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Series / Law & Order

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"In the criminal justice system, the people are represented by two separate, yet equally important, groups: the police, who investigate crime; and the district attorneys, who prosecute the offenders. These are their stories."

Law & Order is a long-running Dramatic Hour Long crime/courtroom drama created by Dick Wolf, which initially ran on NBC from 1990 to 2010 (20 seasons, 456 episodes).

The show's basic concept is a mix of two premises, with each episode's first half, "Law", showing the detectives of the NYPD's 27th Precinct trying to solve a crime (Police Procedural), and the second half, "Order", depicting the Manhattan District Attorney's office trying to prosecute the same case (Law Procedural).

Law & Order began as an optimistic and realistic portrayal of the criminal justice system. It became extremely popular because it was often Ripped from the Headlines, as NBC promotional ads put it, which meant that it was tentatively based on controversial cases and news stories that were extensively covered as the show progressed. This allowed viewers to remain invested in the show's plot before even viewing the episode. In addition, the inclusion of a more diverse cast of characters allowed the show to appeal to wider demographics and secure its prestigious Long Runner status.

Very little is known about the characters' personal lives, with all the emphasis put on the formula of the story, which was part of the reason for the constant character changes; actors often complained that it was extremely repetitive. Every single character on the show, for this reason, was replaced at least once, and the show finished with a completely different cast from its start. Despite this, the focus on the formula makes the show very rerun friendly on various cable outlets. In addition, the show's characters were well-written enough to justify sustaining relatively superficial information about them; Jerry Orbach's wise-cracking character, Detective Lennie Briscoe, was often considered to be a representation of the quintessential New York City cop.

In the show's 20 seasons, twenty-seven different actors have starred in the leading six roles, with a substantial number of recurring guest stars. Notable long-running cast members include S. Epatha Merkerson as Lieutenant Anita Van Buren (Seasons 4-20), Sam Waterston as Executive A.D.A. (later D.A.) Jack McCoy (Seasons 5-20), Jerry Orbach as Det. Lennie Briscoe (Seasons 3-14), Steven Hill as D.A. Adam Schiff (Seasons 1-10), Benjamin Bratt as Det. Rey Curtis (Seasons 5-9), Jesse L. Martin as Det. Ed Green (Seasons 10-18), Chris Noth as Det. Mike Logan (Seasons 1-5), former U.S. Senator Fred Dalton Thompson as D.A. Arthur Branch (Seasons 13-17), and Alana de la Garza as A.D.A. Connie Rubirosa (Seasons 17-20).

The show has incited much Pop-Cultural Osmosis since its inception, as it is very well embedded into the public consciousness for its dramatic portrayal of homicide cases based on real life cases or controversies. This has also led to some problems, with public figures chastising the show's biases or harmful coverage of certain news stories. The show, nevertheless, has spawned a number of spinoffs, all of which can be found here.

When the show was canceled after its 20th season and subsequent attempts to revive it had failed, Dick Wolf optimistically lamented that the show "has moved on to the history books". In late 2021, however, it was announced that NBC would be bringing back the show for its 21st season after a decade-long hiatus. Waterston and Anthony Anderson are confirmed to be reprising their respective roles as DA McCoy and Detective Bernard, respectively, with Jeffrey Donovan joining the cast as a new NYPD Detective, Camryn Manheim as the lieutenant, and Hugh Dancy and Odelya Halevi as the ADAs. Season 21 premiered on February 24, 2022.

It has a character sheet and a recap page. Tropers are encouraged to contribute.

Law & Order is the Trope Namer for:

In the TV Tropes system, the users are represented by two separate, yet equally important, groups: the users who edit the tropes, and the administrators who moderate the pages. These are their examples. *CHUNG CHUNG*

