
    • Near the end of the movie, Judge Haller walks out of his office, and the sign on the door says "Probate Court". A Probate Judge would never conduct a criminal trial; murder trials in Alabama (and most states) are always conducted by Circuit Judges.
  • Terminator Genisys: Several times, you see San Francisco Police Department investigators being referred to as "detectives". The SFPD is unique among American law enforcement for not using the rank "detective"; anyone who's ever seen Dirty Harry can tell you that they go by the title of "inspector" instead. And even then, the rank of "inspector" has more or less been phased out, with people of that rank now being designated as Sergeants.
  • Obviously, there's no way a lineup like the one at the start of The Usual Suspects could happen in real life. It is lampshaded by several of the characters, especially Keaton (himself an ex-cop).
  • Ghostbusters (1984): The government is not allowed to simply shut down a business' without any due process (i.e. a hearing in court where defendants can tell their side). If it happened, they might have explained just why shutting down their machines would be a bad idea to someone reasonable.
  • The Siege: A suspect is detained for carrying a large amount of currency in his luggage - but a mere $20 under the $10,000 limit. This is not illegal, and as the scene details, wouldn't work anyway; the arresting officer simply added some of his own cash to put the suspect over the limit.

    Literature 
  • Alex Cross novel Alex Cross's Trial by James Patterson. The book is about a white attorney, Ben Corbett, coming to his hometown of Eudora, Mississippi and investigating lynchings and the Klan at the command of President Teddy Roosevelt, putting the book's date range between September 14, 1901 and March 4, 1909. The book fairly drips with examples of this trope. Here are a few:
    • In a town dominated by the Klan (which had been officially disbanded since around 1877 and which didn't exist in its modern form until 1915, but that's another issue) and in which the sheriff is a sincere member of the Klan, two "White Raiders" who have come to lynch an old black man and his granddaughter die—one by falling off the roof and the other by being stabbed in the back by the granddaughter. The granddaughter is not only not convicted of murder or manslaughter—she never even gets ARRESTED. It seems that Patterson forgot that self-defense is a plea the defendant makes in court, not an excuse for the cops not to arrest someone, and racist, Klan member cops would be especially unlikely not to.
    • Ben Corbett's father is appointed judge in the trial of the three surviving Raiders (yes, they were arrested by the sheriff who's a Klansman and who believes in what they're doing). This makes no sense, as Judge Corbett seems pretty low on the judicial hierarchy. Corbett tries traffic cases. And small claims cases between neighbors. This is a case of attempted murder. Newsflash, Patterson: Corbett is a judge of a small-town CIVIL court, not the judge of a county or state CRIMINAL court. Corbett's court doesn't have jurisdiction.
    • The sheriff tells another cop to read the surviving Raiders their rights. The concept of the Miranda rights didn't come into existence until the Supreme Court decision in the case of Miranda v. Arizona (1966). It's somewhere between 1901 and 1909. Miranda rights don't EXIST yet; Ernesto Miranda himself wouldn't even be born until the 1940s.
    • Ben, mid-trial, gets an idea: he and one of his friends will break into the photography offices of Scooter Williams, who takes pictures of every single lynching, and steal the photos and the negatives. Then he will bring the stolen pictures into court as evidence. This ignores several facts:
      • 1. Stolen pictures may be inadmissible. This may or may not be a handicap: most states didn't have a rule against this before Mapp v. Ohio, and even now it only applies to police or people acting as their agents. So they would be liable for burglary and theft, but the pictures could still be admitted.
      • 2. Even if they weren't stolen, the grisly pictures are horrible, yes, and they are certainly proof that lynching exists, which is what Roosevelt wanted Ben to find... but they aren't evidence of anything in this case. They DO prove that the men who went to the Crosses' house had attended lynchings. But they don't prove that these men went to the Crosses' to commit a lynching OR that they attacked the Crosses with intent to commit murder, and any first-year law student would argue as much...
      • 3. ...If the pictures weren't considered prejudicial to the jury and thrown out of the evidence list during preparations for the trial.
      • 4. And since the evidence lists are prepared before trial and are seen by attorneys for both sides, it's unlikely that the judge would accept new evidence mid-trial that the other side hadn't seen-even if the evidence was obtained legally AND proved that the defendants were guilty.note 
    • Moody Cross (the aforementioned granddaughter and Alex Cross's ancestor) is called to the stand and perjures herself by saying that yes, the Raiders had a search warrant and she agreed to let them in, and my goodness, she doesn't know WHY they attacked after that. Ben thinks that this changes everything because now the official story isn't that the Crosses fought men who were performing their legal duty, but that the Crosses acted like good citizens and admitted the representatives of the law, who then attacked them. He seems unaware that:
      • a) the stories the Crosses told and that the Raiders told would have been recorded in the briefs both sides filed with the court, so changing the story now would raise all kinds of questions about "Why are you changing your story? Were you lying then or are you lying now?"; and
      • b) there is STILL no physical evidence that proves that the Raiders attacked the Crosses and not the Crosses the Raiders.
    • When it's time for closing arguments, Jonah Curtis (the prosecutor) tells Ben to make the closing speech. Never mind that Ben isn't listed as an attorney for the prosecution, but as a prosecution witness, and therefore has no right to make the speech.
  • Jennifer Government is chock full of this. Highlights include penalty clauses in murder for hire contracts being legally enforceable (even while murder itself remains a crime) and it being perfectly viable to sue a person for property damage incurred by being thrown onto the property by a fleeing criminal. Justified by being set in a world where big business has suborned almost all functions of government and law enforcement.
  • In the Gordon Korman young adult novel Son of Interflux, toward the end of the book, one of Simon's crazy teachers shows up at a speech and, removing her coat, reveals what look like sticks of dynamite strapped to her body. When she detonates the "bomb", tinny music plays and a flag that reads "BOOM" pops out. When Simon's father indignantly demands that the police arrest the woman, they reply that there is no law against impersonating a deadly weapon. Except that there absolutely is such a law, in as many words-there are laws explicitly prohibiting making threats with fake bombs or other weapons.
  • The bizarre tragicomic ending of Mark Twain's "From the London Times of 1904," where it's determined that even though the defendant has been shown not to have committed the crime he's been convicted of, the conviction cannot be overturned, but since the crime wasn't committed, he can't be pardoned. The former is based on a French legal precedent, but the latter is implied to be preexisting law, even though even in the nineteenth century, actual innocence was a common reason for a pardon, to get around the more tedious process of having a court decision annulled, although such petitions for clemency were sometimes not accepted. The "precedent" cited was Alfred Dreyfus' conviction, which is unfortunately not fictional, however he was finally pardoned after the time this story was written.
  • One case handled by Lord Darcy has a man attempt to commit murder with black magic but fail because the intended victim was already dead at the time (Shot in self-defense by a woman the victim was attempting to rape). Darcy actually states that while the man obviously wasn't the murderer, it was possible to charge him for attempted murder since he had indisputably tried to do it, as per "Shoot The Dead Guy" above.
  • In Eight Million Gods, the main character's mother keeps trying to have cops track her down and throw her in an insane asylum. The character's mental condition is OCD. Specifically, a compulsive need to write horror fiction. This is clearly not a condition that puts herself or anyone else in danger. In fact, it's arguably beneficial, since she's been making a living off of the royalties of the books her compulsion creates. It's implied that her mother gets away with this because she's a wealthy politician with lots of influence.
  • In Regina's Song, the Seattle Slasher is placed in protective custody but not actually arrested when the police find out who she is. This is because they are obliged to read suspects their rights on arresting them, and make sure that the suspect understands those rights, and since their suspect was completely incoherent at the time, they couldn't be certain she understood her rights. While the police are obliged to make certain that suspects understand their rights when they read them, police only need to do this if they intend to use any statements made by the suspect as evidence, and they didn't need to in this case. They had more than enough physical evidence to convict (the murder weapon with the killer's prints and the latest victim's blood all over it in her purse). In any case testimony that is lisped in a self-invented language nobody else speaks would not be admissible evidence in court, for the simple reason that nobody in the court would be able to understand a word the defendant was saying.
  • In virtually every Encyclopedia Brown book, Bugs Meany tries to frame Encyclopedia for something, only for the other boy to prove that the accusations are bogus. Knowingly filing a fraudulent criminal complaint is a crime in and of itself in 99% of police jurisdictions, so Bugs' attempts to get the police chief's son arrested for crimes that never happened should have gotten him arrested and thrown into a juvenile detention facility by the end of the third book.
  • In The Fountainhead Howard Roark is allowed to argue that his blowing up of a building (because his design for it had been changed) was justified and for the jury to acquit him (they do). No judge would permit him to argue for this, which is called jury nullification (ignoring the law even when the defendant is plainly guilty of violating it).
  • In Anita Blake the various vampires and werewolves and other supernatural creatures (except for demons) are all supposed to be taxpaying US citizens. Okay, fair enough. But then Jean-Claude regularly has people summoned to his presence by the expedience of sending a heavily armed thug (Anita) or a powerful vampire (Asher) to retrieve them, often against their will. That's kidnapping. But no one ever thinks to call the cops afterward.
    • Likewise, the entire idea that a vampire or werewolf has to get "permission" from the local vampire lord or werewolf pack leader before moving into a new territory is also a violation of civil rights. One can imagine a vampire or werewolf who is new to the Saint Louis area, and who has been harassed and/or threatened because they didn't get approval first suing Jean-Claude or Richard Zeeman for their entire net worth because of civil rights violations.
    • In this case, however, no one ever actually questions that what Jean-Claude does is technically illegal. Within the story, vampires were only recently granted legal rights by a Supreme Court decision, and had been accustomed for centuries to governing their own affairs by their own laws and customs, while human society treated them as outlaws, that is, totally outside the protection of the laws. They are, in effect, still operating as self-governing ongoing criminal conspiracies, but since the people whose rights under American law are being violated are generally themselves believers in this underground vampiric society, few even think to complain. To put it simply, one of the major themes of the novels is that the US government and the government of Missouri (the series is set in St. Louis) have enormous difficulty making their respective writs run in supernatural society.
  • An invocation gets lampshaded in The Shadow Throne. A nobleman begs the newly-crowned Queen to leave the company of the traitorous common-born Deputies-General to return to the side of her loyal nobles. The Queen acidly points out that as Queen, the authority to decide which side of a civil war are the traitors lies solely with her.
  • The Da Vinci Code: Dan Brown seems to be under the impression that all it takes to extradite a British national from their own country is for a foreign law enforcement agent to make a call to a local police officer. Also he seems to think that said local police will simply detain the suspects until the foreign police arrive to make the arrests themselves.
  • Looking for JJ and its sequel Finding Jennifer Jones by Anne Cassidy are based around an English teenage girl being released from jail with a new identity, having served time for the murder of her friend. A large part of the story is based around her attempts to keep her new identity from being made public; but she is eventually exposed by a journalist anyway. In the real world UK, the courts should prevent any details of her identity or whereabouts from being made public - as evident in a real-life case around the time of the book's publication, where the press were forbidden to give details of the new name or home of a released prisoner involved in a highly publicised murder.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Any series set in Britain where someone "claims" the right of trial by jury. Not so fast. In the UK, trial by jury is mandatory (murder, rape, etc) for some major offenses, but for many others, the prosecution will decide whether to prosecute in summary or solemn proceedings. The caveat to summary proceedings, where the role of finder-of-fact is performed by a judge, is that the court's sentencing powers are severely limited (hence why serious crime is tried in solemn proceedings).
    • Similarly, anytime someone in the US talks about "trial by a jury of (my) peers". The phrase is not found in the Constitution or the amendments, its actually from the Magna Carta, and refers to the right of noblemen to be judged only by other noblemen ("peers of the realm" as they were called) not commoners or the king's judges acting alone.
  • Accused, a British TV show where each episode opens with a person on trial (not always for murder, either) and then reveals through flashbacks how they got there, contains one example. In the second episode, it's a British soldier who served in Afghanistan. Problem is, the crime he's accused of occurred in Afghanistan on a British military base, against a fellow soldier, yet he's put on trial in a civilian court back in the UK. Any crime on a military base, committed by a soldier, against another soldier, would fall under military jurisdiction and be tried by a military court.