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     Tropes A 
  • Abuse Discretion Shot:
    • A much later episode involves a scene where the assistant D.A. went to the apartment of a murder suspect's father in search of a necklace that the murder victim had been wearing. Turned out the suspect had used it to pay her father for a new coat, and he promptly gave it to his girlfriend of the moment. When the D.A. said she needed the necklace, the man went into the bedroom — off-camera — and returned with the necklace. The offscreen dialogue and sound effects left no doubt as to how he got the necklace from the girlfriend, but no abuse was shown.
    • Detective Mike Logan mentions in an episode that he had been a victim of abuse by his mother, but doesn't give any details.
  • Acceptable Breaks from Reality: 95% of pre or in-trial fact finding would be done by investigators (of the type Lenny Briscoe was on Trial By Jury), not the DAs themselves. Also, in-trial pleas or deals would be extremely rare. Once the trial starts, the state would have little incentive not to go for the maximum penalty; the time and resources for the trial have already been allocated.
  • Acquitted Too Late: Victor Cruz (no relation to the wide receiver) in "By Perjury", where he was sentenced to death for a crime he didn't commit. The man who did commit the murder, Cruz's corporate attorney who represented him in a class-action lawsuit against an airline, perjured himself on the stand to implicate him. So, Cutter pulls off an extremely compelling argument where he tries the attorney for the murder of Victor Cruz by perjury, since there wasn't any evidence against the attorney for the actual murder of which Cruz was convicted.
  • Actor Allusion:
    • Ed Green says he wasn't sure if Joe Fontana was "a cop or a wise guy" when they first met. This referred to Dennis Farina's having played mobsters in Miami Vice, Midnight Run and Get Shorty.
    • Fontana would also frequently mention his days as a Chicago cop. Farina played the lead character in Crime Story, who was a cop from Chicago. Also, Farina was a Chicago cop in Real Life before he became an actor.
    • In one episode, Lennie Briscoe mentioned that his father was Jewish and his mother was Catholic, while he was Raised Catholic himself, the same as Jerry Orbach's real family background.
    • Sam Waterston is well-known for his various stage and screen portrayals of Abraham Lincoln. Perhaps as a result, Jack McCoy has at various times suspended habeus corpus and become deeply involved in cases relating to human trafficking and slavery.
    • One episode featured a bitter, paranoid, blind man who blamed his lost vision on the medical profession. The actor playing him was Dana Elcar, who lost his sight while co-starring on MacGyver.
    • Lennie admitting to Green that he had once thought about attending law school. Jerry Orbach's first appearance on the show was as a defense attorney.
    • A 1993 episode stars Madeline Zima as the daughter of a Broadway producer accused of molesting her...awkward viewing for those who had already seen her as the daughter of a Broadway producer on The Nanny.
    • In "Filtered Life," Bernard tells a potential suspect "It's time To Tell the Truth."
  • Actually Pretty Funny:
    • In "Double Down", a complicated set of legal issues surrounding a deal for the testimony of a cop-killer has forced McCoy to pit Briscoe and Curtis against each other on the stand. Curtis, who has had tension with McCoy throughout the episode due to these issues, is asked a question from the defence attorney about whether McCoy should have taken an obvious interpretation of something he was told by the cops earlier in the episode. Curtis's reply is that in his experience, prosecutors aren't always very bright. A cut to McCoy shows him to clearly be amused at Curtis's veiled method of calling him an idiot.
    • Also in the episode "Smoke" when Briscoe and Green are seen speaking with Larry Miller about a fellow in-universe comic who's a suspect in a crime, Miller replies that they only had "a couple of drinks after a couple of shows a couple of decades ago". When Briscoe then quips if they became a couple afterwards, Miller then laughs at his joke.
  • Ad Hominem: In "Sideshow", McCoy refuses to disclose the name of a certain witness to the independent counsel in front of a grand jury because he promised the witness that he would keep her sexuality a secret, so the independent counsel attacks McCoy, Briscoe, Abbie, and Curtis's integrity, to diminish the DA's credibility enough to get him to reveal the name of the witness.
    • In the second part of "Sideshow", it's revealed that the independent counsel, under the pretense of investigating fraud and corruption, was actually using the witness's name to call out members of the government for being gay.
  • Affectionate Parody: The show's strict formula, distinctive iconography and influential Long Runner status has meant that it's been the subject of a lot of parody.
    • The Simpsons parodied the show with Law and Order: Elevator Inspectors Unit ("Helter Shelter").
    • Saturday Night Live ran a fake ad for Law & Order: Parking Violations Unit around the time Criminal Intent started.
    • [adult swim] also parodied this in a commercial announcing thirty or so Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law spinoffs.
    • Community based an entire episode around the main characters trying to find out who destroyed their yam-based science class project as if they were on an episode of this show.
    • Australian consumer rights show The Checkout does this in a sketch called "ACCC-CCCC" about a fictional division of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.
  • All for Nothing:
    • The daughter of a Holocaust survivor is determined to find the coins her father lost in the war. She tracks down a man who'd been boasting of the collection, the argument becoming heated and she ends up killing him. It's only near the end of the trial the truth comes out: The coins had been bought by a Swiss billionaire years before and the guy was lying about knowing where they were as a plan to make himself seem richer. The woman breaks down to realize the guy had no idea where the coins were and she killed for nothing.
    • In the Black Comedy packed "Couples," a man dies of a heart attack while jogging with his husband. When it turns out the "heart attack" was poison, the cops talk to the husband. He immediately breaks down and confesses, assuming they'd figured out he'd killed the guy already. It turns out that after all the effort to get rid of him so he could inherit everything, it turns out the state of New York won't recognize their marriage and as everything was in his husband's name, the guy would be out of a home and money anyway.
  • The Alleged Expert: Poor Lupo. He comes off as this a lot because he's studying to become a lawyer, and thus knows a lot more about law than other detectives; however, he makes poor (but logical) judgment calls and mistakes while investigating cases, which tears apart his credibility. Especially in "By Perjury", where Lupo read into the law well enough to legally, but unethically, get crucial evidence against a client that would've otherwise taken weeks to obtain. However, a pro se client uses Lupo's standing as a law student to convince the judge that Lupo violated the spirit of the law, even if he technically didn't violate its letter, and thus gets the crucial evidence and all charges against the attorney dropped.
  • All Psychology Is Freudian: Skoda loves using sexuality to elicit certain information from difficult patients.
    • To give one example from "Merger", he chatted normally with a mentally unstable girl about her murdered sister... then immediately presses her with "How did you feel about your sister sleeping with [your fiance]?"
    • In another from "Faccia A Faccia", he skeptically chats with an old mob boss who has supposedly incurred a debilitating stroke... before turning toward the mob boss's grandson and mocking the man's sexual impotency, and when the grandson retaliates, the mob boss reacts as a competent person would.
    • Dr. Olivet does this too in "American Jihad", where she is able to pinpoint a grossly misogynistic Islamic militant's radicalism to his impotency and overall feeling of invalidation from Western expectations toward white males. All from viewing one or two cross-examinations.
  • Always Murder: Even in cases that don't start out as murders - for example, "Corpus Delicti", which involved homicide detectives investigating a dead horse - eventually a body will surface. Even attempted murders have some form of a Sympathetic Murder Backstory.
    • Although, it's completely averted in "Doubles", which focuses entirely on a minor assault charge against a teenage tennis player, and it turns out that the tennis player actually wanted herself to be assaulted, so that she would have a reason to quit playing tennis.
    • Lampshaded in a late Briscoe episode. It's a day in the life episode, starts off as a pregnant woman is kidnapped, and they keep on finding these other crimes as they investigate. Including a woman running over a man with a car. They arrest her, she goes to preliminary court, and openly admits she killed him, she hated her husband, and doesn't mind being guilty. Then we go back to the detectives for the rest of the episode.
    • In "House Calls" there's a dead body, a controlling dad, and a shady celebrity doctor. But another aversion occurs, as the victim's injuries are self-inflicted, and the drug overdose that killed her? Turns out to be the result of a mistranslation of the doctor's recommendations, which were within acceptable medical parameters. And this only comes out when the witness innocently stumbles over the same mistranslation on the witness stand. Even McCoy, up to that point in full Crusading Lawyer mode, appears dumbfounded.
  • Ambiguously Jewish: In "Return", Evan Handler (of Sex and the City and Californication fame, both shows in which he portrayed pushover Jewish characters) plays an adopted Jew who stole money from his father's associate's business to fund his cocaine addiction, and executes a murder-for-hire to silence the owner. He did this because even though his father and the Jewish community he was raised in had strong religious convictions, he never felt as though he had a voice in his religion or the finances of his community, as everyone looked down on him for having been adopted; he killed the owner to protect what little influence he had. Indeed, in the end when discussing a plea agreement, he defers the decision to his adoptive parents.
    • Averted by Lennie Briscoe. During the prosecution of a Neo Nazi, the defense attorney accuses Lennie of steamrolling him because he's Jewish, based on the fact that his name is "Lennie Briscoe." Lennie says his father was Jewish, but his mother raised him Catholic.
  • Amoral Attorney: Attorneys, prosecutors, judges, hell, even clerks... no one is spared. Every single ADA on the series gets put through the wringer for corruption charges at least once. Jack especially so.
    • One attorney in "Pursuit of Happiness" uses a witness's Korean race to assert that he can't differentiate between Hispanic men. He even went so far as to outright lie to Ben that he didn't have a psychologist to attest to this. Ben's response:
    Stone: A Chinese guy can blow you away and get off scot-free because of "cross-racial identification". And that's the most comforting thought I've had all day.
  • An Aesop: Often not-so-subtly delivered by McCoy in his closing arguments.
    • The cake has to be taken in "Vaya Con Dios", where McCoy goes in front of the Supreme Court to argue that all life is sacred, to convince the legislature to convict a Chilean senator.
  • And Starring: The senior detective and the EADA are both introduced as "Starring..." despite the fact that the EADA is always fourth in the opening credits.
    • This is a relic of the original plan for the show. The idea was that the show would be more versatile in syndication if they could chop each episode into two parts and sell it in half hour blocks. If that had ever been the case, the "Law" episodes, with the cops, would have only had the three police officers shown in the credits, while the "Order" half, with the lawyers, would have only the attorneys.
    • "Also Starring Carolyn McCormick as Dr. Elizabeth Olivet" in the show's third and fourth seasons. This was because, at the time she got her Promotion to Opening Titles, she was the only female regular, and then NBC Entertainment president Warren Littlefield felt that the absence of female characters in the first two seasons was scaring away potential viewers. She was demoted soon after the arrivals of S. Epatha Merkerson and Jill Hennessey.
    • When actors such as Richard Brooks and Carey Lowell appear, or any actor who was previously a regular on the show, their roles are credited with "Special Guest Appearance(s) by:". This applies to the Homicide and SVU crossovers too, where detectives or ADAs from those shows appear.
  • "Angry Black Man" Stereotype: In "Bling", McCoy goes after a black businessman who continually gives him attitude, when in actuality, the killer, who is white, pretends to be timid and frightened to escape suspicion. In the end, when McCoy realizes his mistake and sees just how racist the killer is, he concedes that perhaps in a racist world, the businessman did have some right to have attitude.
  • Animal Testing: The 2001 episode "Whose Monkey Is It Anyway?"
  • Animal Wrongs Group: In "Animal Instinct," a professor is murdered and animal rights graffiti is found at the crime scene. The victim had been the target of protests from animal rights groups, so they're suspected of killing her, but it was really a mentally unbalanced woman who was obsessed with the victim's husband and the scene was staged.
  • Anticlimax: Averted in a lot of episodes, even those where the defendant accepts a plea bargain. However, "Can I Get a Witness" plays this straight to a fault. All the witnesses against a notorious drug dealer except for one are either killed, or back off from testifying against him. Because of this, the defense establishes enough reasonable doubt to render a "not guilty" verdict, leaving Serena and McCoy shocked and afraid for the safety of the witness who did testify.
  • Armor-Piercing Response: In "Mad Dog", after his pursuit of the released rapist reaches Inspector Javert levels, McCoy is downhearted when the rapist eventually snaps and is killed while attacking another woman in his building. He notes that he regrets things reached this level, but Jamie's response, much to his displeasure, notes that in light of his zealousness to bend or even break the law in order to get the rapist locked up again, his regret can't help but ring a little hollow:
    McCoy: I'm sorry things had to end this way.
    Jamie: Not that sorry.
  • Army of Lawyers: "Showtime" is a very notable example. Right after each and every lawyer of varying specializations for the defendant clearly states his or her name and specialization, Jack turns over to Jamie and facetiously whispers, "It's just you and me, Jamie."
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: The plot description for "Bitch":
    "A cosmetics tycoon (Lucie Arnaz) is involved in controversial stock transactions, scandalous affairs and hormone replacement therapy."
    • This exchange occurs in “Coma” when deciding whether to arrest a suspect:
    Det. Logan: What a smug bastard. Don’t you want to lock him up just on general principles?
    Claire Kincaid: Yeah. The blood, the prints, no alibi, past abuse, the gun, the divorce, the safe deposit box, and his personality.
  • Artistic License – Law: Quite a few. It's somewhat justified, however, considering that the trial process is shown to be more expedited than in real life, to have the episode fit into an (on average) 45-minute time slot.
    • A couple of episodes, "Aftershock" and "Bad Girl," feature executions when in reality the state of New York hasn't executed anyone since 1963, though the death penalty was on the books there at the time. note 
    • Nearly every show in this franchise has shown the cops barging into a doctor's office/exam room/ operating room to arrest the doctor in question or their patient. This is grossly inappropriate behavior that would never happen in Real Life (possibly even lampshaded by the fact that there's always someone present yelling, "You can't go in there!"). These actions would not only violate patient privacy (very often, they are present when the cops walk in), they would compromise the sterility of the OR and cause a huge swath of problems for the hospital/clinic staff.
    • Nearly every episode has the defendant testifying. While technically not forbidden, it is something that even the worst defense attorney knows is a bad idea for the very reason frequently depicted—the person is subjected to cross-examination and ends up incriminating themselves either via their attitude or what they say, resulting in their conviction. In the early days of the show this was actually cited if a defendant wanted to testify, with the defense attorney, the judge, and even the DA warning them against this, but as time went on, defendants testified as if this was standard procedure (forgivable from a storytelling standpoint, as after a whole episode of the crook ready to smugly get away with everything, it's incredibly cathartic to watch McCoy rip him to pieces on the stand).
    • "Navy Blues" features Lt. Kirstin Blair. After a whole episode of lying, blaming everyone else, and claiming she was being victimized by the DA's office on any talk show that would have her; she pleads guilty to first degree manslaughter. She then stands on the courtroom steps and pours her heart out to the media. When a sentence is handed down, it begins immediately. One would get clapped in irons and hauled off to prison by the bailiffs right then and there (as seen in plenty of other episodes) instead of being allowed a quick walk around the block with the lawyer before they begin their "Twelve and a half to twenty five" stretch. This was a violent crime with a fatality and a widow which makes it even more weird, although it's the only ending which fits the story given how camera hungry Lt. Blair was throughout the episode. This story also serves as a subversion of the "Law and Order" formula (See "Perp Walk" below), in that what is described here is a final scene on the courtroom steps and no-one got shot
      • "Tabloid" features a similiar press junket on the steps, again after the verdict.
    • "Everybody Loves Raimondo's" hopelessly and more or less unnecessarily messes up New Jersey’s legal system. The cops have to go to Jersey City to find and arrest their perp. At the last minute, the Jersey City detective who’s been working with them take the arrest themselves. As it turns out the Hudson County District Attorney wants the Jersey police to get the credit and his office to get the perp walk as publicity for his reelection campaign. Except...New Jersey doesn’t have elected district attorneys. In New Jersey, the chief officer responsible for managing the prosecution of criminal cases is called County Prosecutor, and he or she is not elected, but rather appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the state Senate. New Jersey County Prosectors might want the publicity of a perp walk if they plan to run for an elected office (hardly unheard-of), but they would never need it to keep their jobs.
    • At least a couple of episodes involve a suspect who is a citizen of a foreign country which won't extradite them back to America if they're facing the death penalty fleeing back to their home country to try and avoid prosecution. In these cases, the prosecutors have been known to get around this by basing their extradition request on a minor related offense that doesn't carry the death penalty to get the suspect back into the country, only to then apply the death penalty charges once they're safely back on American soil. In reality, extradition treaties and requests are usually carefully worded and approached to prevent these kinds of cute little end-runs, since countries which oppose the death penalty take the prospect of their citizens being subject to it very seriously; such extradition requests are often only granted if serious and genuine assurances that the death penalty will not be imposed are made, and a prosecutor knowingly performing such a switcheroo would create some very severe diplomatic problems for the United States. In reality, McCoy would most likely have to suck it up and either agree not to pursue the death penalty or allow the suspect to evade prosecution.
    • The series also routinely misinterprets the concept of spousal privilege. The actual idea is that while a spouse cannot be forced to testify, they can do so voluntarily. However, in universe, spousal privilege is absolute and a spouse is prohibited from ever testifying. This has caused A.D.A.s to go to extraordinary lengths, like McCoy getting gay marriage outlawed in the state on New York.
    • In order to add suspense to the trials, Judges will often allow absurd defenses to be presented, or more often, suppress evidence that nails the defendant, frequently on very loose interpretations of the law. When these decisions are made, they are accepted as final and the prosecution must find a way to ensure justice wins with a weaker case. In real life, the trial judge's decisions are not absolute: they can and are appealed by the State, all the way to the Supreme Court in some cases. If reversed, the Judge has no choice but to disallow the defense or re-admit the suppressed evidence.
    • In quite a few cases throughout the series, the defendant's lawyer will procure a motion for dismissal of various evidence or against charges altogether, regardless of circumstance — and in some cases, regardless of whether they had just learned the extent of what they're suppressing or not by lying in wait with a notice pre-emptively. In almost every instance they present a blue dismissal notice to the prosecutor's office, if not directly by hand, the instant the case has been made or shortly thereafter. Part of this has to do with streamlining the evidence presentation aspect of court hearings for pacing's sake, so the motions have to be added in somewhere. This also ties in with the decisions above, where in real life most motions to suppress major evidence fail compared to the dramatically high rate of suppression success in the series.
    • The sheer number of times an accused defendant's attorney happens to have particularly case-blowing information, and keeps it hidden against all better judgment, would be staggering. While the defense has to honor the attorney-client privilege, many of the revelations that are inevitably made of what they are privy to or covering up should have nuked many of their cases and perhaps even their careers outright, and that isn't even getting into endangerment and foolishness. One lawyer is outright called stupid when he was led by a previous defendant to proof of their fifteen murders and somehow didn't think one iota about the moral conundrum of it yet keeps his Legal Aid job to defend another serial killer, and Danielle Melnick in particular gets multiple lawyers killed because of her Crusading Lawyer shtick breaking a Judge's no-communication order with her defendant, but besides a crippling gunshot injury returns to continue making trouble with her license intact. Disclosure to Accused is also routinely violated, where the accused are immediately told everything they need to know by their lawyer, but somehow never run afoul or hit required information needing to be sent back to the court in response; it effectively stacks the deck in every suspect's favor and puts the onus entirely on the prosecution unless a case is especially abnormal in the episode.
    • There are quite a few cases where the defense are even exclusively holding onto personal information or a way to approach a cross-examination that comes completely out of left field in an attempt to hijack a case in their favor, despite the fact that in real life, both sides are supposed to present basically everything that they may use in a court case ahead of time, including their argument points; many of these situations are so against the actual law that it would make a real lawyer's head spin, and even the heroes regularly exploit this tactic in kind, to mixed results depending on a judge's individual tolerance. Judges are supposed to, special situations not withstanding, prevent this exact kind of legal chicanery, and strong violations are supposed to cause an outright mistrial. One of the only times this sort of mistrial is sought to be explicitly caused by this, where Michael Cutter's mentor uses this to her advantage to protect her accused clinic by outing personal information about him, not a single soul in the story even considers this illegal or in contempt of court given it has nothing to do with the case itself — everyone worries instead about all of Cutter's prior cases being affected.
  • Ascended Extra: Jerry Orbach made a cameo as a defense attorney on a season 2 episode before he started his best-known role as Det. Lennie Briscoe the following season.
  • Asshole Victim: About 33% of the Victims Of The Week turn out to be this - ranging from mere Jerkasses on the wrong end of Disproportionate Retribution to people who got what was coming.
    • Played with in "Dignity", depending on which side of the abortion argument you're on. A late-term abortion doctor who was murdered by a pro-life man in cold blood turned out to be somewhat of a radical. He consented to abort certain babies with treatable, if debilitating, genetic conditions. And, in one case, a woman went into labor while he was aborting her child; when the baby was born alive, the woman asked him to "go through with the procedure".
    • Subverted in "New York Minute". A trucker who is murdered is discovered to have imported numerous illegal immigrants into the country. On one such importation, the air conditioning system failed, and twelve immigrants in the back died. Initially, everyone thought the victim was a heartless scumbag who hid this vicious murders; that is, until it's discovered that an anti-immigration fanatic disabled the AC to make a statement, and killed him to cover his tracks.
    • Lampshaded in one episode when the murderer of a sex-trafficking brothel owner is acquitted. It is noted that this sometimes happens "when your victim is sleazier than your killer."
  • As Himself: "White Rabbit", whose Ripped from the Headlines aspect comes from several Weather Underground and related violent revolutionaries resurfacing, casts as himself William Kunstler, a lawyer who worked on a number of high-profile sixties cases, including the Chicago Seven.
  • Audit Threat: Happens all the time.
  • Autopsy Snack Time: Dr. Rodgers. Much to the chagrin and disgust of detectives and A.D.A.s alike.
    Dr. Rodgers: This is the cleanest room in the city.