  • All in the Family: One episode contained probably Hollywood's worst misunderstanding of Miranda rights ever. And considering how badly Hollywood usually understands that subject, that's saying a lot. In that episode, Archie is mugged and reports the crime to the police. The police catch the perpetrator and read him his Miranda rights in perfect English after the arrest. However, they have to release him because the mugger didn't understand a word of English. As stated in "Common Examples" above, that's NOT how Miranda rights work.
  • On Bones, Diplomatic immunity is badly abused in two cases.
    • In the first, a diplomat is threatened with being returned home to be prosecuted, in which case she'll be put in prison and killed by other inmates. To avoid this, she waives immunity. Too bad for her, immunity belongs to the state, not the individual, so she can't actually waive her own immunity.
    • Later, villainous hacker Christopher Pelant falsifies records to claim Egyptian citizenship, without any mention of him actually having (fake) diplomatic status. Somehow, all Egyptian tourists are diplomats now, and the Egyptian government is hot to protect a guy they just now heard of from standing trial for murder.
  • From the Boston Legal page. Please note that David E. Kelley is a former lawyer, and as such, he chucked realism under Rule of Funny.
    • Even non-lawyers know that lawyers can't meet with judges ex parte, and that evidence has to be relevant to be admissible.
    • Once the show brilliantly lampshaded and subverted this. When a judge asked why both parties in a case were being represented by lawyers from the same firm (an impermissible conflict of interest in real life, of course), Denny said "It saves on guest cast".
    • One episode featured the lawyers representing the estate of a soldier killed in Iraq, under a state law fraud theory in state court due to misrepresentations by the recruiter. Everything about this is wrong: the federal government can't be sued on a tort theory in state court, the federal government can only be sued for a tort like fraud under the Federal Tort Claims Act, the government is immune to tort suits surrounding military operations, the Feres Doctrine would bar the suit in any event, and the FTCA also exempts the government for causes of action that accrue overseas. All of these mistakes are in one storyline of one episode.
    • Another one featured Alan's assistant refusing to pay her federal income taxes. She was charged criminally, and argued that she didn't pay because she disagreed with various government policies. Alan then asked the jury to return a not guilty verdict for that reason, and they did so. Perhaps needless to say, that's not a valid defense, such evidence would never be admitted, and Alan's argument would also not be permitted. There are many real life cases on this issue, because so many out there are eager to not pay their taxes.
    • An entire trial in L.A. Law was dedicated to ridiculing the idea of a tax-protester who refused to pay his federal taxes because of silly government programs like measuring cow-flatulence etc; the jury just told him the obvious moral (i.e. "preachy message") of the story: that "the little people" only had the right to vote against policies they don't like-otherwise they should just shut up and pay their taxes (that would be the law's position too).
    • Carl Sack and Lorraine represent Nantucket, Massachusetts when they want to build a nuclear bomb for protection. Any real judge would throw that out of court instantly and then order the lawyers to be examined for mental reasons.
  • Sam Puckett on iCarly is arrested for assaulting an ambassador and gets off scot-free and never has to deal with the issue. Rule of Funny obviously applies.
  • Columbo utilized the same Hollywood Law trope in every episode— while also being something of a Jerk Ass: Columbo would basically disguise his surveillance of a suspect, by pretending to simply question the person as a witness— nonstop throughout the episode. In this manner he would thus badger, harass and trick the suspect into revealing evidence that would eventually convict them. This is highly illegal, breaching many various civil and ethical protections against police abuse and harassment; however, even when suspects complain about Columbo's nonstop harassment in order to end it, this proved no avail, as Columbo would simply claim that it "proves" that the person is guilty, and that "he's touching a nerve." This made Columbo into more of a Vigilante Man than a policeman, since he was always right, and never incorrectly harasses an innocent person: however in reality, the law is not made to presume that the police are always right, but to protect the citizen's presumption of innocence. For evidence why this is necessary, you need only look at people who have been wrongly convicted of crimes due in part to overzealous police and prosecutors who are completely sure of their guilt.
    • This fits the mold of most "Cop Shows," i.e. the police are always right, even when torturing suspects (e.g. Sipowicz in NYPD Blue). The moral is that it's smart to trade liberty for security, since the villain always uses his rights to get Off on a Technicality through Loophole Abuse.
    • Columbo also had a bad habit of tampering with evidence. The way he handled evidence, there was no chain of custody and most of what he would try to admit wouldn't be permissible in court because he would just walk around, pick something up, put it in his pocket, and keep it there until he was ready to share it with the murderer.
    • In one instance, Columbo is visiting the suspect - lawyer Oscar Finch at his office. While waiting in the office for the guy to come in, Columbo takes a piece of gum out of the wastebasket. Later he shows it to the suspect, as well as the piece of bitten cheese from the crime scene.note  Problems include: the wastebasket was in the office, and does not come under the 'garbage is public property' ruling; the trash has to be out at the curb, in a dumpster, etc. Also, any real forensic detective would have fits at Columbo hauling around a vital piece of evidence like that cheese like that, in a plastic bag, without even an evidence label. Broken custody chain of evidence = darn near impossible to use in court.
    • It's joked that perhaps these errors on Columbo's behalf are the reason he's always been a lieutenant and never been promoted.
  • Frasier often uses the trope of "the legal victim."
    • In a famous episode, Frasier and Daphne are sued by jilted super lawyer Donny Douglas, for "breach of (marriage) contract" (Daphne's last-minute refusal to marry Donny) and "tortious interference in a private contract" (via Frasier's meddling). Breach of promise of marriage is not grounds for a suit anymore in most jurisdictions. Washington state had also ended punitive damages in suits at the time Donny sought them in his. It also could only be applied against the man who broke his promise to a woman, never against a woman who broke her promise to a man. note  Also, it is incorrect terminology, since Daphne had never actually entered into any contract. Donny, a lawyer, should have known he himself could be sued for doing that (it's called abuse of process). It's also not "tortious interference" for someone to urge a would-be bride to not go through with the marriage (which is not a contract by itself).
    • Likewise on an earlier episode, Frasier was deliberately sold a counterfeit painting for $60,000, but is told the police "have their hands full with murders and robberies" so apparently they can't be bothered to investigate this. While it's stated that he could sue, Martin tells him that he'd end up losing more money than he paid for the painting that way. In reality the police tend to take fraud and grand theft very seriously, particularly against a rich and influential person such as Frasier, while Martin-having connections due to being a former cop-likely could pull strings to get the case handled quicker as well.
    • Martin, a former police detective, also recounts a Miranda Rights example, where he lied about having fully read them when the suspect actually broke free mid-way through and he had to chase him down. As shown above, the failure to Mirandize does not make an arrest invalid, and even if it did, the interruption was the suspect's fault, so he had no need to lie about it at all. Martin also says he saw the suspect shoot someone, and so his Miranda Rights would be utterly irrelevant.
  • Law & Order:
    • One episode had Jack McCoy team up with a judge to get a drunk driver convicted of multiple counts of first-degree murder as part of the judge's crusade. Jack went so far as to blackmail a witness into being out of the country during the trial and suppressed all evidence that the guy was drunk off his rocker when he committed the crime, with the judge DeusExMachinaing on Jack's behalf all the way. Fortunately, during the trial, Jack came to his senses, and started to show the evidence that the guy was drunk (and so was guilty of Manslaughter, but not murder). The only reason the judge didn't report Jack's abuses in the trial was because he was in as deep. In that one, at least, they acknowledged that what McCoy and the judge were doing was wrong, and it's brought up several times later on as an example of McCoy's willingness to engage in improper conduct if he thinks he can get away with it (nowadays lots of drunk drivers have started to face murder charges, so they could do this legally if the episode were written more recently).
    • In an older episode, a guy beats his girlfriend (with her consent) to cause a miscarriage and frame the rich lawyer they intended to sue, taking careful measure to ensure the fetus was under 24 weeks old so they could avoid going to prison. Ben and the others act like there is nothing they can do and have to use all sorts of legal loopholes, never mind the original couple conspired to commit blackmail, perjury, defamation, entrapment, and fraud.
    • Too many examples to list, but whenever a judge tosses out evidence against the defendant early on during a trial to make the case that much harder for the prosecution, though the defendant will often get their just desserts in one way or another. However, one prominent example comes to mind:
    • "Hubris": A warrant is issued to search the suspect's apartment but the courier hasn't brought it yet. Knowing the suspect will get there before the warrant, Det. Green sticks a toothpick in his lock to keep him from entering. The courier arrives a few seconds later and the police bust in and seize a videotape of the murders. The judge tosses the tape since the police secured the area before they had the warrant (even though they had reason to believe he'd destroy the evidence and were well aware the warrant had been issued). Then the judge allows the defendant to do two things he shouldn't have: call an alibi witness to perjure herself and take the stand to testify on his own behalf. Not only were the tapes admissible to cross-examine both of them but the defendant was clearly guilty of perjury considering he was representing himself and had personal knowledge he was suborning perjury. It is also totally legal to secure a scene if there's a concrete possibility that the evidence will be removed, destroyed, or otherwise endangered before the search warrant arrives. What the police can't do is start poking around, looking in drawers and such, before the warrant arrives.note 
    • In "Patient Zero," a man is charged with killing his mistress's child (dosing them with stolen SARS virus that she survived). His wife testifies that she was with him at the time, but breaks down on the stand and changes her story a couple of times. Outside the courtroom, she admits that she was deliberately playing the jury, and the jury returns a not guilty verdict because they can't be sure what the truth is. McCoy and Southerlyn watch the husband and wife walk out of court hand-in-hand, and are apparently so bewildered by their defeat that they completely forget they have an iron-clad case for perjury against the wife. Not to mention completely ignoring the handful of felonies the husband committed in getting the SARS virus to begin with.
    • In "Gunshow," the season ten premiere, a gunman opens fire on a crowd in a public park, killing over a dozen people. Once arrested, he confesses to the police. The judge in the case, however, excludes the confession on the grounds that the suspect's mother had told Lt. van Buren that she was calling a lawyer for her son, and that the police therefore had no right to continue the interview, since the suspect's right to counsel had been invoked. The problem is that the suspect was not a minor, and, as such, his mommy could not invoke his right to counsel for him. If he was properly Mirandized, and did not invoke his right to an attorney, nor his right to remain silent, then the police had every right to continue questioning him. The only reason for this was so that McCoy would end up prosecuting the gun manufacturer instead note  in one of the more Anvilicious (to say nothing of asinine) episodes in the show's run.
  • Law & Order: Special Victims Unit:
    • In "Crush", the DA forces detective Benson to arrest a teenage girl on child porn charges (for "sexting" pictures of herself) in an effort to coerce her into testifying against an attacker. When she does so, the DA attempts to drop the charges, but the judge overrules her and sentences the girl to several years in prison. While the end of the episode reveals that the judge was corrupt, this has two problems. First, the arrest was an obvious case of Malicious Prosecution, which is a felony, and was one of the few cases (it's a notoriously difficult charge to prove in most jurisdictions) in which it would be an open and shut case. Second, even in juvenile court, the judge has no power to do any of that.
    • SVU has far more. Best one is evidence getting tossed because the man was part of a conspiracy with a lawyer and a thug and knew where the body was. Attorney-client privilege was used to toss it. Privilege doesn't work like that, especially if its a conspiracy a lawyer is involved with, and even more so if a third person who's not a spouse was privy to it as well. As was explicitly pointed out on the mothership, at least once.
    • In "Popular", a nurse cites doctor-patient privilege in refusing to talk with Detective Stabler when she treats a middle school girl who claims her teacher raped her. Captain Cragen, Stabler's wife and even the victim herself give Stabler grief for bothering to do his damn job and investigate the rape; even Stabler treats the whole thing like he's breaking procedure because the privilege is so sacrosanct. Doctor-patient privilege does not cover evidence of a crime: when a medical professional comes across evidence of things such as child abuse, they are required by law to report it to the authorities. A clear-cut admission from their patient would leave them with no wiggle room whatsoever for neglecting their duty in this case.
    • In "Manipulated", the detectives use a facial recognition program to compare a picture taken on the street to the DMV records for driver's licenses. The judge later throws this out, claiming that the technology was too inconclusive and all the subsequent evidence was tainted. A person has no privacy expectation in a picture taken on a public street or their driver's license photo, so comparing them to each other cannot possibly be a violation of the 4th Amendment. Without a violation, the tree isn't "poisoned" and the remaining evidence is acceptable. What's more, the unreliability of the technology bears upon its admissibility at trial, but they don't need the computer match at trial-once the computer found the picture, the detectives confirmed it by the eyeball test and the suspect's admission. Even further, they already knew of the suspect because he was the husband of the victim's boss and they had an easy argument for inevitable discovery (they would have recognized him from the photo given time).