     Tropes B 
  • The Bad Guys Are Cops: A lot of episodes show cops misusing their authority to various degrees.
    • "Bait" involved a detective using a teenage boy as a drug informant, which results in the boy becoming critically injured and his girlfriend being murdered.
    • "Hunters" had McCoy unable to prosecute two bounty hunters for abusing their license to kill by participating in a massive cover-up, where they killed an informant and his entire family.
    • Of course plenty of episodes have the cops on the main cast violating a suspect's civil rights in various ways, but it's okay because they're catching an actual bad guy... oh and the suspect was a jerk so that makes it even more okay.
  • Bail Equals Freedom: In lots of cases, the district attorneys try to remand dangerous high-income defendants because they fear that if they post bail, they'll target more people or even the victims.
  • Bait-and-Switch Lesbians: Inverted in "Blood", where Lennie tries to flirt with a nurse to get confidential information about a certain patient out of her. She tells him that another woman came in asking about the same patient, and that "she was a lot cuter than you."
    Lennie: I knew it.
  • Band of Brothers: Played with. While there is definitely a bond between the officers at a precinct, this is defied when it comes to the NYPD as whole as several episodes show that the Police Brass can be very petty and perfectly willing to throw officers under the bus. Cases in point, Logan was effectively exiled when he punched a homophobic politician (Criminal Intent states that Van Buren tried and failed to have him reassigned to the 27th). When Van Buren sued them because she was passed over for promotion in favor of a white woman with less seniority, the 27th had its resources cut off all in an attempt to make her quit.
  • Batman Gambit: Stone, McCoy, Cutter and some of the assistant ADAs have used a defendant's own personality traits against them, either to bluff them into pleas or trash them on the stand.
    • One was attempted by a defendant in a season six episode. The defendant ran a small prostitution ring consisting mainly of fellow college students, which was paid for and worked as supplement to her father's shoe-manufacturing business (the father would use the service for his business clients to convince them to buy his products). The defendant killed one of her prostitutes when she expressed desire to quit. McCoy had her on the ropes at trial (the fact that she fled jurisdiction was, in itself, pretty damning evidence), so a result she attempted to use Plan B and accused her father of the murder. The father, asked by McCoy prior to his testimony, didn't even know what floor of the library the girl he supposedly killed was on. The daughter was acquitted of all charges, and presumably they anticipated that McCoy would have the father arrested and tried for the murder, only to be acquitted because he didn't do it. McCoy pre-empts this and instead has the father arrested for enterprise corruption, for which he is guilty and would probably be convicted for.
    • In "American Dream", Phillip Swann (played by Zeljko Ivanek) almost pulls one off. He killed an old man who had swindled him out of money which he himself had swindled off of wealthier friends. He paid an accomplice, Russell Bobbett, to help him hide the body in New Jersey, but Swann himself later hid the body on Roosevelt Island; Bobbett then testified in Swann's trial that the body was in New Jersey. Eight years later, when the body is found on Roosevelt Island, Swann appeals his conviction and hires a hit-man to kill Bobbett. He then uses the fact that Stone relied on Bobbett's false testimony and Swann's cellmate's perjury to get an acquittal. He almost gets away with it... until Stone realizes that Swann had struck a deal with the cellmate who perjured himself. From there, he is able to get Swann for everything.
  • Be as Unhelpful as Possible: A staple of suspects and witnesses alike.
  • Beauty Equals Goodness: In "Bad Girl", a girl who wears heavy black makeup, abuses drugs, and is completely disrespectful to authority ruthlessly murders a police officer. In her trial, when the makeup is gone and she is calm on the stand, she admits to the murder and asks for a death penalty, because — having undergone a religious conversion in prison — she knows that she is in Jesus's hands. For this reason, a religious group argues that it would be inhumane for such a religious client to get the death penalty, to which McCoy argues that the group wouldn't even be pursuing this if she weren't a white, beautiful, Christian woman.
  • Berserk Button: Don't target Jamie's kids. In fact, don't target anyone's kids in front of Jamie. In "Working Mom", she freaks out on McCoy for threatening to prosecute a husband for obstruction and have his kids taken away, even though she knows that he made an Empty Cop Threat to see whether he was actually telling the truth.
  • Beware the Honest Ones: Serena, and Curtis to an extent. Serena completely goes against legal ethics and McCoy's tactics when they interfere her beliefs: especially McCoy's annulment of over 200 homosexual marriages in New York. Curtis is notable for upholding his religious convictions by refusing to use a priest's testimony in court because he feels that exchange of information between a priest and his disciple is analogous to that of attorney-client privilege.
  • The Big Rotten Apple: The series filmed exteriors on location in New York, and so practically acts as a time capsule charting the last days of New York's notorious reputation as a run-down crapsack hellhole in the late 1980s, through the cleaning up of the streets under Giuliani in the 1990s, to twenty-first century gentrification.
  • Bigotry Exception:
    • A suspect in "Homesick" was a deliveryman who worked at an upscale grocery store. He ended up being fired for slipping a racist note about Black people into one of the cereal boxes, which a Black family who shopped at the store happened to find. Upon being confronted by detectives, he willingly admitted to it and "freedom of speech" protection, but said that he liked the family he offended, calling them his best customers, saying that they were great tippers and that he didn't want to piss them off.
    • "Angel" has a shopkeeper who was bigoted towards Puerto Ricans not act too surprised that one was a suspect in the abduction of a little girl. He even said that he hoped they gained their independence from the states and said the only one worth respect was baseball great Roberto Clemente.
  • Big, Screwed-Up Family: The family of a former senator in the Season 17 episode "The Family Hour". The senator and his wife (the senator's children's stepmother) violently abused both of their children. The elder sibling, the daughter, in turn, abused her younger brother. When they grew up, the brother became a drug addict, so the senator chained him to a radiator. The daughter married an abusive husband, after which she couldn't take it anymore and killed her stepmother. The senator, then, kills the daughter and claims self-defense. Also, he admits his son to rehab in one of the best facilities in the world... in Switzerland, so the son couldn't be subpoenaed to testify against him. Yeah, pretty messed up.
  • Bilingual Bonus: Every cop duo in the franchise has at least one of the members (in almost every case, the junior detectives) knowing Spanish semi-fluently. Det. Curtis (obviously), Det. Green, and Det. Bernard all use this to their advantage. One exception to this rule is any team with Det. Logan in it. Logan was usually his duo's point man on Spanish, but he admitted he was just doing the best he could with "seventh grade Spanish."
    • Det. Fontana (Dennis Farina) knows Italian very well. He even has a hilarious conversation with an Italian woman in "Cry Wolf".
  • Bittersweet Ending: Many cases that end with a victory for the cast still tend to veer into this, usually because of the guilty being a Tragic Villain, or because the circumstances that led to the court case in the first place (usually via the victim(s) involved) lead to a depressing outcome. There's rarely an unambiguously Open-and-Shut Case with a completely positive result unless it's one of the very few Lighter and Softer episodes that are not as tragic as normal.
  • Black Boss Lady: Lieutenant Van Buren
  • Blackmail Backfire: The murder in "Blackmail" pretty much thrived on a chain of blackmails. Basically, a news reporter manipulates his boss and his boss's girlfriend into blackmailing a TV host for having multiple lesbian affairs. The girlfriend, however, gets cold feet; the news reporter preempts this by murdering her and using a sex tape to blackmail the boss into going through with the blackmail. Cutter and Rubirosa, then, blackmail the TV host into testifying against the boss, thereby blackmailing him; the boss is then forced to testify against the reporter.
  • Black-and-Grey Morality: When the protaganists go against the worst offenders it's generally this. The cops can be cynical, judgemental jerkasses who are willing to intimidate people but they are still generally good, however the attorneys are an even darker shade of grey, showing themselves as repeatadly only being interested in getting a conviction through any means necessary and not feeling too concerned about the possibilty of the suspects innocence. While they can be nice they seem most interested in furthering their own careers and are only "good" because most of the time the suspect is actually guilty.
  • Bland-Name Product: Anytime an episode focuses on a real business of some kind, expect said business to be replaced by a made-for-the-show equivalent.
  • Blank Slate: In the episode "Tabula Rasa" (which actually means "blank slate" in Latin), a father kidnaps and ruthlessly manipulates and indoctrinates his two daughters into obeying everything he tells them to do, by forcefully (but apparently lovingly) demanding that they follow his every order. He even does this to his new wife. Because of this, his wife and daughters have absolutely no opinions of their own and do everything by his calling, which makes him absolutely difficult to prosecute both for malicious endangerment and murdering a woman who uncovered this plot.
    • Also in "Sheltered". An ex-Marine kidnaps a young boy after his wife and child dies, and forces the boy to be raised as his son. He ruthlessly indoctrinates the boy and teaches him to shoot a rifle, and the boy essentially becomes a killing machine who murders three innocent people and his father's business partner in cold blood. The jury finds him Not Guilty By Reason of Mental Defect.
  • Bloodless Carnage: Averted in the later episodes, as network television became more loose about regulations against displaying blood.
  • Body in a Breadbox: In "Rapture", when Bernard and Lupo enter a suspect's house for questioning, they find a huge freezer in the living room. Opening it, they find the suspect's wife, who had allegedly gone missing years beforehand: the suspect said he hid it there for so long to remind himself of his sins.
  • Bookshelf of Authority: Season 5, Episode 6 "Competence" (and many other episodes), district attorney Adam Schiff stands in front of a large shelf of law books while speaking as the voice of reason to the ADA attorneys under him.
  • Brains and Bondage: The very rich couples in "Stiff", where the husbands use insulin to put their non-diabetic wives into shock, and then consensually rape them.
  • Brand X: Companies that McCoy prosecutes are usually puns on actual corporations involved in the Ripped from the Headlines scenarios. "Slaughter", for example, had companies such as "Big Bills" and "Agristar", thinly veiled reflections of McDonalds and the AFG.
    • An example overlapping with Real Life occurred after the original airing of “Hot Pursuit”. There was some kind of controversy regarding the episode’s use of "The Velvet Room," possibly because a real Velvet Room exists in NYC, so future airings and the DVD release have "Vivant Room" dubbed over it instead. It’s not too bad if you listen to the dialogue of the emergency technicians in the beginning, but it’s very jarring to hear Jack keep mentioning the club later on at the trial with the expressive voice of Sam Waterston so obviously redubbed.
  • Bread and Circuses: A variant of this trope is played in "Chattel". A couple pulls off a slavery ring involving young Haitian children coming to the country as unpaid servants, under the pretense that they were "adopted" by the families who brought them here. They justify this, both to themselves and the families involved, by claiming that they're rescuing these children from a dangerous society, they're not beating the children into working for them, and they're getting free work out of the deal (bread and circuses, much?). They justify this to the kids as well, by making them believe that they're receiving love and affection from the parents who adopt them, and one enslaved boy even lies in the grand jury room that he gets ice cream and video games (bread and circuses, much?) from his adoptive parents.
  • Brick Joke: Oh, lots. Chalk it up to humorous writing.
    • In "Merger", where one lawyer accuses Abbie of getting her panties in a twist. A little later, she approaches him after winning her appeal and says, "don't get a knot in your jocks."
    • In one episode, where a refined gentleman calls Briscoe uncultured. Later, Briscoe makes a snarky remark at a department store owner, to which Green says, "Forgive my partner. He's uncultured."
    • In "Blaze", both the defense attorney on the case and Branch tell McCoy to just get a new suit, when the latter objects to the trial being videotaped. In the first courthouse scene, McCoy is shown wearing a fancy new suit.
  • Brother–Sister Incest: In "Lucky Stiff".
    Chad Klein (the brother): It's not like we're related.
  • Buddy Cop Show: The banter between Briscoe and Green in Seasons 13 and 14 really came the closest to this.
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Robinette, surprisingly. The episode "Custody" cast him as a hypocritical and downright dirty race-baiting attorney, but at the same time the episode demonstrated him to be a far more excellent and capable attorney than his time as a series regular permitted him to be.
    • Subverted with Randy Dworkin, a defense attorney who appeared in three episodes in the series. In all his appearances, he starts out by presenting himself as incompetent and making nonsensical, inappropriate jokes toward the judges. In reality, he's an extremely effective attorney, capable of delivering extremely prejudicial arguments to significantly sway the jury. However, while he delivers ruthless arguments, Dworkin subverts it by being fair, even sometimes conceding McCoy's position.
      • When the court clerk introduces "the People vs. Strelzik", Dworkin goes so far as to say, "I object, your honor! The People of New York? I'd say that's a bit prejudicial! Certainly doesn't mean ALL the people of this great state are against my client!" Makes him likable, if asinine, to say the least.
  • The Bus Came Back:
    • Detective Curtis in a Season 20 episode, where he invites Van Buren to his wife's funeral.
    • Jamie Ross in a Season 10 episode, where she plays a defense lawyer. And she faces a hearing in front of the disciplinary committee at the end of the episode. Which is ironic, considering that one of the reasons she left was because Jack faced a hearing as well.
  • But Not Too Black: Lampshaded in the intro of "Skin Deep", where a white cop eyes a mixed-race model in a cafe. His black partner says, "You like her because she has white features." The cop replies, "Yeah. Same reason why I like you."