    • In "Presumed Guilty", even after it was revealed that Fin's ex-brother-in-law had been stopping the attack against Fr. Shea, he is still labeled a vigilante, and the Obstructive Bureaucrat DA says he had no business assaulting someone while on parole, but should have just called 9-1-1. In Real Life, the law recognizes the difference between vigilantism, which is illegal, and defense of a third party, which is not. If you see a crime, such as a burglary or vandalism in progress, and you assault the criminal, or you assault a criminal after a crime has been committed, that is vigilantism. If, however, you see someone being assaulted, you are well within your rights to intervene, even if you literally have to fight off the assailants. (N.B. In some jurisdictions, you had better make sure the person you are helping is actually the victim.)
  • Matlock turned the Cornered Stool Pigeon into a Beaten Dead Horse; in every episode, Matlock would simply corner the witness with new and unaccepted evidence, which he had not previously shared with the prosecution, and basically convict the person on the spot with some ridiculous Deus ex Machina.
    • There was even an episode called The Juror that was basically 12 Angry Men Matlock version.
  • Monk:
    • Monk, even though he's a private consultant, would technically be considered a full-fledged law enforcement agent if the case in question is one brought to him by the SFPD.
    • In "Mr. Monk and the Captain's Wife," Captain Stottlemeyer is in charge of the investigation into the shooting of a tow truck driver, during which Stottlemeyer's wife Karen collided with the tow truck and was knocked into a coma. Although Leland has an interest in finding the man responsible, he would have to recuse himself from the investigation in real life because of the severe conflict of interest at hand.
    • In "Mr. Monk and the Bad Girlfriend", Monk searches Linda Fusco's house and finds evidence that implicates her in the shooting of her business partner. Because Monk essentially broke in and wasn't carrying a search warrant, any evidence he found would probably be rendered inadmissible in court. The evidence in the house did lead Monk to discover a rental truck in a police impound yard that turns out to contain a fake bedroom set Linda constructed for her alibi. Due to its location, it's possible that the truck and any evidence inside it might be admissible under the "inevitable discovery" rule (since it's very likely the contents would have to be inventoried at some point).
    • There's no way Roddy Lankman's cheating scheme on the game show Treasure Chest in "Mr. Monk and the Game Show" would be able to go on for as long as it did. Most game shows generally have people on set who are put there to watch for evidence of rigging and make sure the show is fair to everyone. Not to mention, ever since the quiz show scandals of the 1950s (after several contestants came forward revealing they were being coached the answers to questions), Lankman would be running afoul of federal laws that make it a crime to rig a game show. In fact, Monk's father-in-law would probably be obligated to tell the federal authorities first and then bring Monk in if they couldn't find anything.
    • In "Mr. Monk and the Man Who Shot Santa Claus," Monk and the team are trying to investigate a crime scene while a crowd is jeering at Monk for his shooting and wounding of a man dressed in a Santa suit a few days earlier. At one point, someone throws an egg that hits Natalie. Stottlemeyer appropriately does get angry at the crowd and immediately has Monk and Natalie escorted away by officers for their protection. However, given the egging happened while Natalie was inside the crime scene perimeter, and given that the crowd's jeering was distracting cops inside the crime scene, Stottlemeyer could also legally have had the entire crowd arrested for interfering with a police investigation.
    • In "Mr. Monk Goes to the Bank," Stottlemeyer and Disher are shown as being in charge of the investigation into a bank robbery. While the SFPD in real life would probably investigate a bank robbery so far as being first responders, taking initial witness statements and securing the crime scene, they would not be the lead investigating agency on the case; the FBI would, as banks are federally insured.
  • In Northern Exposure, a young Jewish doctor named Joel Fleischman (Rob Morrow) goes to medical school for free, in exchange for agreeing to practice in an Anchorage, Alaska, hospital for four years. However when the contract falls through and he is released from it, he then finds that the Fine Print sentences him to a 15-year prison sentence, if he fails to practice for four years in the boondock town of "Cicily" instead (the legality of which is likewise confirmed by an Amoral Attorney). Such a contract is not only legally impossible, but would in fact constitute involuntary servitude under the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution-needless to say this is completely illegal. Insult is added to injury, likewise, when the doctor later learns that the contract somehow binds him to five years of practice, rather than four (actually a shallowly disguised plot device to extend the series). In addition, the doctor is threatened with death by a Vigilante, if Fleischman tries to break it. In actuality, the doctor could only be subject to civil suit for damages, as well as possible revocation of his medical license; and a death threat naturally is a crime by itself. While this would sway most people, the writers clearly chose to pursue Hollywood Law (as well as Vigilante Execution) as the first in a long series of many tropes which would later characterize the series.
    • Actually, it's not at all clear that the doctor would even be subject to a civil suit for damages. Personal services contracts are notoriously difficult to enforce. If the contract had a liquidated damages clause that the court held not to be excessive, the plaintiff would be able to get those damages, but that would probably be it. Alternatively, they might be able to get restitution damages, that is, the return of the money spent on his tuition, but that would be about it.
    • Furthermore, the obligor of the contract was the State of Alaska, which therefore would be in breach for unconscionability and unequal bargaining-power against a lay individual with limited resources to contest the contract (Fleischman). Fleischman clearly did not agree to the terms deduced by the series, but only agreed to practice in Anchorage, not Cicely or other "under-served areas;" but the law was trumped up in order to suit the series narrative.
    • The legal errors could be overlooked due to the fact that Fleischman got his legal advice from his girlfriend, who was not even a lawyer but a law student, and could have been acting under a Wizard of Oz premise that he "could have gone home at any time, but he wouldn't have believed it." However later in the series he did consult with an actual lawyer, who declared the contract "bulletproof."
  • In a British example, an episode of Rumpole of the Bailey ended with a revelation after Phyllida Trant Erskine-Brown was going to "leave the Bar" if certain offers were made; she did so by becoming a judge. Cut to a scene of her presiding over a case and giving her husband Claude Erskine-Brown a hard time; a judge would not be allowed to preside in a case where her spouse is appearing (it's a conflict of interest). This is a rare example for Rumpole, which was written by John Mortimer, an experienced barrister who knew all the ins and outs of the legal system; it's probably because Claude was a regular character and Phyllida had been a regular, and the sight of Phyllida presiding over the hapless Claude was too good a joke to miss.
  • Another British example is Judge John Deed. Shall we count the ways?
    • The eponymous judicial hero allows the jury to 'reconsider' their verdict on the basis of what the accused says just before sentence is passed. They change their minds and let him go.
    • Judge Deed is sleeping with a pretty barrister, has a barrister for an ex-wife AND a barrister for a daughter (eventually). All three appear before him, with no one mentioning the clear conflict of interest at hand.
    • After realizing the whole establishment is out to get him, said Judge begins a very public crusade to get the Home Secretary (a very senior politician) fired. In fairness, the Home Secretary is a complete ratbag who takes bribes from people who arrange the murder of a dangerous witness and make at least two attempts on Deed's life. From outside Deed looks like Hollywood Law, from inside he looks like The Last DJ.
    • After deciding that a jury has been tampered with, Judge Deed decides that they should have found him guilty and, without any investigation as to jury tampering at all, puts the suspect in jail so there can be a retrial. The defense barrister is completely ignored, even after saying the magic words of "habeas corpus" and asking for directions to the Court of Appeal.
  • Seinfeld:
    • The series finale; Good Samaritan laws do not work that way. There is so much wrong here we made a list:
      • They're to ensure someone who helps an obviously ill or injured person cannot be sued later for unintentional injury or death, as is the case in Massachusetts. Even the compulsory good Samaritan laws only apply to people who are injured or ill, not being threatened by a mugger. If anything, the Seinfeld cast should have been commended for getting pictorial evidence of the crime.
      • The punishment for violating a compulsory good Samaritan law is a small fine ($100-$300) with no jail time, and, as already explained, stopping a mugging is not covered by any real Good Samaritan law. In fact, the arresting officer states "within reason". Random strangers stopping any crime, much less a mugging, is not reasonable, especially when a police officer is at the scene the entire time.
      • Regardless of how the Good Samaritan law itself is written, bringing in dozens of "character witnesses" to recount every misdeed the defendants have ever committed is still incredibly illegal under U.S. law. note  The writers probably knew this and simply exaggerated the idea and played it for laughs.
      • The police officer that arrested them only did so by watching the entire robbery, doing nothing about it, and then arresting four bystanders/witnesses to a violent crime with video evidence, for not doing his job, even with a completely fictional representation and gross exaggeration of actual laws.
    • Interestingly, Massachusetts has a "Duty to Rescue" law (often incorrectly referred to as Good Samaritan Law despite being completely unrelated), but it is explicitly a duty to report, not a duty to aid.note  Since a police officer was at the scene almost immediately, they are not responsible to do anything. On top of this, Duty to Rescue laws are often ignored by lawmakers, law enforcers, courts and the general public, so any conviction for violating one is extremely unlikely.
    • In The Bottle Deposit, Newman and Kramer try to return bottles in Michigan for the higher deposit. Michigan prohibits out of state bottle returns, and limits returns to $25 a piece, though this is probably justified since Kramer and Newman weren't thinking beyond getting the bottles there.
    • Also in "The Bottle Deposit", Jerry's insurance company refuses to acknowledge his car was stolen on the basis that he willingly surrendered the keys, meaning he has no financial recourse if his car is not recovered. The police investigating it certainly think it's a theft. Then again, insurance companies are infamous for making up the most ridiculous reasons to avoid paying out a claim.
    • In "The Bris", after a suicidal mental patient jumps off the roof and lands on George's car, the Hospital Administrator refuses to pay for repairs and even chastises him for trying to "profit from a tragedy". The hospital is entirely at fault for the accident (roof access should be restricted just like razor blades should be confiscated), and George is well within his rights to demand they pay, even filing a lawsuit. In fact, he could provide testimony in court for the patient's family should they file a lawsuit. Of course, in this case, the administrator could have just been trying to weasel her way out of paying, and George was cowardly enough to buckle under her intimidation and not attempt an actual lawsuit, especially since she gave him the impression that doing so would make people see him as a heartless monster.
  • United States Of Tara: During the first season, Kate tries to bring a sexual harassment complaint against her boss. It's dismissed because their relationship appears to be consensual (although he does get fired), but no one seems to notice the fact that she's 15 and he's at least in his early twenties (played by an actor who was 32). Kate is stated to be 15 at least twice after she files, and the age of consent in Kansas is 16. Under the law, consent cannot be given, so it's not just sexual harassment, it's statutory rape. This would doubtless come out during the lawsuit, and he'd be prosecuted.
  • Veronica Mars had many of these, especially in Season 2.
    • When Duncan Kane had to kidnap his daughter? Not a chance in HELL the grandparents could have gotten custody away from the biological father, even if he hadn't been from a gazillionaire family - well, maybe a CHANCE, as 2/3 of the remaining gazillionaire family members had been investigated and/or tried for interference in the murder investigation of their daughter, because they believed their son, the father, was guilty due to a medical condition which causes uncontrollable, unpredictable and violent blackouts. Also, the mother was also from a gazillionaire family and big in their church.
    • The trial of Aaron Echolls at the end of season 2 had the defense attorney asking about Veronica's sexual history and confidential medical info, then directly introduce hearsay from an absent third party (directly, as in the lawyer himself told the jury that the absent person had said X).
      • Reality Is Unrealistic. California evidence law was the first to be codified and differs in several ways from most states, especially when Proposition 8 in 1980 made a lot more fair game. If Veronica Mars's sexual history was relevant, even just to show bias, it would be allowable so long as not to prove consent to a rape. Hearsay from an absent third party may also be used on cross-examination to a witness, provided it meets certain qualifications. However that's usually a stupid idea as attacking character of a witness allows the defendant's character to be attacked. But bringing in Veronica's medical records should've brought a mistrial and sanctions (if not disbarment) against Aaron Echolls' lawyer, as those are wholly confidential.
    • Speaking of Aaron Echolls' trial, it's not said why he wasn't charged, say, with kidnapping Veronica, assaulting Keith, and trying to kill them both by setting some guy's house on fire. Did the local prosecutors just forget about HOW they caught Aaron in the first place? Any sort of forensic investigation at all would have blown huge holes in the story he gave to the police (that he got into Veronica's car with her permission, she crashed, and they walked to the guy's house and called for help, after which Keith arrived and attacked him unprovoked. The homeowner, the only uninvolved witness, "mysteriously disappeared" before the trial), like, if Keith attacked unprovoked why are Aaron's fingerprints all over the gas can which started the fire? Why was there a fire in the first place? And it is somewhat unlikely that Veronica would have climbed inside and locked herself into an old refrigerator, and set it on fire. There would certainly be hair and blood inside the fridge from Veronica. There are a lot more things than that too.
  • In The Drew Carey Show, Mimi Bobek originally gets a job with Drew's company by threatening to sue for "discrimination" if they refuse to hire her for wearing clown-like makeup and clothing on the job, claiming that it's "discrimination against her appearance." However, such laws only pertain to a person's natural appearance, not the way a person chooses to look-and clown make-up and clothing are obviously chosen, not natural. And, in the US, laws don't protect discrimination on the basis of general appearance (i.e. you look like a clown, you're not going to get a job-that's perfectly legal and understandable). There's a limited number of protected characteristics (race, religion, gender, etc.) that are the only ones you can't refuse to hire based on. Or if it's something protected by the Constitutionally-protected Rule of Funny (never mentioned which constitution).
  • CSI: "Invisible Evidence": A patrolman stops a car for a broken tail light, arrests the driver on an outstanding warrant and a CSI finds evidence of a murder in the trunk. The judge tosses the evidence because neither the patrolman nor the CSI applied for a warrant to search the trunk. The Fourth Amendment does not apply whenever a person is being arrested in their car (covering the patrolman) and anytime a car is impounded, as the police have to inventory its contents (covering the CSI).
    • Slightly different now; the Supreme Court in Arizona v. Gant ruled that a "search incident to arrest" at a car can only be conducted if the search is likely to turn up evidence of the crime the person is being arrested for. You can search the car of someone being arrested for DUI for alcohol bottles but you can't if you're arresting him for reckless driving for example. IF the police SEIZE the car however, an "inventory search" can be conducted at the impound lot on the grounds that the police don't want to be accused of stealing something from the car if the perp is let go.
    • Of course as it turned out when the CSI team re-investigate the case, searching for evidence that will be admissible, they discover that the driver was innocent - he was being framed by the car wash employee, who planted the bloody knife in the back seat and smashed the tail light so he would be stopped.
  • The fourth season of Lost had "Eggtown", in which the flash-forwards followed Kate's murder trial. For every one aspect of the law it got right, it got three or four wrong. For a comprehensive list of all the blunders, see its page on Lostpedia. Just to start with, it takes place in California, for an Iowa murder she's accused of, and goes off from there.
    • Another big one: Kate's mother suddenly has a change of heart and refuses to testify against her, which somehow destroys the prosecution's entire case. Even if she can't be convicted of her father's murder anymore, how does the loss of this testimony have any impact on all the other crimes she committed?
  • Torchwood: Miracle Day has the governments of the world (including the US) making major changes to the legal system almost overnight as a response to the Miracle. Some of these laws are clearly unconstitutional, yet no one takes notice and nothing is heard from the Supreme Court. As an example, they burn people who may be conscious alive, which is a violation of the Fifth Amendment (deprivation of life without the due process of law) plus the Eighth Amendment (i.e. cruel and unusual punishment) at the same time, while Oswald Danes also gets the rule on double jeopardy wrong. You can't be tried more than once for the same crime. No one said your death sentence cannot be executed twice (back when hanging was the standard execution method, many first attempts failed, e.g. if the rope broke). His claim for this being "cruel and unusual punishment" would only be accepted if they could not find a method of execution that wouldn't cause him undue pain. And if they couldn't, all that means is they couldn't attempt to execute the sentence again-it would be commuted to life, but he certainly wouldn't be set free.
    • Particularly since the procedure for most death sentences contain the phrase "until dead", which covers failed attempts.
  • In an episode of Little House on the Prairie, Judd Larabee is accused of burning down Jonathan's barn. A judge is called in to preside over the case. When he arrives, he appoints Charles as the jury foreman even though Charles is the best friend of the victim. He then assigns Charles with the task of selecting a jury. Throughout the case, the judge scolds people for wasting the court's time when they try to present evidence. When the jury deliberates, they have 11 jurors who say Larabee is guilty and one juror who thinks he's not guilty. The judge then orders the one juror to stand up and explain why he thinks the man is not guilty before dismissing him from the jury. Then, he replaces the juror, but only after asking the replacement what his verdict would be. No one objects or finds any of these actions to be unusual. Not to mention all that 'conflict of interest' stuff.
  • Raising Hope has convicted serial killer Lucy's conviction and death sentence commuted/expunged due to police taking what was considered excessive action during an escape attempt after she was electrocuted. First of all, the court system CAN'T commute your sentence because of a guard's actions in prison, especially murder convictions. Only the state governor or US President can commute sentences. Death row prisoners who almost escape don't make the top of the list, as you'd expect. Second, Lucy should have been left strapped into the electric chair until declared legally dead-she shouldn't have been able to even try her escape. Lampshaded in season 3's "Modern Wedding" episode when Burt complains that every year "she comes back in some crazy way and messes up our lives again. It's gettin' old."
    • Taken to the extreme in the fourth season episode "Adoption," when Burt and Virginia, completely unqualified, manage to stumble their way through successfully defending an innocent man in court using every TV law drama cliche in the book.
  • Short-lived FOX legal procedural Justice (2006) centered around a criminal defense firm and their cases, somehow managing to avoid many common pitfalls. It took one move for all credibility to go flying out the window: the prosecution calling the defendant to the stand to testify. Neither the judge nor the legal team objected, but every single student of US history did.Why? 
  • Blue Bloods
    • In "To Tell the Truth", Danny and Erin Reagan have difficulty convincing an eyewitness to testify against a gangster. To remedy this, the cops leak his location to the underworld, then wait for the gangsters to strike before swooping in to "rescue" him.
    • In "Critical Condition", Jamie and his new partner, Sosa, stake out a park bench and wait for someone to take a bag of stolen goods. Jamie squirms over what he views as "borderline entrapment." He didn't really need to worry. It would only qualify as entrapment if they convinced someone to take the bag-just leaving it out there is completely legal.
    • In "Old Wounds", Erin Reagan prosecutes a case where her ex-husband is the defense attorney, when in reality that would never happen, because this would be a conflict of interests. This also happens in many other episodes, all without any comment.
    • In "Protest Too Much", a young couple rob a bank, accidentally shooting a man in the process. Detective Danny Reagan is on the case. As the FBI agents investigating this point out, banks are insured by the federal government, making bank robbery a federal crime, and that includes any crimes committed during the course of the robbery (even when the shooting was done by an off-duty NYPD cop's gun-he was at the bank and got disarmed by the bank robbers) meaning it should be an almost-exclusive FBI investigation. The NYPD would be involved in the investigation, but not as the primary investigating force (obviously NYPD patrol cars would probably show up long before the first FBI agent did; the role of the NYPD would probably be limited to collecting initial witness statements and securing the crime scene until the FBI came).
    • In "Unwritten Rules", police detective Danny gets upset with his prosecutor sister Erin when she won't press charges on a suspect identified as killing a police officer during an armed robbery because the eyewitness, an elderly woman, is shaky on it being him and she doesn't think she'll hold up. While it would still be enough to arrest him, she says to let him go. Later they tell the suspect there's another witness against him, and offer him a plea deal where he'd only do seven years in prison. Danny then "let's slip" the fact that this witness didn't identify him, and the suspect backs out at once, which is all part of their plan. He's then arrested due to the confession he signed to get the plea deal. While police and prosecutors can lie to a suspect, this does not apply to the terms of a plea bargain, and self-incriminating statements made on the promise of a deal cannot be used against them if it falls through. Very few people would make plea deals otherwise.
    • In "Justice Served", its suspected that lawyer Angelo Gallo was shot because he dropped his client, a mob boss, who thought he would tell the police about killing a witness to make the case against him go away because supposedly "attorney-client privilege ends" when their business relationship does. Not even close-it applies to all past criminal activity clients admitted to (unless the lawyer themselves was party to it). Later on it turns out that Gallo knows the details of the contract killing his client ordered, which he gives to police. It's not made clear whether he knew about this before or after the crime had occurred, however. Assuming the latter, none of this information could be used against his client.
      • In the same episode, Jamie's partner officer Edit "Eddie" Janko is almost raped in her apartment. She's reluctant to come forward out of fear she'll appear weak in front of fellow (particularly male) officers. Finally he convinces her to press charges. Rather than hand it off to the detectives who handle such crimes, however, Janko personally arrests the man who attacked her. This is a massive conflict of interest, as she's the one who's complaint they're arresting him on to begin with, a fact that any defense attorney would make hay out of.
      • On a side note, it's very unlikely Danny, a homicide detective, would be allowed on the jury in a murder trial by the defense (though he ends up on their side).
    • In "Custody Battle" Frank is questioned over the fact that his daughter Erin, a prosecutor, was assigned to review the death of a suspect in the custody of his department. Frank is rightly asked if she can be objective, considering that a negative finding will reflect poorly on him as police commissioner. However, like the examples above with Erin prosecuting cases where her ex-husband is the defense attorney, it's a conflict of interest to investigate matters than even tangentially have to do with a close relative, and she'd have to recuse herself.
    • In "All the News That's Fit to Click", an anti-cop criminal shoots Lorenzo Colt, a reporter who happens to be dressed in an NYPD-issue windbreaker. When the reporter is brought in to identify the suspect in a lineup, he refuses to identify the suspect and is let go, as is the suspect. In reality, if a victim refuses to cooperate such as refusing to identify a suspect, the state can still prosecute a suspected offender based upon other evidence. There was enough evidence already to throw the book at Michael Hicks, since voice recognition had proven that he was the one who made the 911 call that lured Colt and the officers he was riding with into an ambush.
      • From the same episode, Frank surmises (and Danny and others buy into) the suspect thought they were shooting a police officer due to the NYPD windbreaker that Lorenzo Colt was wearing when he was shot (at the time, Colt was on a ride-along with Jamie and Janko). However, as it turns out, the individual they ultimately arrest for the crime has a beef with cops. In real life, unless Michael Hicks is dumb, he presumably would know police officers do not sit in the back of patrol cars. Frank and Danny use the term "cop killer" even though no one had been killed (yet). Based upon the known evidence at the time, it should have been apparent and assumed that the reporter was the target - since if the shooter wanted to shoot the actual officers he would have shot them while they were still on the street and distracted by the reporter. Erin was the only one to properly assess the situation in that no one was killed and it was not a cop involved but a reporter.
    • In "Occupational Hazards", Frank tells the woman running a fraudulent charity that's wrongly using the NYPD emblem that other states have arrest warrants for her and that New York would have to wait. In reality, upon taking her into custody, the state of New York would have the choice of trying her there first or allowing her to be extradited. The latter usually only happens when there are more serious charges in the other jurisdiction.
      • Twice characters break police protocol. For instance, when Erin was being followed by the bikers, protocol would be to call for a Radio Mobile Patrol (RMP) car to assist, rather than drive to Danny's precinct. Likewise, when the bomb suspect was at the union meeting, protocol would be to have the sector RMP car respond to assist as they would be far closer.
    • In "Drawing Dead," when discussing the 14-year-old who was shot by a police officer, Erin informs a companion from the DA's office that he has a juvenile record. The companion asks "Aren't those usually sealed?" to which Erin replies by implying that she got them by calling in a favor. In reality, juvenile records are sealed to the public but remain available to prosecutors, and any expungement of a juvenile record (the only means by which the record would be permanently unavailable even to prosecutors) is unlikely to occur until the person reaches age 18, and certainly not within two years after the original delinquency charge.
    • In "Blast from the Past," an officer named Thomas Scully is up for promotion to Sergeant. Thing is, 14 years earlier, he and a few other cops were acquitted in the death of a Muslim teenager who was shot 61 times while reaching for his wallet in a dark apartment. It's mentioned that the other three officers who were with Scully were also acquitted and resigned after the trial, but Scully stayed on the job. In reality, it's highly unlikely he'd keep his job, since the NYPD, like every other police department, has really strict conduct guidelines. Which means officers can be punished (up to and including loss of job) for misconduct regardless of any criminal trialnote . Absent something like a political connection (like his uncle was the Mayor), he'd have been cut loose right away, or he'd be placed under a microscope and would be written up for any number of minor violations. Long story short, he'd be run out of the NYPD and a law enforcement career.