     Tropes C 
  • Cain and Abel: Inverted in "Brother's Keeper". A mob informant for the FBI cops to the murder his identical twin brother (a professor at a university) committed, and even killed a witness who identified the professor. Because neither brother admits the truth, McCoy arrests the mob informant while he keeps the case against the professor open. The mob informant then gets killed in prison by another mobster whom he helped arrest, while the professor walks away scot-free. In effect, the mob informant saved his brother so that his dream that his brother would turn out good could be realized.
  • The Cameo:
    • Julia Roberts in "Empire". She and Benjamin Bratt (Det. Curtis) were in a relationship at the time, so she played a seductive witness to the detective.
    • Rudy Giuliani, then still mayor of New York City, during Nora Lewin's first appearance in "Endurance."
  • Canon Discontinuity: Apparently the case with Law & Order: Trial by Jury, as when Season 21 premiered, it featured Jamie Ross,who quit the DA’s office at the end of Season 8 and later appeared as a defense attorney in Seasons 10 and 11, but is now back as an ADA rather than a judge like she was in Trial.
  • The Casanova:
    • Mike Logan. Even as far back as the pilot, he's shown flirting with a female police officer. He loves to tell a lot of dirty jokes to Lennie about women he's slept with and attractive female witnesses.
    • For that matter, Lennie as well. It's heavily implied throughout the series that part of the reason his marriages failed and his relationship with his daughters became strained is because he slept around. He still goes at it, though; especially in "Legacy", where he goes undercover as a hit-man, and charms an older woman into trusting him.
  • Cassandra Truth: Used by a lot of suspects when asked why they didn't approach the police earlier: "they wouldn't believe me." To varying shades of truth. Occasionally, the ridiculous, implausible stories told by defendants or suspects turn out to be true.
    • In one episode, the cops and prosecutors assume that a woman and her apparent lover (the victim's best friend) conspired to kill the woman's husband so that they could be together. It turns out there wasn't an affair at all. The apparent "relationship" was actually the guy stalking her, and he murdered her husband of his own volition to get her for himself.
  • Cardboard Box Home: Multiple episodes deal with the homeless, some of who live in the "traditional" cardboard box.
  • Cast Calculus: Two Power Trios, for both the Law and the Order parts, which mirrors the nature of the series. The Law trio consists of the senior detective (sometimes a sergeant), the junior detective, and the CO of the 27th precinct. The Order trio consists of the Executive Assistant District Attorney, his Assistant District Attorney, and their (elected) boss, the District Attorney of New York County (Manhattan).
  • Caught by Arrogance: They managed to catch several criminals (after profiling them as egomaniacs) by deliberatly posting false infomation in the papers to goad them into correcting them. Goren in Law & Order: Criminal Intent was especially fond of the trick.
  • Caught on Tape: Interestingly subverted in "Tragedy On Rye", where three black man are caught on tape taking a TV from a dead woman's apartment, and are sentenced to the death penalty for her murder. And they didn't do it. Thankfully, they're released only a few days after the conviction.
  • Caught with Your Pants Down: In "Shangri-La". Taken to egregious levels of idiocy when the defendant's (a high school teacher) lawyer asserts that just because his client was caught half-naked with his teenage student, doesn't mean that they were necessarily having sex.
  • Chain of Deals: The actions behind the central crime in "Kid Pro Quo". A bunch of rich moguls pulled strings to get their five-year-old children into a prestigious academy, at the expense of poorer children who were more qualified.
  • Chekhov's Gun: If a minor detail is ever made mention of during the episode, you can expect that it will somehow surface later. For example, when Connie is interviewing the Mexican mother of a young hit-man, she casually asks about the dish the mother is cooking. Later, when trying to convince the boy for a plea agreement, she asks the mother to cook some of the dish in order to emotionally remove the boy from his cold, killer's exterior.
  • Chinese Launderer: Lots of Asians are portrayed as owning laundromats.
  • Chocolate Baby: The victim's son in "Blood". Because both the victim and her husband appear completely white, the police obviously suspect an affair; but it's completely subverted when the husband turns out to actually be black, with extremely white features.
  • Choke Holds: In "Veteran's Day", an ex-military man upset at a Jerk Pacifist mocking his dead soldier son employs a sleeper hold blood choke. It leaves telltale bruises over the victim's carotid arteries.
  • Chromosome Casting: For the first three seasons, all of the regulars were male. NBC complained about this repeatedly to Dick Wolf, who attempted to rectify this without changing the Cast Calculus by adding a regular psychiatrist character played by a woman, and later on even adding her name to the opening credits (in the only case of Promotion to Opening Titles in series history). But the network was not satisfied and, at the end of the third season, demanded that Wolf fire two of his six male regulars and replace them with women. From that point forward, the series always had at least two women in the cast.
  • Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: A few of the assistant detectives. Notably Jenny, Lupo's sister-in-law, whose husband (Lupo's brother) committed suicide. She appeared in four episodes in Season 18, and it was implied that she and Lupo were together before she married his brother; however, she disappeared with little, if any explanation.
  • Church of Happyology: At least twice — the first time it was disguised as a series of financial seminars (although it started out as a religion), the second it was a straight cult based on Scientology although it turned out they weren't behind the murder in that episode.
  • Cold Cash: Lampshaded in "Purple Heart", where Det. Logan searches a freezer and finds cereal inside. After sarcastically wondering "you know anybody who eats their cornflakes frozen?", he dumps the box out to find a huge wad of cash.
  • Cold Opening: Up to around Season 18, the opening showed witnesses (very rarely, even the killers themselves) happening upon a body, usually involving a Seinfeldian Conversation. In the later seasons, the opening showed the victims hours, minutes, or days before their deaths, to foreshadow the circumstances around their killing.
  • Color-Coded for Your Convenience:
    • In the title sequence the pictures of the detectives are all blue and the lawyers are all red.
      • Done intentionally. The American flag is shown in the opening title sequence; between the blue and red title cards, there are black and white, sometimes gray, pictures of the accused and their trials. This symbolizes the various shades of gray between justice, and the struggle the officers of the court face in maintaining the integrity of the American criminal justice system.
    • The dreaded "motion" papers from the defense are usually blue.
  • Common Nonsense Jury: Lots. The most common reason is a phenomenon known as "jury nullification", where the jury judges the law instead of the defendant, and acquits him or her (or grants a mistrial) because they believe that the statute must be written differently.
    • In "Blue Bamboo", for example, an actress murders a Japanese man who used her as a prostitute back when she worked in Japan. The woman had plagiarized her defense of her "battered women's syndrome" from books, and there was a lot of evidence to indicate that she willfully premeditated the murder. However, her attorney puts the victim's Japanese ethnicity on trial, asserting that since Japan has a long history of mistreating women, it was acceptable for her to kill the man. The jury acquits her.
  • Commuting on a Bus: Robinette. A good case can be made for the recurring judges throughout the series, such as Judge Bradley, Judge Scarletti, Judge Solomon, Judge Feinman, etc. Also some notable defense attorneys, such as Rodney Fallon, Prof. Norman Rothenberg, Diane Melnick, etc.
    • Dr. Olivet was this, when she was no longer a series regular from Seasons 9-12. She appeared in "Refuge Part 1" and "Killerz", as she was in a private psychology practice. Eventually, her character returned to state practice and reverted back to being a series regular, alongside Dr. Skoda, when J.K. Simmons (Skoda's actor) became progressively unavailable.
  • Confess in Confidence: What attorney-client privilege entails. However, there are limitations: 1) if a client must testify under oath, a lawyer may not suborn perjury, or knowingly tell his or her client to lie; 2) a lawyer can't aid or abet an ongoing criminal act, which means that if his client is continuing to do something illegal, he is legally and ethically obligated to report the crime; 3) the lawyer also can't suppress any statement his client willfully makes provided that it was done legally or in good faith.
    • "Murder Book" plays with the first limitation. A client clearly committed a murder, but was acquitted; after the fact, he downright admits to it in a book, similar to OJ Simpson. McCoy preempts a confession by asking him whether the content of the book was true, which the client says it's not. The lawyer basically suborned the perjury, and while McCoy isn't able to prove that the lawyer knew about it, he's able to hang the defendant using his previous crime.
    • "Past Imperfect" involves the second limitation. A lawyer takes in his client's bloody shirt, which makes him guilty of this, and he thus has to testify as to everything his client may have done or told him.
    • In "Family Friend" the third limitation is addressed. A client basically admits to killing a man in cold blood, but withdraws it at the advice of his counsel. He lies on the stand in order to distract the prosecution by implicating a slew of convicts and criminals.
  • Continuity Nod: In Season 13's "Open Season", Danielle Melnick, a recurring lawyer throughout the series, gets shot by a white extremist patriot group deeming her to be a threat to America. In her next appearance in Season 14's "City Hall", she's seen walking with a cane, indicating that she survived, but was severely injured from, her attack. McCoy also makes reference to her being the victim of gun violence.
    • Lennie's daughter's death (which occurred in Season 8's "Damaged") comes up again multiple times during the series, usually to denounce his credibility.
    • In Season 7's "Under The Influence", McCoy and the judge conspired to hide a witness who could have helped the defense's case. For the rest of the series, it proves to be Once Done, Never Forgotten, and especially not after he becomes the senior DA trying to reign in overzealous young ADAs.
  • The Conspiracy:
  • Conspiracy Theorist: In "Absentia," a guru on trial for murder claims that the government is framing him ... and also that the government killed John Lennon.
    • The defendant in "Blood Libel" claims that the Jews are framing him. Plus, he gets a Klan lawyer to defend him. The jury grants a mistrial.
    • See John Munch, below.
    • Robinette, regrettably, became a Black Militant variant on the three occasions he guest starred. Although DA Adam Schiff says, "You won't find Paul Robinette hawking bean pies for Louis Farrakhan": in that Robinette is not an extremist and he is fair.
    • In "Conspiracy", the prosecution is unable to prove that the African American Congress orchestrated the murder of one of their own representatives. Adam says in the end, "One thing about all conspiracies; they all blame the CIA."
  • Cool Old Guy: Max Greevey, Lennie Briscoe, Jack McCoy.
  • Cops Need the Vigilante: This franchise, with its passion for legal truthiness, was typically careful about this. Cops weren't allowed to break the rules and neither was anyone else. When someone did break a rule, it usually meant the DA's office had to tap dance on quicksand to keep the perp from getting away with it.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Anyone running a business larger than a neighborhood deli may be portrayed as this, whether they're actually guilty or not. Particularly evident regarding anyone who works in the health care or health insurance fields.
    • In "The Corporate Veil", for example, a corporation called Bio Tech distributes faulty, used pacemakers for profits. Bio Tech's CEO, however, makes Stone's prosecution exceedingly difficult when it's uncovered that he pays off families whose relatives die due to the faulty pacemakers, in exchange for their silence. In addition, his son inspects the pacemakers; thus, it gets to a point where Stone can solely prosecute the son, and not the CEO himself, for depraved indifference.
  • Corrupt Politician: Often a victim, a murderer, or a conspirator.
  • Could Say It, But...: At times the cops or the ADA had to question someone who's knowledge is privileged because they’re a doctor or lawyer so they have resorted to speaking in hypotheticals.
  • Counterfeit Cash: Invoked in some cases where police plant marked bills, which are currency notes marked with a certain identifying feature to trace the passage of them through money laundering schemes or drug/prostitution rings.
    • Played with in "Narcosis", where cops who went in undercover as patrons at a certain brothel perform a sting operation at the brothel. When looking for the marked bills, they cannot find them; it turns out that the owner of the brothel (who later becomes the victim of the crime) was smart enough to recognize that the bills were incriminatory. So, the police fake the marked bills in full view of the camera, and the corrupt police commissioner in charge of the investigation uses the tape to keep insurance against the cops.
  • Covers Always Lie: Despite the fact that he is one of the leading detectives for more than a third of the season, the season 3 DVD box cover doesn't even feature Paul Sorvino's Detective Cerreta. Instead, it prominently features Detective Briscoe.
  • CPR: Clean, Pretty, Reliable: A lot of episodes involving CPR show the ones who administer the procedure whaling away at a suspiciously pillowy body. However, the show as a whole averts the trope, dealing with CPR realistically. In "Ain't No Love", for example, one boy tries to do CPR on his mentor after he is shot; he does it poorly, however, leaving deep, jagged cuts upon the victim's chest.
  • Crapsack World: Considering that law enforcement is forced to deal with some of the worst of society, it often feels this way.
  • Crippling the Competition: Subverted in a based on the Tonya-Nancy saga. When a tennis player's wrist is broken, suspicion falls on her rival. It turns out that the girls were actually friends and arranged the attack because she wanted to quit but knew that her Stage Dad wouldn't let her otherwise.
  • Crisis of Faith:
    • At the end of the episode "Under God", Jack explains to Serena the reason behind his bitterness toward religion. A boy Jack says he used to tag along behind like a puppy, Tommy Sudor, died in a VA hospital during the Vietnam war. A couple of days before Tommy's death, two priests approached the boy, who was in a lot of pain, and asked him to do a death bed recantation of his sins. Tommy replied, "What difference would it make?" When Tommy and Jack were left alone, Tommy turned to Jack, smiled briefly, and said, "God forgive me if I'm wrong." Jack then laughs to himself about the irony, that he's still like a puppy, tagging along behind Tommy long after he died.note 
    • Connie's views toward abortion and religion shift rapidly as her time on the show progresses, culminating in "Dignity".
  • Crossover: Several with its own spinoffs, as well as with Homicide: Life on the Street.
  • Crossover Couple: In the first Homicide: Life on the Street crossover "Charm City" and "For God and Country", Tim Bayliss has a crush on Claire Kincaid but it doesn't go anywhere.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: Oh, tons. One includes a husband suffering a heart attack after writhing in pain because his wife castrated him for cheating on her (04x17); another involved a movie director hacking his producer wife to death while she was still alive because she interfered with his career (07x15-17); yet another had a deliveryman mauled by teenagers who didn't want to pay for Chinese takeout, and then one of the guys whacked him ruthlessly over the head with a cement block while the man choked on his own blood (11x12).
  • Crusading Lawyer: The lawyer in "Bodies". In it, he withholds the disclosure of his pedophilic, rapist client's bodies of his victims. Even after McCoy prosecutes him successfully, he still refuses to give the bodies, and goes to jail for obstruction and gets his attorney's badge revoked. Serena, who hated the guy from the start, begins to respect him.

     Tropes D 
  • Darker and Edgier: Inverted throughout the progression of the series; earlier episodes tend to show more gritty camera lighting and heinous crimes, while later episodes tend to show lighter camera angles and more controversial issues than individual crimes.
    • Chris Noth (Mike Logan's actor) has often criticized this progression in interviews, claiming that the show was better when it had an all-male cast.
  • Dawson Casting: Invoked strangely in "Shangri-La", both in-universe and in the context of the episode. The murderer (played by an actress who was 21 at the time), a 26-year-old woman, continually reinvents herself as a 16-year-old three times in order to relive the life of a high school girl. It's also subverted, when it's revealed that the character applies heavy makeup to make herself look younger.
  • Day in the Life: 4x17, Mayhem, which included a clock in addition to the usual scene-change cards.
  • Dead All Along: Used for a horrifying twist in "Personae Non Grata", when the girl, Chrissy, that had been text messaging the culprit into killing for her was murdered by her own mother and buried years prior. By the time the detectives finally find her, she's nothing but bones, and the case swiftly turns from trying to prove the mother's manipulations to trying to put her behind bars, even if it takes the catfished culprit in the present to testify.
  • Dead Man's Chest: Trunks of abandoned cars are very popular.
  • Dead Man Writing: In at least one episode, where a murder victim left video evidence to clear his best friend of the crime.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Actually pretty common among the cops. Notable examples include Mike Logan, Lennie Briscoe & Ed Green.
    • They're not the only ones. The attorneys also get their fair share. See Schiff One-Liner.
      McCoy: What can I say? Turns out, no one's made of steel, not even with a 160 IQ.
      Serena: And neither are you.
    • There is also a balding arraignment judge who loves dealing out the wisecracks with his decisions.
  • Deal with the Devil: McCoy does this a lot, notably in "Fools For Love", before subverting the deals completely. He makes a deal with a girl that she would testify against her boyfriend (which damns him to 25-to-life) in exchange for her getting three to four years in prison for crimes they co-conspired. When McCoy asks her to testify about her involvement in the crimes in the allocution, she thinks that she's home free and thus talks about all the vicious crimes she committed. McCoy exploits the sympathy of the judge enough for her to declare the three to four years insufficient, and McCoy is able to retry her for a much higher sentence.
  • Death Bed Confession: One of the few hearsay exemptions. Usually played for drama when it shows up. A notable example is "Ghosts": A mugger, shot by a cop, confesses to a murder Detective Fontana worked on 10 years earlier, and thought he had solved.
  • Debate and Switch: In "Competence", when McCoy tells the black defense attorney (who is representing a black teenager) that he will put the victim's white girlfriend on the stand against his client. The attorney, in response, spews a diatribe about how the jury will believe the word of a white girl over that of a black boy. Later, when McCoy indicts the boy for murder, the attorney puts the white girl on the stand.
  • Decided by One Vote: Not by one vote, but 200. In "Deep Vote", a certain candidate has a mechanic to tamper with certain voting machines in a certain district which would vote against her, so that the public could vote using paper ballots... then has those paper ballots hidden, so that the district's votes remain suppressed.
  • Deconstruction: Although hardly the first Darker and Edgier crime drama, Law & Order made its name by focusing on being Ripped from the Headlines and showing that the good guys don't always win, or in some cases aren't exactly being good guys. While the police procedural usually followed fairly standard matters (albeit decidedly less dramatic or over-the-top than most), the District Attorney work consistently gets compromised, heated and even downright raw in their deals if they even make any. And unlike most other series, the characters effectively existed as a platform for the cases, rather than for an ongoing story and development; the personal lives so many dramas focused on were rare and intentionally de-emphasized to show their roles as the various chains holding up the legal system.
  • Depth of Field: A shallow depth-of-field is frequently used when filming in crowded areas full of non-acting people. This way, the characters stand in sharp contrast and nobody sues the show.
  • Desperately Craves Affection: "Just A Girl In The World" involves a Femme Fatale sleeping with a ton of men - including Det. Lupo - and malingering illnesses to gain their trust. She takes this act up to eleven when she downright accuses the judge at her murder trial of desiring sexual favors from her. Cutter responds by off-handedly mentioning to her as the trial is about to reconvene that he'll help her, but instead turns her history of cheating on men against her to denounce her credibility. She turns into a total slut on the witness stand, touching herself and telling Cutter that she needs him. At the very end of the episode, she is shown seducing a prison guard: after being convicted of at least 25 years to life.
  • Deus ex Machina: In "Illegitimate", the detectives screw up the investigation to the point where the prosecutors can't nail the perp for either of the two murders he committed. It looks like he'll get away with it... that is, until the Kennedy family (yes, that one) uses their power to issue a gag order on the case, which could only be broken if the perp confessed: which Cutter and Rubirosa manipulate him into doing.
  • Diabolus ex Machina: "Memo From the Darkside", which has Cutter making a compelling argument against an attorney's government memo, which outlined and justified torture to soldiers in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. Cutter's (and McCoy's) plan is to not only use the memo to establish motive for the murder of a former soldier, but to implicate the entire Bush Administration for bad acts committed during the Iraq War. However, right before the verdict is read, the Obama Administration saves the attorney by using a mere notice to transfer him to federal court, rendering the verdict and all of Cutter's acts invalidated.
  • Deus ex 'Scuse Me: The show does this a lot. Pick a series, pick an episode, someone answers their cell (usually Det. Green) and walks out of the scene.
    • Except those episodes that predate cellphones being common...of which there are several seasons worth.
    • While interviewing a witness, if their child or friend walks into room for any reason, expect them to somehow play a part in the case, usually by being the guilty party.
  • Did Not Do the Bloody Research: In "Exchange", this trope provides a clue that a blog supposedly written by a British victim was actually part of someone's vendetta against her.
  • Didn't Think This Through: All sides tend to make this mistake. Detectives have a habit of occasionally gathering evidence or confessions through questionable (and, when presented in court, potentially case-damaging) means. Prosecution may occasionally strike out because they made the wrong call and, infamously in McCoy's absolute hunt for the law, greatly overestimated their odds. Defense Attorneys have a habit of damaging their own case and getting their client screwed over by foolishness or being too much of a Smug Snake. And if we had to list every single individual perp that did something reckless and/or dumb and got caught for it or blew their own defense, this would be far too large a trope. There's a multitude of reasons why the accused shouldn't go into cross-examination on the stand.
  • Did They or Didn't They?: Dr. Olivet and Det. Logan. She consoles him after Sgt. Greevey's death, and they become friends, but it's never mentioned just how close they became. That is, until Season 18's "Betrayal", when McCoy (through Cutter) denounces her credibility by revealing that she slept with a detective who had lost his partner.
  • Disguised in Drag: The defendant in "Hands Free", who actually did this for ten long years.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: When Van Buren sued the NYPD after being denied promotion, her precinct was denied resources in an attempt to make her quit.
  • Dirty Business: DA Adam Schiff literally says it about seeking the Death Penalty for a serial killer with a sympathetic background. "True North". She killed her wealthy husband's previous wife in order to marry him, then arranged to have him and her step-daughter killed, then ultimately killed their killer to cover it up. But she'd been taken advantage of many times, had come from a poor background, and did her best to get ahead...
  • Disregard That Statement: Attorneys use this to their advantage. While interviewing a witness, they ask an inappropriate question or make a baseless assertion before withdrawing it, so that they can sum up a testimony for a jury. And, depending how lenient the judge is, they do this multiple times in a single cross-examination without the fear of being cited for contempt.
  • Diplomatic Impunity: In quite a few episodes.