      • Not to mention that by singling out Officer Scully and subjecting him to added scrutiny beyond the promotional process, Frank left the NYPD open to civil action. Indirectly denying him the promotion or making punitive conditions prior to awarding it would practically make it a guarantee.
  • In an episode of the legal drama Equal Justice, the attorney for a physician charged with assisted suicide does not dispute that he did it, nor does her client. Rather, they argue, as the prosecution says, that "the law is wrong." Problem is, that's jury nullification, and in reality the prosecutor would object right there, as it's unethical for a lawyer to argue that, rather than simply defending it. This one is a staple of many courtroom dramas.
  • On at least two episodes of Due South, confessions for murder are forcibly extracted at gunpoint. Said confessions would be totally worthless in court, no matter how many people witnessed it (any competent defense attorney would simply claim that their client would have been willing to say just about anything if it would get their accuser to put the gun away, assuming the judge didn't just rule that a confession made under obvious duress is inadmissable in the first place). On one occasion the person holding the gun was herself a police officer, and should have known better (not to mention gotten in a lot of trouble for doing it in the first place).
  • In Orphan Black, it's believed by everyone involved that human clones secretly created using a patented biological technique are legally the slaves of the patent holders, who can do anything they want to them. The multiple problems with this are explained in detail at the work page, but let's just say here that intellectual property law does not work like that. It might be explained away as the bad guys taking advantage of the characters' legal ignorance to intimidate them, but one of the protagonists is an academic biologist who really ought to know this stuff.
  • Breakout Kings had a lot of this. First of all, the US Marshals' Service does not have the authority to reduce a prisoner's sentence by one month, or at all. This may seem shocking, but prison sentences are actually legal rulings imposed by courts of law, and cannot be altered by an agency of the executive branch (the US President could theoretically commute their sentence or pardon them if they're convicted of federal offenses, but see here-note ). Secondly, the Marshals' service is part of the federal government, meaning that it has no responsibility or authority over state prisoners, but at least one of the convicts on the team, Shea, was in a state prison-Ossining, or Sing-Sing. Also, many of the runners the team chases are shown escaping from state prisons (Marshals take over when a state prisoner flees across state lines, but not before).
    • Also, in the episode "SEAL'd Fate" in season 2, the plot turns on a private military contractor firm that was hired to carry out covert ops by the US government, one of which turned out to involve the commission of war crimes. At the end of the episode, the runner, who was an employee of the company who broke out to expose the company's culpability, was taken out of the Marshals' custody by the CIA. The CIA is barred by statute from arresting anyone on American soil, or conducting any kind of operations whatsoever domestically. Also in that episode, the Marshals were locked in the company's offices when the runner broke into the building; after this, the Marshals just walk away. Again, shockingly, it's actually a crime to imprison law enforcement officials (or anyone actually, outside some obvious exceptions) against their will. For some reason, the marshals act like there is nothing they can do about this. That whole episode was obnoxiously idiotic.
  • Person of Interest:
    • In the season four premiere, Reese (in his new persona as a detective), doesn't bother with filling out the paperwork justifying his shooting a drug dealer because he didn't fire his gun. Even though the circumstances behind the shooting are easily justifiable (the guys he shot were trying to rob and kill him), this is a no-no. It doesn't matter if a cop shoots his attacker with his own gun or the perp's gun, what matters to the department is that the cop shot somebody, and that has to be legally justified-every officer is put on leave until Internal Affairs clears it.
    • In "Wingman", Reese stops a suspect through shooting him in the knee (as is his signature). It's different now, Fusco points out, because he's a detective. Their captain rightly chews him out, but no one mentions that the NYPD could be sued, not to mention the injured suspect filing an excessive force complaint, quite possibly even a civil rights violation. Also, since Reese has already done this three times in a month, he should not even be back to work since Internal Affairs would have taken away his gun and he'd be on leave until cleared (not likely in this case) as it says above.
    • What makes both of these really egregious is that in earlier seasons it was played more realistically - Carter lost her detective's shield between the second and third seasons because a Dirty Cop stole the evidence that justified a shooting she was involved in before IA arrived to investigate.
  • The Good Wife: Peter's first day back in the State's Attorney's office comes with this insane declaration: no plea bargains. Something better than 95% of all cases are pled out before a trial these days, independent of jurisdiction. This is in part because it's much less work to not have to fight a case out in front of a jury. The show itself is consistent in showing how much work is cut off for both sides when a plea is taken. So, while saying on one hand that the amount of hours the staff can work is being cut, he enforces a new policy that would exponentially increase the amount of work needed.
    • In "Dark Money", the firm has some evidence excluded because it was obtained from illegally hacking into a computer. However, the exclusionary rule applies only to illegally obtained evidence the government (or someone working on their behalf) collected and attempts to submit for a criminal case. They are not government employees, and this was civil. The judge could therefore not exclude this, though he would likely inform the police and they might face charges.
    • In another episode, it comes out that Kalinda had falsified evidence to get Carey acquitted, and that Diane had presented that evidence to the court, but with no knowledge that the evidence was false. The show acts as though Diane's good faith was not a defense; at one point, Diane says that what she has done is "strict liability." In modern times, there actually are now some strict-liability crimes, but they are rare, and suborning perjury is not one of them. Her lack of knowledge that the evidence was fake is actually a complete defense for her. The show was relying on Rule of Drama, obviously.
  • One of the plot arcs in Modern Family's fourth-season finale, "Goodnight Gracie", which follows the whole cast to Florida in the wake of Phil's mother's death, has Mitchell accompanying Gloria to court to answer an old charge against her ... and deciding he likes getting back into the courtroom, so he winds up representing just about everyone else there. While the episode figures into his character arc because it leads him to conclude he wants to get back into litigating cases in court again, it's extremely unlikely that a Florida judge would let a lawyer from California, presumably not a member of the Florida bar, just up and represent clients before her. An out-of-state lawyer can be allowed to represent a client temporarily (called pro hac vice or "for this purpose") but it would be very likely only one at a time.
  • Wonder Woman (2011 pilot):
    • Claiming someone engages in illegal activities without proof is called slander and could easily get someone sued. Wonder Woman calls a press conference to announce this, fully acknowledging her lack of proof, and yet suffers no consequences. She also admitted to the entire world that she has broken the law to stop a crime she can't even prove was committed.
    • Doesn't even touch the detective's blatantly illegal (not to mention stupid) advice to WW that if she breaks into the villain's lair, the police will be able to investigate it because it's now a crime scene. Yes it will be, for a crime that Wonder Woman committed, and the police let her do. The only way this works is if Wonder Woman already has blanket immunity to prosecution, which opens a whole new can of worms that's even more terrifying, but would be sadly consistent with everything else we see. Also, if she's deemed to have been an agent of the police in doing this, any evidence they find will be suppressed.
    • Worse, matters legal get significant attention in this series (it is David E. Kelley writing it, after all). It all serves to keep before us exactly how illegal every single thing Diana does is, even as the plot treats her like everything she does is right. She literally commits more crimes than her enemies.
    • The show seems to think that because Wonder Woman is not officially connected to any law enforcement agency, she is above the law. That's actually the opposite from the truth, as law enforcement officers have quasi-immunity, while civilians have none.
    • Her ex-boyfriend is assigned to investigate her for illegal activities, despite the fact that this is clearly a conflict of interest. At the end, he drops the investigation and declares her clear with a smile, thus showing why conflict of interest is a problem in the first place.
  • In the fifth episode of The Flash (2014), "Plastique," the army, under Gen. Wade Eiling, shows up early on to take over the investigation from the Central City police. This is of course a blatant violation of the Posse Comitatus Act, which forbids the use of the US Army to enforce the laws of the states (unless authorized to do so for a specific situation by an Executive Order or act of Congress).
    • Numerous criminal metahumans are imprisoned at Star Labs over the course of the first season. However, they lack any authority to do that, therefore this is illegal imprisonment for which they could be prosecuted and sued. Even when it's revealed, there are no legal consequences.
  • The Practice: Creator David E. Kelley, despite himself being a lawyer, gets lots of details wrong (or perhaps discards them for dramatic purposes.
    • In "Line of Duty", Bobby learns from his prosecutor girlfriend that the police will be raiding a drug house-one which his drug dealer client runs. So he warns the client to get out, and all but tells him there is not only an informant in his organization, but also his name. Instead of fleeing said drug dealer client was packing up when the police arrived, and four officers were murdered, plus their informant. When the police discover what he did, Bobby is charged with reckless homicide, and in his defense he argues that his legal duty to represent the client covered warning of an impending arrest. The judge agrees. Not even close. Though attorneys must zealously represent all clients, this has to stay within the bounds of the law. Unsurprisingly, warning your client that he was about to be arrested isn't just illegal, but makes you an accessory after the fact to his crimes. It's also really unlikely that he would be charged with only reckless homicide, since that warning caused four cops to be killed, and that of the informant (remember, tipping him off was accessory after the fact) meaning he could be convicted of felony murder. The judge dismisses the case because she can't be sure of what Bobby was thinking when he tipped off his client. However, there is more than enough evidence for a trial, and such issues must be left up to the jury. The standard for ordering a case bound over for trial (probable cause) is much lower than to convict someone (beyond a reasonable doubt).
    • In "Civil Right" Eugene attacks an alleged rape victim's testimony by pointing to what she wore on the night of her date with his client, implying that as she was in a revealing dress, she was "asking for it." This is forbidden by the Massachusetts rape shield statute, however [2] (with some exceptions that do not apply here). This appears to be Eugene's go-to strategy when defending clients in rape cases, as we see him utilize the same tactics with another case near the end.
    • The attorneys are frequently seen holding conversations with the witnesses or accused while they're on stand, without any line of questioning. This is even lampshaded in "The Case Against Alan Shore" when Alan calls the firm out for this and asks if the judge is going to say anything, but receives no response.
  • The trial in series 2 of Broadchurch has by the broadcast of the second episode been criticized for its great inaccuracy, mostly to increase the drama. Most glaringly multiple witnesses sit in the audience of the murder trial, but the defense bullies Mrs. Latimer and Ellie to an extent that would be severely reprimanded in real life, and the killer's confession is dismissed far too easily.
  • How to Get Away with Murder: The main student characters are all first year law students. In the United States, first year law students aren't allowed to work more than twenty hours per week if they're full time students - it's a rule in place by the American Bar Association to allow the students to focus on their educations. Obviously though, following that rule would lead to less drama for the show, so Tropes Are Not Bad.
  • No Ordinary Family:
    • Teachers aren't allowed to arbitrarily change grades on formal exams from B to F without providing some pretty strong evidence. Doing that and officially entering it into the system (almost certainly without following procedure) is a crime just as serious as hacking. It's like lawyers don't exist or something...
    • It's also pretty safe to say that teachers do not have the ability to arbitrarily hand out and take away scholarships.
    • George claims he's responsible for the crimes of a gangster due to vicarious liability as he screwed up a previous case when the guy got off on a technicality. This only applies to a superior being responsible for the acts of their subordinate (most often employer-employee). George is a prosecutor, and may be rusty on civil liability or just making a metaphorical point, but what he says isn't accurate either way.
  • The Slap, at least in the American version, involves a criminal prosecution in New York City of a man for slapping a misbehaving child, which slap resulted in no permanent injury. Two police detectives are assigned to investigate the case, an Assistant District Attorney brings charges, and two separate judges allow the case to move forward without dismissing the case out of hand. In real life, the idea that the NYPD, the largest municipal police department in the United States, would waste the time of not one but two detectives to investigate the slapping by an adult of a misbehaving child where there was no actual injury, or that a New York ADA would actually prosecute in such a case, does not pass the laugh test. If it did happen, almost any judge would dismiss the case as a waste of the court's time. Note also that the series makes no mention of a grand jury, which the defendant has a right to in New York; it is unlikely that you could find twelve jurors, even out of twenty-three, the maximum allowable size of a grand jury in New York, who would vote to indict in a case of this sort. If he were prosecuted, most likely it would only be for a misdemeanor assault, where grand juries are not required. Misdemeanor assault in New York is punishable with up to a year in prison and/or a fine of $1,000. The parents might sue him as well.