    • "Consultation" involved one diplomat bringing Africans into the US to smuggle heroin, and having them work as dealers and tradesmen. Stone is finally able to convict him; however, the diplomatic immunity backfires when the Nigerian government reserves the right to sentence him, and the Nigerian consulate heavily implies that he will be put to death. Stone isn't happy with the outcome.
    • "Enemy" had one "diplomat" (he was actually an informant for the US in Afghanistan and Iraq) using his position to justify ordering the murder of eight teenagers. Basically, his Insane Troll Logic is that 1) the US knew he was smuggling heroin, 2) he used the sale of heroin to sustain his business practices, and therefore 3) any act of sustaining his business practices (which includes the massacre) is the fault of the US government.
  • Dirty Cop: Occasionally a bad guy was a cop on the take. The show even dealt with the possibility that some main characters were dirty.
    • The show heavily implied that Fontana might have been dirty. His clothes were way too nice and he had way too much money. If he had been around longer, they might have explained that.
    • Lennie Briscoe also let some people think he was dirty so they'd be more willing to talk. Also, he got the occasional free lunch out of it. That sort of thing only happened a few times, though.
    • Detective Profaci. It's revealed in "Exiled: A Law & Order Movie" (which takes place during the events of season nine) that he participated as a mob informant to get money to fund his wife's in vitro fertilization, since she couldn't conceive on her own.
    • The prosecutors weren't exempt from this trope either, as there were several episodes focused around hearings regarding McCoy's alleged wrongdoings in the District Attorney's office. Also, Serena almost loses her badge: see No Good Deed Goes Unpunished for more details.
  • Disappeared Dad: Often. As victims, as criminals, as Freudian Excuses, and as main characters.
    • Cutter's father was one. It bites him in the butt in "Brazil", where the defense attorney accuses him of prosecutorial bias for pressing charges against a father who was forced to abandon his children.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Hoo, boy, Carla Perrazo in "Couples". She kills her husband by repeatedly running him over with her car not for "his cheating" or "his perversions," but because, in her words, "I don't go under the knife for anybody.". *points at her boobs with her thumbs* "THESE were good enough for him when we got married!"
  • Divorce Is Temporary: In "Love Eternal", which involved a plot by three husbands to defraud their wives by making seemingly bogus investments (in comic books and homes) that actually entailed huge payoffs. After they would divorce their wives, the husbands would sell the items and make big bucks so that their wives couldn't touch a single penny. One of the husbands actually was in love with his wife, however, and planned on actually remarrying his wife after divorcing her, which would blow the whole scheme into shreds. This resulted in his death.
  • Does Not Drive: The detectives occasionally encounter witnesses or suspects who don't have a driver's license for ID because they never learned to drive. One college student tells them he's a third-generation non-driver - his parents and his grandparents lived their whole lives in New York City, and none of them ever learned to drive. Truth in Television: New York City has so many small stores, bars, restaurants, and other businesses lining its streets, and so many other ways of getting around (walk, bike, bus, taxi, subway...), that it's entirely possible to live there and find everything you need without driving anywhere. Meanwhile, driving (not to mention parking) a car can be so difficult and expensive that it's not worth the bother.
  • Double Meaning: "Asterisk" has a prejudicial one. The judge bars McCoy from using the fact that the client, a baseball player, is gay, because he obtained that information unethically. Later, McCoy tries to put a witness on the stand to testify as to the motive, that the ball player killed the victim to hide his homosexuality, but the judge disallows that too. In the closing arguments, McCoy continually states that the baseball player's motive was that he cheated; to everyone but Serena, the defense, and the judge, it appears that cheated refers to the defendant's "steroid use", when in fact, it means "hiding that he was gay". The defendant is convicted for the murder, but Serena is mad as hell at Jack for conflating steroid use with homosexuality.
  • Draft Dodging: A number of Vietnam war episodes deal with this, notably "White Rabbit". McCoy is sympathetic toward this, because it's heavily implied that he was conscientiously against the war from its beginning. Until he discovers that the draft dodgers in the episode actually pulled off a conspiracy to kill a cop.
  • Dramatic Irony: In "Bodies", the suspect's first attorney asks to be removed from the case because she feared her client. The judge said he would hand the case to Legal Aid, saying "They don't make enough to worry about ethics." His second attorney is arrested for refusing to tell the DA about the suspect's other victims, and is tried, defending himself by claiming he's standing by his ethics.
    • In "Reality Bites," the episode starts with Jim Gaffigan's character arriving home and finding his wife murdered. He reacts with shock and surprise. There's no one else with him to perform for and it makes absolutely no sense that he would pretend to have this reaction if he killed her without anyone there to see it, but the rest of the episode portrays him as the likely killer.
  • Downer Ending: Every second episode.
    • If there is a "happy" ending, you are still going to leave seriously thinking about some issue. If the ending isn't bittersweet, then the crime itself (or situations linked to it) was horrible. Season 10 was particularly bad about this, with about half the episodes ending with some less-than-satisfactory conclusion.
    • "Damaged." Judge William Wright overturns a jury's guilty verdict against three boys accused of raping a mentally disabled girl with the reasoning that McCoy hadn't been able to prove the state's case. Wright and all three of the boys pull a Karma Houdini of sorts, with the implication that the boys would continue having sex with girls at their school. Also, Lenny's daughter is murdered after testifying against drug dealers (Even worse, the case against the drug dealers ended in mistrial... although the next season would briefly revisit this issue, with a somewhat worse ending for the drug dealer).
    • "Aftershock," one of the rare episodes that focused more on the characters' personal lives. McCoy, Kincaid, Briscoe, and Curtis witness a state execution, and they all react in different ways. Curtis cheats on his wife, and Briscoe and McCoy go out drinking to reflect on their family. McCoy calls Kincaid to pick him up, but leaves before she gets there, and Kincaid ends up giving Briscoe a ride home. On the way, they are struck by a drunk driver, killing Kincaid instantly.
    • "Can I Get a Witness?" had two teens witness the murder of their friend, a fellow student and drug dealer. Both kids soon clam up from telling cops what they saw, only for them to eventually convince them to testify. The one kid is subsequently murdered due to not taking the threat of the dangerous killer or his associates seriously, allowing the charges in the first murder to be dropped (due to the evidence now being inadmissible and double jeopardy attaching to the charge), the scumbag defense attorney was said to be involved in witness intimidation, but in the end, all the men get off free and the two kids had their lives ruined for nothing.
    • "Killerz." A sociopathic little girl kidnaps and brutually murders a small boy, but due to her age, her Disappeared Dad, her own manipulative ways and the hand holding of both her mother who refuses to see anything wrong with her child and her opportunistic defense attorney, she gets away with her crime and is already looking into moving on to her next victim.
    • CollegeHumor lampshades this, facetiously asserting that the "cancerous" Law & Order franchise feeds off of depressed old people sitting in front of their TV sets, waiting for endings like these.
  • Dramatic Gun Cock: Hammer-cocking sound happens with every time a cop's gun gets pulled, including Smith & Wesson Model 36 revolvers, which do have hammers, and even including Glocks, which have no hammer to cock in the first place!!
  • Dropped a Bridge on Him: Poor Kincaid and Borgia
  • Dropped After the Pilot: Roy Thinnes (as D.A. Alfred Wentworth) appeared in the pilot, "Everybody's Favorite Bagman." When it came time for the series to go into production, Thinnes was unavailable, working on a revival of Dark Shadows. So the role was renamed ("Adam Schiff") and recast (Steven Hill). There was no on-screen explanation for the change, which really confused viewers when NBC inexplicably aired the pilot as the sixth episode. Especially when Steven Hill is credited in the opening titles, but Roy Thinnes appeared as the DA.
  • Dude, Where's My Respect?: Lampshaded multiple times by the detectives. Logan says this when his and Briscoe's car is ticketed because they didn't pay the meter. In another case, Briscoe and Green have to fork over $12.50 for evidence in a photo development store.