    • Indeed, in a subsequent episode, there is much discussion of a civil suit, with experienced lawyers talking as if the plaintiffs would have some chance of winning a significant judgment. In reality, damages in an intentional battery case are limited to 1) economic damages, i.e. medical costs and lost wages, 2) non-economic compensatory damages, e.g., pain and suffering, and 3) punitive damages. Since the victim suffered no real injury, there were no medical expenses, and, as the victim was a child, no lost wages, there can be no economic damages; the parents claimed psychological damages requiring therapy, but it is unlikely that they could prove such damages. Since the injury was just an open-handed slap to the face, pain-and-suffering damages would not amount to much either. Pain and suffering are impossible to quantify precisely, but lawyers have been known to ask juries how much money they would demand before agreeing to undergo the same injury; maybe you'd get a couple of hundred dollars for that. As for punitive damages, those can be extremely high, but a) trial judges will usually reduce them if they seem excessive, and b) the Supreme Court has stated in strong dicta that punitive damage multipliers in excess of single digits are violations of substantive due process, meaning that any punitive award in substantial excess of the compensatory damages would be overturned as unconstitutional. As such, the most the plaintiffs could get would be a couple of thousand dollars,note  assuming the jury was willing to give them anything. Given such a small possible recovery, it is unlikely that they could have found a lawyer willing to take the case.
  • Extant: When the Sheriff of Vaspar Island refuses to search for Ethan because he is a Humanich, John punches him in the face. However, instead of facing charges and jail time for assaulting a police officer, he only spends a few hours in a holding cell before being released. While no one has to file charges, it's pretty unlikely he wouldn't. Police don't like people punching them.
  • American Odyssey: In New York the age of consent is 17, so the 21-year old guy worrying he's just committed statutory rape with a 17-year old girl needn't be.
  • In The Royals, it is eventually revealed to the whole world that Liam and Eleanor are not the children of King Simon, meaning that Queen Helena had an affair; it is then revealed that she and Prince Cyrus deliberately arranged the revelation to prevent Liam from becoming the regent after Simon is nearly killed and left in a coma. There are two problems: first, the show seems to ignore the fact the Helena has just been publicly exposed as having committed high treason. Second, the show acts as if this will somehow stop the abolition of the monarchy that Simon had set in motion. If anything, further scandal attaching to the monarchy, and the fact that the publicly beloved King Simon was no longer heading the family, would if anything make Parliament more likely to pass the bill for the abolition referendum that Simon had called for. The regent does not actually have the power to veto bills passed by Parliament; the king or regent only signs them out of respect for tradition. Shockingly, the British monarchy is just a figurehead with no real power. No monarch has vetoed a bill for over three centuries.
  • Sherlock: In "Many Happy Returns" one character explains his theory that Sherlock was a juror on a murder trial in Hamburg, Germany. Germany does not employ a jury trial system for any criminal or legal case. While there are lay judges and professional judges rendering verdicts in a number of criminal cases, the episode portrays the system as an American style jury system, which is factually incorrect.
  • iZombie: The show has gotten flak for a number of Hollywood Law moments, particularly Liv investigating the case, and interviewing suspects, despite her lack of legal authority, Clive's tendency to make empty cop threats, and the lack of lawyers being present during most interrogation scenes.
    • In the eighth episode of the first season, Peyton, who works for the DA's office, gets Major out of jail by telling one of the officers that, because the paperwork had not been time-stamped, continuing to hold Major would violate "habeas corpus statutes." There actually are federal statutes relating to the writ of habeas corpus, but habeas corpus itself is a common-law writ, not a statute. Also, simply failing to stamp a form would not violate the writ. Habeas corpus would allow Major to petition a court to require the police to show that they have valid cause to hold him. It would not require his immediate release. Justified in this case, however, because Peyton was actually just fast-talking the officer to get Major, her friend, out of jail.
    • Season two episode "The Whopper" has Blaine's father's will revealed to be a Video Will. Video wills are invalid and will not be probated. Under Washington state's statute of wills, all wills have to be in writing; Washington, like a few other states, does allow nuncupative wills in limited circumstances, but no more than a thousand dollars can be disposed of by nuncupative will, not the billions seen here, and, in any case, the video will here still did not comply with the requirements for nuncupative wills.
  • The series Two and a Half Men sets up the series-premise with the most egregious case of Hollywood Law, when Alan's disgruntled divorce lawyer (Heather Locklear) exacts personal revenge on Charlie by deliberately giving Alan's ex-wife everything possible in the divorce settlement— right in front of Alan. Not only would this be non-binding due to legal ethics violations, but a client can overrule an attorney at any time, or simply fire them; they don't have carte blanche to do as they please over a client's objections.
  • In the NCIS episode "Semper Fortis", a retired Navy corpsman renders first aid to three people she found in a nasty car crash, saving the lives of two of them, and is promptly arrested for practicing medicine without a license (the show claiming that despite going through essentially the same medical training, a retired Army medic is considered a trained and licensed EMT, but a retired Navy corpsman is not). However, Virginia (the state where the accident happened) has a Good Samaritan Law on the books which covers attempts to provide medical assistance in life-threatening emergencies, which means that even if she doesn't have a license, what she was doing was entirely legal.
  • Heroes: In "Ink" Peter Petrelli, a paramedic, is sued for injuring a man by dislocating his shoulder while rescuing him. This turns out to be false, but in any case there were no grounds to sue in the first place: the Good Samaritan Law immunizes any person who accidentally injures someone when attempting to help them from liability.
  • Franklin & Bash. Like, the whole thing.
  • Our Miss Brooks: In the (television) episode "Hospital Capers", a lawyer (a literal ambulance chaser) gets Mr. Boynton to sign a contract hiring him as counsel-the contract features a hefty penalty if Mr. Boynton chooses to terminate his representation. When Miss Brooks visits the lawyer, he hands her ever larger magnifying glasses to read the contract's fine print. Lampshaded when the lawyer admits to Miss Brooks that he's been disbarred in several states.
  • The Wire: Averted, in the Montage Out out of the final episode, we see that Pearlmann and Daniels have both moved on to careers as a judge and lawyer, respectively. The only problem is that they're lovers and he's trying a case in her court, so she has to recuse herself.
  • Austin & Ally is pretty egregious when it comes to minors and contracts. The protagonists are teenage pop singers in an Adults Are Useless setting. In one second season episode, Allie is "signed" to perform as part of a group. The adult running the group claims to "own" her thanks to the contract she signed. At no point is the fact that both Allie and her manager are minors and cannot sign contracts for themselves brought up. It comes up other times where a record producer will offer to "sign" a character on the show, but since it's only an offer, it can be assumed the actual signing is done by parents with lawyers present.
  • Both subverted and inverted in the comedy series The Grinder where Dean, an actor who played an attorney for eight seasons, joins his family law firm thinking he can do it for real. The running gag of the series is Dean constantly coming up with ideas on cases based on what his series did and his lawyer brother Stewart has to explain that in real life, that doesn't work. It's inverted as often, Dean's ideas do work out simply because they're so wild (and judges often willing to look the other way due to his celebrity).
  • Last Week Tonight with John Oliver had John Oliver, on the eve of the 2015 Canadian Federal Election, playfully and preemptively paying a $5000 dollar fine for violating a Canadian law of being a foreigner inducing voters in Canada with a big comic production with Mike Myers urging voters to not vote for Prime Minister Stephen Harper. The amused officials at Elections Canada explained the next morning that inducement must involve material goods like money and a foreigner simply stating an opinion is perfectly acceptable.
  • Happens all the time in Arrow. One obvious example from the first season is the Villain of the Week arranging for a lawsuit against him to be judged by a man whose reelection campaign he funded and everyone acting like this guarantees his victory rather than guaranteeing the verdict being overturned on appeal due to the judge having a conflict of interest.
  • In Shark, Sebastian "the Shark" Stark (James Woods) was a defense attorney who quit and became a prosecutor after a client he got off on assault charges against his wife murdered her. Problem is, a defense attorney can't just quit while representing a client who's facing charges (as here). It's Rule of Drama, clearly.
  • The Mentalist: About 80% of the cases Jane closes would be thrown out of court in real life because he used some form of coercion or intimidation to get a confession and/or reveal the location of key evidence (in particular, the episode "Blood in, Blood Out" would really have ended with the killer walking and Jane, Rigsby, and Cho being brought up on assault charges).
    • Not to mention how many times they handle evidence without properly documenting it or handling it with gloves. A defense lawyer would've had a field day with how much they contaminated the crime scenes.
    • In "Red Listed", it is revealed that, due to Jane's antics on cases, a few criminals ended up being acquitted or having their cases dismissed.
    • In one episode a hitman—a psychopathic, sadistic hitman who had been killing for years, no less—is released on the technicality that Jane uncovered the evidence leading to his arrest by illegally breaking into his apartment, thus forcing the judge to declare all subsequent evidence Fruit of the Poisonous Tree. This would never work in Real Life and would, at worst, have led to a new trial, if that; the evidence itself included video tape of the murder, a confession, and entrapment of him being hired by Van Pelt to kill somebody. Such a sociopath would never be released so easily.
      • Justified in a sense. At that point, still halfway through the episode, the judge remains one of the possible hitman contractors, so the writers don't want to clinch the real culprit right away.
    • The season 4 premiere takes the cake though; Jane has murdered a man he believed to be Red John, and he is let off because he convinces everyone that the man was Red John. In fact, this and later episodes frequently say that if the guy wasn't Red John Jane is going to prison for the murder. In Real Life, whether or not the man was Red John should be irrelevant—Jane committed murder, and admits to it, with numerous witnesses to the crime. He should go to jail regardless. The only possible way out is if he was found temporarily insane thanks to confronting the man he believed to be his wife and daughter's killer, but that is unlikely since he was illegally carrying an unlicensed gun (specifically to kill Red John), and had announced repeatedly to colleagues and others that he was hunting Red John not to arrest but to kill him. On the flipside, the question of whether or not the man was Red John should have been irrelevant—the issue would be whether Jane thought he was with fair reason, and he can reasonably (and truthfully) claim that the man he killed both pretended to be Red John and knew things only Red John would have, and was an accomplice posing as him, which means there was fair reason. Here, at least, they appear to think the jury will refuse to convict him if it's Red John he killed (with reason-he was previously acquitted for killing a different man he mistook as Red John) since they'd be highly sympathetic to him as Red John murdered his family. This is jury nullification, which, though legally iffy, does occur.
  • Daredevil:
    • In season 1, Marci Stahl could have faced disbarment for handing over confidential work product. However, lawyers have an obligation not to participate in crimes and to tell the police if they have reason to believe their client will commit a crime. Landman & Zack has failed in both obligations (by not reporting that they are doing legal business for Wilson Fisk and not reporting his crimes to the cops), and it's her responsibility, legally, ethically, and professionally, to hand over all the information she can to the proper authorities. That she handed that information over to Matt and Foggy is very questionable, but she might be excused by the Bar Association given that she had certain knowledge that Fisk had corrupted the legal system.
    • Because the NYPD does not allow real-life precinct numbers to be used in works of fiction, the police station shown in this show and Jessica Jones is designated as the '15th precinct'. Hell's Kitchen is actually serviced by the Midtown North precinct.
    • The People of the State of New York v. Frank Castle is an exercise in this trope:
      • While negotiating over a plea deal with the District Attorney for Frank Castle, Foggy mentions that one thing she didn't go for is having him in protective custody. However, it's the New York Department of Corrections who determine which prisoners get put in protective custody. Castle is suspected to have killed a bunch of gangsters from three different gangs, so he would almost certainly be placed in protective custody, since these gangs undoubtedly have incarcerated associates who would be itching to kill him in revenge for murdering their comrades.
      • While questioning Castle during his trial, Matt switches to making a speech instead. This is not allowed-lawyers are only allowed to make speeches during closing arguments at trial. The prosecutor would object, be sustained, and Matt would be sanctioned.
      • At the start of the Punisher's trial, the judge remarks about the difficulty of selecting jurors, because "everyone has an opinion" about the Punisher. Such a situation should have been handled with a change of venue, which is common for high profile casesnote . It's surprising that Matt and Foggy don't try to file a request, although the fact that District Attorney Samantha Reyes was pulling strings (which also allowed her to expedite the trial, among other things) may have prevented this from happening.
      • When Castle takes the stand, spectators in the gallery are holding signs decrying him as a vicious murderer who should be burned at the stake. Such signs should not even be allowed in the courthouse, never mind an actual courtroom. In fact, considering the high profile nature of the trial not to mention the mitigating circumstances, they should have had a sealed courtroom, with no one allowed in the gallery.
      • Matt and Foggy's defense of Frank centers around Extreme Emotional Disturbance, hoping that if they prevail they can get him the help he needs rather than sending him to prison. Per the New York State penal code, the EED defense merely mitigates a Second or First Degree Murder charge to First Degree Manslaughter, which would still mean Frank would go to prison rather than a mental hospital. Although manslaughter carries a shorter sentence than murder, the fact Frank committed three dozen or so counts of it would presumably keep him away for a long time especially if served consecutively - which may almost be the equivalent of a life sentence (not to mention the fact that Matt and Foggy wanted to keep him out of prison due to the fact that he'd be a walking target for other inmates).
      • When Foggy, Matt, and Karen are talking to Castle while he's recovering at the hospital (under heavy police guard), Castle asks Foggy to leave the room so he can speak with Karen alone. But Karen is just a secretary, not a lawyer. Without a lawyer present, anything Castle says to Karen wouldn't be protected by attorney/client privilege, and Karen could be subpoenaed to testify under oath about what he said to her. Therefore Nelson & Murdock would have to recuse themselves due to conflict of interest.
      • Not to mention the other conflict of interest Nelson & Murdock has already since Grotto, one of Castle's victims, was one of their clients. This is actually pointed out in-universe by Reyes, however, Matt and Foggy manage to counter by pointing out that Reyes is dirty and she can't go after them for conflict of interest because to do so would mean having to admit to compromising the police protection agreement Nelson & Murdock had negotiated for Grotto.
      • Foggy mentions to Karen about the judge calling the first witness. Judges don't call witnesses, the prosecution and defense call the witnesses. As an attorney, Foggy would know this.
      • The seal behind the judge implies that the trial is in federal court. If it were in federal court, the prosecution would not be done by the District Attorney but by the United States Attorney. The seal also identifies this court as the "United States District Court for the District of New York City." There is no such court, the correct district in Manhattan would be the "Southern District of New York."
      • An "expert witness" is called in "Guilty as Sin", the second episode to cover the trial. In a US court, an "expert witness" must be explained to be so: credentials given and examined, standing questioned through voir dire by the opposing counsel, and the status of "expert" agreed upon by both sides.
    • Several episodes feature police cars with forward-facing blue and red lights. New York state law prohibits forward-facing blue lights on police vehicles.
    • While in prison, Wilson Fisk is approached by a fellow inmate named Stewart Finney. Finney says he used to work as a mortgage analyst (who is also implied to have possibly been embezzling from his clients) until he made a mistake and double-crossed someone with a brother in the Justice Department. It's therefore somewhat unlikely that a white-collar criminal like Finney would end up in a maximum security prison with murderers like Fisk; in reality, people like Finney generally end up in minimum security facilities.
  • Jessica Jones:
    • When Jessica Jones is collecting people who've been mind-controlled by Kilgrave in order to have them testify in Hope's trial:
      • They put them all together in a support group (thereby weakening all their stories because they've had time to be influenced by each other), rather than interview each person separately.
      • They don't think about subpoenaing the restaurant staff from the first few episodes. You know, the staff that have very little reason to lie and can positively say "that woman right there walked in with a creepy British guy who made us do things we didn't want to do." Nope, just go out and get a bunch of random people who at best can only testify that someone exists who can force you to do stuff (no proof that Hope was under his influence) and are far less believable, because at this point they're all mentally unstable or have good reasons for wanting to excuse their actions by lying about someone else making them do it.
    • Their plan is to kidnap Kilgrave, hold him prisoner, torture him into confessing, and then use that as proof. The only time that's going to be admitted as evidence is when they all get charged with kidnapping and torture. It'll be great for a trial...Hogarth's, Trish's, and Jessica's trials. Kilgrave's? Not so much (and that's assuming he wouldn't just command the guards to release him when arrested). It's such a bad idea that Jeri tells them it would never work, and instead, they use their crime to draw a police officer to the scene and make him watch. This is also a bad idea.
    • Towards the end of the first season, Jeri Hogarth's secretary/mistress Pam kills Hogarth's wife Wendy to save Jeri, after Kilgrave commanded Wendy to kill her. Afterwards, Jeri attempts to serve as Pam's counsel during her questioning by the police; given her relationship to both people and also as another victim in the case, there's a conflict of interest present. Jeri may have just been doing "stand-in defense" for both herself and Pam (since they're both, at minimum, persons of interest, if not suspects/witnesses) and just handling things until she can get another attorney to come down and start taking full charge of the defense. In other words, Jeri just wanted to be there to make sure Pam didn't say anything self-incriminating before she could arrange real, ethical, legal representation for them both and start handling the case. But Jeri being Pam's defense attorney when she's also the key witness would be a violation of Attorney-Client privilege. Anything Pam says to Jeri, Jeri cannot reveal to the courts. If Pam is tried, Jeri could only testify about what she saw beforehand, and could no longer represent her, as a lawyer on a case cannot also be a witness.
  • Elementary: A pretty severe one, given the premise of the show. Sherlock and Joan are often shown questioning witnesses/suspects without NYPD presence or permission, entering and searching private property on their own without a search warrant, plus sometimes Sherlock collects evidence from crime scenes for his own personal use. It's difficult to understate what a huge no-no this is in criminal investigations. In the real world the defense attorneys for the criminals Sherlock captures would have a field day with this, these criminals would have all had mistrials, and Sherlock himself would be under arrest, not to mention no longer consulting with police.
    • Eventually this comes up and is very, very thinly masked with Blatant Lies by Sherlock (e.g. claiming that locked doors were "just open").
    • In "Art Imitates Art" an artist creates images using photos taken off social media without permission. No one mentions the fact that the owners (many of whom are very angry about this) could sue for copyright violation and have their photos taken down.
    • A Russian says he's uncowed by police threats of sending him home to where he's wanted if he doesn't cooperate, as the US doesn't have any extradition treaty with Russia. However, the police fail to point out that extradition or not, they could still turn him over to Russia. The extradition treaty simply formalizes this, obligating one country to turn over wanted fugitives if the other goes through proper procedures.
  • Commander In Chief: In one episode, Mackenzie debates over whether to spare a mentally disabled Texan woman on death row for murdering a cab driver, and she eventually does so. However, the US President cannot grant pardons or reprieves to state prisoners, only federal ones. Some other episodes see her create a scholarship program through executive order (Congress would have to enact it) and federalizing law enforcement in a state county (which is completely illegal).
  • Limitless: Discussed by Brian's father, who points out the FBI is essentially keeping him hostage and using him as a drug guinea pig. Brian doesn't want to actually push it though. Additionally, clearing the innocent man in "Stop Me Before I Hug Again" would be much harder with the evidence shown than they make out.
  • You, Me and the Apocalypse: Hacking into the NSA is not treason. On the other hand, it could get you a much longer prison sentence than five to ten years, especially if you're also being made an example of.
  • Hell on Wheels: Governor Campbell claims he can't pardon Ruth if she won't accept it. While it's certainly unusual that a prisoner wouldn't want a pardon, doing so is the governor's discretion, and doesn't require anyone else's consent.
  • Gotham: It's a Police Procedural set in the universe that spawns Batman. Some instances can be disregarded as evidence of how crooked Gotham is, others less so. Especially bad is its treatment of insanity. People aren't just declared insane, sent to a mental institution and get off completely. Rather, they have to make an insanity defense at trial, which is very difficult. In the US, most states which still have the insanity defense (some have abolished it) use the M'Naghten rule, which says a person is insane if they're unable to tell right from wrong, or can't comprehend the consequences of their actions (i.e. harming someone during a delusion which left them unaware of what was going on). So it's unlikely for most villains to be found insane and committed. There's also no such thing as a real "certificate of sanity".
    • Gordon is held due to "suspicion" that he helped a prisoner break out. In reality, there's no such thing-arrests need probable cause, which isn't presented here, otherwise they could be sued and possibly even hit with a civil rights violation. Captain Barnes, who ordered this, is a by the book cop who you'd think would know better than to try it.
  • Better Call Saul: The Philadelphia detectives who talk to Mike in "Five-O" describe Matt as working in a "precinct". For the purposes of policing, Philadelphia is broken up into "districts", not "precincts". Outside of the NYPD, the word "precinct" is rarely, if ever, used by either police officers or civilians.
  • Orange Is the New Black: Not so much the law itself, but the the logistics of how it is practiced. In the Season Two opener, Piper is brought in to testify about Alex's supplier and gives some very unhelpful testimony. In the real world this might possibly happen, but a prosecutor would never in a million years put a witness in its case on the stand without thoroughly deposing them beforehand.
  • In Gilmore Girls, Luke tries suing for partial custody of his daughter, April. His lawyer informs him that he can't win, because the mother had custody up until then and the court won't want to upset the existing arrangement, for the good of the child. Luke points out that he didn't know April existed until she was 12, and the lawyer says that doesn't matter. In fact, it's down in Connecticut law that preference is to be given to existing custody arrangements reached by previous agreement or court decision. Neither of which applies. So the situation is actually covered by the law, and it does matter that the mother didn't tell Luke about his daughter. But then, he won, so maybe his lawyer didn't know what he was talking about.

    Theater 
  • The Merchant of Venice: The main plot is that Shylock the Jew has obtained the right to a pound of Antonio's flesh if he does not repay his loan. This is upheld in a court of law, despite the fact that in Elizabethan times, and to this day, you cannot make a contract that gives you the right to commit murder. This is possibly justified in that the trial takes place not in England but in Shakespeare's idealistic rendition of Venice, whose primary function is to serve as an exotic setting rather than a factual depiction of the city and its people.
    • Also, Shylock handwaves this, by saying that he has no intention to kill Antonio, merely to take his flesh. If Antonio expires in the course of Shylock's doing so, Shylock argues this he is not liable as both parties entered into the agreement willingly and presumably aware of the possible consequences.
    • Portia (in disguise) turns this around on him by saying yes, he can take his pound of flesh, but can't shed Antonio's blood in doing so, thus nullifying the contract. Shylock is also convicted of attempted murder for seeking it to begin with, has his property confiscated, and must convert to Christianity to avoid capital punishment.
  • Trial By Jury disregards the rule of law in favor of the Rule of Funny. Every single character is in violation of the law or ethics at some point-including the judge, who during his introductory song freely admits that he's guilty of the very crime the defendant is accused of. Even the court usher tries to defame the defendant.
  • No one would argue that Ayn Rand had a solid knowledge of American courtroom procedure, and her play The Night of January 16th proves that when it is announced that the bodies of the victims have been found ... and the judge lets the trial continue.
  • Inherit the Wind: There are so, so many instances of this (however much of it's actually Truth in Television (the entire trial was staged).
    • Also, Brady badgering Rachel (though that may have been allowed because the town adores him).
    • This is a minor one, but in the play, Rachel goes up to the stand from the audience. A major no-no.
    • One example is actually removed from the play. The judge intentionally and cynically screwed up the sentencing procedure to get the result thrown out on a technicality (the jury were the ones supposed to decide the amount of fine, not him) thus allowing the Tennessee Supreme Court to avoid the constitutional issue entirely and thus prevent the overturn of the law.

    Video Games 
  • L.A. Noire:
    • In the final case on the Patrol desk, Captain Donnelly asks Cole to interrogate the suspect in hopes of obtaining a confession...even though Cole has had zero training in doing so.
    • During the Arson Desk, Biggs tries to get Cole to drop his Always Murder suspicions by explaining that the overwhelming majority of arson cases are just insurance scams. Suffice to say, in reality the motivations for arson are more varied, from murder to revenge to hate crimes.
  • The entire Ace Attorney series has a grand time zigzagging through this trope, going off of how much fun/difficult it makes the current trial. Usually the characters have no problem at all rummaging through people's stuff, but there's at least one instance where Phoenix won't let Maya read a letter in someone's apartment (never mind that they've poked through plenty of books, letters, and notes in other investigations). It's also unclear exactly whether or not the defense is allowed to poke around crime scenes. The characters usually make themselves right at home, but in Rise from the Ashes, Phoenix tries to keep Ema from attracting the attention of the detective on duty. In the trials themselves, the defense and the aide can get held in contempt of court for asking a witness to make absolutely sure she got details right in her testimony (a reasonable thing to wonder, given that she had misled the court earlier, and as it turns out, she was still lying), but the prosecution never seems to get in trouble for harassing, screaming at, threatening, whipping, or throwing things at the defense or the judge. Perhaps most infamously, the witnesses constantly change their stories and blatantly lie multiple times, but somehow never get in trouble for perjury. Some of this is justified in that the games were loosely based off of the Japanese legal system, which is somewhat different than the American one (no jury for starters) and the American version tries to further handwave it by setting it in the distant future, but it's still pretty goofy.

    Webcomics 
  • In Ctrl+Alt+Del, based on Lilah's word, they were going to cavity search Christian after she indicates him as a terrorist in an airport. They don't seem particularly concerned about the implications of filing a false police report, nor pissing off someone who has demonstrated a willingness to spend lots of money to satiate his own petty whims.
  • In xkcd the Black Hat Guy is being vetted for the position of Secretary of the Internet. Congress sentences him to death. Guess they brought back the ol' bill of attainder.
  • Something*Positive Plays with a variant of the Shooting a Corpse example-Kharisma spends months trying to murder Avogadro (with his consent, as part of a bet), only for him to die of natural causes. She winds up being found guilty of his murder anyway, since she has left copious evidence from her various attempts and admitted to trying to kill him. That being said, even as the comic covers her trial and appeal the fact that she is guilty of multiple counts of attempted murder seems rather understated.
    • In fact she was guilty of attempt to commit assisted suicide...
      • Which in Massachusetts, under Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 274, Section 7, is Conspiracy to Commit Murder. It doesn't matter if she were successful or if the conspiracy was with the victim himself. Minimum 2.5 year sentence, maximum 20 year sentence. Honestly, the only real question is whether Kharisma committed this crime once, by joining into the conspiracy with Avogadro, or once every time she made a horribly botched attempt to carry it out. (Though since then, we've learned — for example — that she's a prize-winning shot who managed to miss Avagadro multiple times at close range... which could be construed as 'cooperating' with Avogadro's plan just enough to keep him from committing suicide by some other means. Or, you know, not.)
  • When Good Girl gets sued (a Frivolous Lawsuit that would probably get thrown out in RL if the circumstances behind it were possible) in League of Super Redundant Heroes, the judge (Who is shown to be rather blatantly prejudiced against her before the trial even begins) is willing to consider life imprisonment as part of the punishment if she's found guilty. When her lawyer points out that punishments of that nature aren't legal in civil suits, the judge's reply boils down to "I'm the judge, I can do whatever I want to. The defense is found in contempt of court for daring to question me.". Then proceeds to pass sentence without even hearing or caring what the jury's verdict is. The artist responsible for this arc of the comic openly admitted that he knows nothing of law and is running on Rule of Funny.

    Web original 

    Western Animation 
  • Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law breaks just about every legal rule there is, but it's not exactly meant to be taken seriously by anyone. This was called attention to at one point; Birdman's passionate use of the insanity defense in the Devlin case actually moves the jury to tears and seems to ensure a win, but Der Spusmacher then tells Birdman that he can't use an insanity defense because it isn't a criminal trial.
  • In a Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius episode, the titular character (who is ten) is thrown in an adult jail and forced to work on a chain gang after being accused of a crime, before a trial. Even more ridiculous, his friends are arrested and thrown on the chain gang simply for realizing (out loud) that Jimmy wanted them to smuggle him escape tools, despite not acting on this or even having an opportunity to.
  • In The Powerpuff Girls, the titular characters and Princess Morbucks have both spent time in a jail for adult males despite them being little girls.
  • Dexter's Laboratory: This is most relevant in the end of Season 2, Episode 32, Part 3: "Dexter Detention."
  • Transformers Animated: Porter C. Powell was able to use his money and power to free Henry Masterson. Despite Masterson going on national television, declaring that he would blow up the Solar Power Plant, wiping out the state of Michigan, which would have killed at least several million people. Powell also talked Masterson's way out of punishment for his crimes in that episode. Regardless of the validity of his argument about a robot's rights, Masterson lied to the police about a Decepticon attack and nobody said anything about arresting him for that. Masterson remained on Sumdac Enterprises' payroll until Isaac Sumdac returned and fired him.
  • Family Guy has never made any claims to realism, but the episode "Peterotica" deserves special mention. Put briefly, Lois's father Carter Pewterschmitt lends Peter $5.00 (that he kept at the bottom of a jar filled with salt and razor wire) to publish Peter's erotic writings. Peter uses the $5 to make photocopies that he sells and credits Carter as publisher. One reader gets into a car accident when he decides to take his shirt off while driving and listening to a book on tape version, then sues Carter and sends his lawyer to his house to seize all of his assets because Carter is liable as publisher. In actuality, in the eyes of the law, it's the driver's own damn fault, and he can't sue anyone for his accident. Even if he could, moreover (and assuming they got past the skillful lawyers that a rich man like Carter no doubt could hire) you can't just seize people's assets in a civil case without lengthy legal processes.
  • In Batman: The Animated Series Poison Ivy was once disallowed from going to jail simply because she was apprehended by Batman, not a cop. Even if that were to apply in that particular case in that particular universe, there's all the other times she's escaped prison for all the other crimes she's committed (and she's not always caught after she commits a crime, even though gathered evidence implicates her.) Incidentally, in some older stories, Batman has the same legal standing as a police officer, albeit one in tights and a cape. He could also have made a citizen's arrest in any case. Ironically, if he's not an agent of the police, it'd be the opposite: requirements like Miranda Rights and warrants only apply to law enforcement. Of course, he'd also have more potential liability than a police officer for misconduct.
  • In one episode of Dudley Do-Right, Dudley finally catches Snidely Whiplash, only for Nell to insist on defending him in court. The episode has numerous absurdly obvious legal errors (this being a comedy program, it was likely that at least some of these were intentional).
    • First, even though Nell apparently had a first-rate legal mind (from reading all the law books in the Mounty Post from lack of anything else to do), she had never taken the bar exam, and thus could not serve as a barrister. There is also no evidence that the prosecutor had ever taken the bar exam either. Or the judge for that matter.
    • Second, Dudley was the judge. Even if a serving police officer could act as a judge, there is no way the arresting police officer would be assigned to said case. And this wasn't the only potential conflict of interest in the participants in the court. The prosecutor was Inspector Fenwick, who was directly involved in the arrest, and was also the judge's immediate superior and the defense attorney's father. The judge had been openly courting the defense attorney for years. And the defense attorney was one of the regular victims of her client's crimes. Basically you have sufficient conflict of interest to draw the validity of the verdict into question by allowing any two of them to participate in the same trial.
    • Third, Dudley overruled all of Nell's objections just so that the prosecution could win the case, without even considering whether or not he had grounds to - at the express instruction of his commanding officer the prosecutor. This would get a real judge censured, and any conviction overturned. It might also get him and/or Inspector Fenwick disbarred for conspiring to rig a trial (Though as mentioned above, there's no evidence that either of them had ever passed the bar in the first place).
    • And finally, Nell ultimately gets Snidely off through a ridiculous Society Is to Blame speech in her closing statement (basically claiming that if there had been some sort of program to help people who have a compulsive need to tie stuff together back when Snidely was a child, his habit would never have escalated to the point where he started tying women to railroad tracks).
      • Mounties actually did preside over trials in the remote parts of a few Canadian provinces, but not where they were also the arresting officers. Judges have always been unable to hear cases in which they are also witnesses, as that would be an obvious conflict.
  • The Simpsons
    • "The Boy Who Knew Too Much" centered around Mayor Quimby's nephew being tried on an assault charge. The entire jury was made up of major cast members such as Homer, Apu (who at the time was not yet a US citizen), and Principal Skinner (whose presence is a plot point, because it means that Bart can't admit that he witnessed what really happened without admitting that he was skipping school to a school official). Part of the process to ensure jury impartiality is to ensure that none of the jurors are personally connected to the defendant, the plaintiff, any witnesses, or each other. No sane judge would impanel a jury where everybody knows everyone else. Plus witnesses are bribed right there in open court, and no one cares. (Lampshaded on one point. The judge acknowledges that re-opening the case when she does is grossly unconstitutional, but she 'just can't say no to kids'. And it still might be an example, since re-opening the case due to new evidence which could have changed the original verdict is usually permitted.
    • The episode "The Parent Rap" shows that Judge Snyder and Judge Harm are both incompetent, for opposite reasons. Snyder is way too lenient, willing to let Bart off with a scolding for an admitted felony (it is suggested he's the reason Bart tends to get away with everything). Harm, on the other hand, is way too strict, handing down sentences that would likely be considered torture (and later, commits a very serious legal taboo, presiding over a case dealing with a crime she was the victim of). Other examples that occur in this episode include changing the judge in the middle of a hearing (this would not happen in any real court unless the original agreed, as she clearly had not here) and Judge Harm presiding over juvenile and regular criminal courts simultaneously (never done, for the same reason the Omnidisciplinary Lawyer is unrealistic).
  • At the end of the Mooseberry Bush arc of Rocky and Bullwinkle, a Senator gets his coat stuck in the door of a spacecraft being launched to the moon. Rocky solves the crisis by quickly convincing the President to appoint said Senator ambassador to the moon men. Apart from the sheer implausibility of this situation (anyone within half a mile or so of a launching spacecraft without a nice thick wall to be behind would likely be cooked before it got off the ground, which is why dignitaries aren't allowed that close to the spacecraft during final countdown), the President does not appoint ambassadors. The President nominates ambassadors. It is the Senate that appoints the ambassadors by ratifying those nominations. And even if Rocky was fast enough to get the President to make the nomination before the launch, the Senate did not have time to even begin the approval hearings.

    Real Life 
  • Older Than Feudalism: The Roman Republic had a very detailed legal system, but unfortunately many of the lictors, assessors and praetors were so corrupt or hungry for patronage that the system could often be bent. Thus, Roman trials often were the thrilling Xanatos Speed Chess portrayed by Hollywood. The famous trial of Gaius Licinius Verres by Marcus Tullius Cicero is a brilliant example:
    • To begin with, the people of Sicily moved to have Verres tried for extortion (his tyrannical misrule of Sicily was notorious). Verres, putting his stolen money to good use, contracted Quintus Hortensius Hortalus to represent him, widely known as the finest lawyer in Rome. The citizens, feeling rather apprehensive about this, spoke to an unorthodox but rising star of the Roman bar, Marcus Tullius Cicero.
    • Verres and Hortensius used all sorts of procedural tricks in order to delay the trial. These delaying tactics gave Cicero only nine days (nowhere near enough time) until the trial would be adjourned for the upcoming holidays and games of Pompey the Great. After that, the current judge, the honest Marcus Acilius Glabrio, would be replaced by an ally of Hortensius', who would be sure to throw the case out. Furthermore, Hortensius and Verres had the support of the optimates, the patrician wing of the Senate. Just to make doubly sure, they also bribed the entire jury to find in Verres' favor.
    • However, Cicero was also capable of using this trope to his advantage. He journeyed to Sicily, and with the help of a mob of angry Sicilians, totally illegally stole and copied all of Verres' records. He used his own money to bring over a hundred witnesses, and, on the day of the trial, brought every single one of them into the courtroom (again, illegally) to intimidate the patrician jury and impress the praetor. Before the trial began, he had them go into the winesinks and bathhouses of Rome and spread stories of Verres's sliminess before the plebeians.
    • It was the form in those days to make incredibly lengthy opening and closing speeches. Hortensius was infamous for using the "Asiatic style", a long thrilling Large Ham performance lasting several days, complete with florid hand gestures and Manly Tears. Cicero would be expected to do the same in his opening speech, thus using up a large chunk of his available time. Thus, Verres and Hortensius had pulled off a Xanatos Gambit: either Cicero tried to fight the case, ran out of time and humiliated himself, or bowed out and let Verres off. Fortunately, Cicero was better at the whole intrigue game. He took a third option: he made no speech at all.
    • Cicero, again bending the rules, simply presented his case without any introduction. He ruthlessly cross-examined Verres, who, not the sharpest tool in the box, ended up incriminating himself. Cicero's legal beat-down was so severe that at one point the plebeians stormed the courtroom in fury, and the bribed jury was so shamed by this and so appalled by Verres' corruption that Verres was forced to flee to Gaul before the trial had even ended. Tropes Are Not Bad indeed.


http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/HollywoodLaw