     Tropes E 
  • Eagle-Eye Detection: Lampshaded by a defense lawyer when the detectives detain a certain suspect because they are able to see, from a subtle lump in the suspect's waistband, that he is carrying a gun. Both the arrest and the gun are thrown out of evidence.
  • Eagle Land Osmosis: Lampshaded by defense lawyers in "Blue Bamboo", who claim that since their witness wasn't Mirandized in Japan, any statement she made there is invalid. It doesn't help that they turn to extremely bigoted arguments to justify their opinion.note 
  • Early-Bird Cameo: A detective in "Justice", a Season 10 episode, later becomes the central character in "Vendetta", a Season 14 episode.
    • In "Justice", a certain judge, Wolinsky, back when he was a prosecutor, intentionally disregarded evidence which led to the wrong man being convicted for the crime. McCoy issues a hearing against Wolinsky in hopes that he would then admit his crime and go after the correct man, but fails to convict him. The aforementioned detective gives special evidence to McCoy after the hearing, so that McCoy can then plead the true murderer out and refile charges against Wolinsky, while the detective keeps his own identity anonymous.
    • In "Vendetta", the detective, whose name is revealed to be Kenneth Daniels, turns out to have, out of desperation, planted evidence which led to the conviction of the wrong man, Grimes, in a certain murder. Daniels did this because his own actions prevented him from pursuing the correct case against Grimes, which was for a similar murder. The show's creators may not have intended this, but his actions in "Justice" preempted his actions in "Vendetta": as a cop who tries to avoid involvement in cases of law enforcement corruption.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: In the first few seasons it wasn't unusual for none of the main characters to appear until after the credits. One season three episode ("Consultation") in particular has a lengthy ER scene where doctors attempt to revive the victim for a full minute with none of the show's regular cast in sight.
    • Watching the first season in particular, one notices the liberal use of an '80s-synth soundtrack which jarringly contrasts with the Mike Post scores of the later seasons. The episode titles also appear on-screen.
  • El Spanish "-o": Det. Logan on quite a few occasions. He even tried picking a Hispanic girl up once.
  • Emotional Torque: Dick Wolf cited in an interview that one of the things that sustained the show was to put someone emotionally connected to the victims somewhere in the first half of the episode. This allowed viewers to continue their emotional attachment to each victim or character.
  • Empty Cop Threat: Briscoe loves these. It gets him and the police department into trouble sometimes; in "Doubles", a forensic report failed to put the victim's DNA on the suspect's jacket. Van Buren then suggests to the detectives that they should lose the report for an hour or so, and bluff to the suspect that the report most probably has his DNA at the crime scene.
    • However, cops are authorized in using certain forms of deception to get certain pieces of evidence or testimony. In "Flaw", Detective Benson (in a crossover from SVU) outright lies and produces fake evidence to a suspect stating that she killed her son ten years ago. The reason that this isn't coercion is because they use the suspect's mother's testimony to actually implicate her for the crime (even if the testimony is a total lie; the mother only testifies to this because her daughter manipulated her into going to jail). The only thing that Benson didn't do is that she didn't Mirandize the suspect before getting her into the interrogation room and asking her for her statement, but maybe that was just for dramatic flair.
      • But they can't take these threats too far. In "Tango", Lupo writes a note to a girl saying "think a bitch can rat me out?" to have her lead them to another suspect. A judge, however, releases the suspect because the police cannot place anyone under the threat of bodily harm.
    • Weirdly inverted in "We Like Mike". The police mess up an investigation; they have a witness identify a suspect without looking at a line-up, which eventually gets all evidence against the suspect thrown out. Before the evidence gets thrown out, the police confront the perp with it, who, out of fear, submits a hand-written confession. The police are allowed to lie to a suspect to elicit a confession; however, because the evidence gets thrown out, and the police told the truth to the perp by confronting him with the evidence, the confession becomes inadmissible as well. Essentially, the police get penalized for telling the truth.
  • Empty Promise: Det. Green is always conflicted between giving false reassurances to parents whose children are kidnapped. In "Red Ball", he refuses to conclusively tell a woman that her young daughter will surely be found; the daughter is found alive. However, in "Tango", he tells parents that they will find their teenage daughter, and Lupo even calls him out on this; and surely enough, the girl is found raped and murdered.
  • Enhanced Interrogation Techniques: Det. Green in his first two episodes, "Gunshow" and "Killerz". Granted, he was very gentle to the suspects he was interrogating; however, in both examples he established an atmosphere of coercion that, for some reason, rendered the confessions inadmissible.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Italian mobs will kill, rape, maim, and divorce. Fortunately, what they do not tolerate is betrayal.
  • Everyone's Baby Sister: The series tends to do this with the Assistant District Attorneys. We've only really seen it played out with Claire Kincaid and Alexandra Borgia but it did play out with both of them.
  • Evil Former Friend: Nearly every time an old and trusted friend of one of the main characters is connected to a case, said friend will end up, at best, being marginally involved in the crime and, at worst, being the actual criminal. This trope has been used in the series as far back as the original pilot, "Everybody's Favorite Bagman": Robinette's mentor, who convinced the ADA to become a lawyer in the first place and supported black communities throughout New York, actually ends up being neck-deep in a huge corruption scandal involving a murdered city official.
    • Averted in "Savior", when the defense attorney is Claire's old college chum. While effectively defending her client, said attorney acts in an ethical manner and helps Claire and McCoy arrive at a just resolution to the case.
  • Evil Lawyer Joke: Lennie pulls one on Claire.
    Lennie: How come California have the most lawyers while New Jersey has the most toxic dumps?
    Claire: (sarcastically) Because New Jersey got first pick.
    • Also this one with another lawyer.
    Lawyer: What do a sperm cell and a lawyer have in common?
    Claire: Both have a one-in-a-million chance of becoming a human being.
  • Evolving Music: The series all has the same CHUNG CHUNG sound and theme tune, but each show has its own spin on the tune. The original's theme was also cut down at the beginning of the fourth season.
  • Exact Words: Comes up here and there, but an interesting version is in the tenth season episode "Panic", where a novelist swears up and down that she was not having an affair with the husband of an FBI agent. Because she was having an affair with the agent herself.
    • The most prominent example of the "good guys" using this trope is in "The Serpent's Tooth" (S1-E19): Ben Stone secures the testimony of a Russian gangster in exchange for full immunity. When he has the gangster arrested immediately after his testimony, Stone reminds him and his lawyer that he promised them immunity in "New York County" (Manhattan), not "New York City". The cops that arrested him were from Kings County (Brooklyn).
    Stone: Next time, sir, get a better lawyer.
  • Executive Meddling: A deadly In-Universe example during S11.E15, "Swept Away: A Very Special Episode." A network executive for a reality show prompts one cast member to get into an altercation with another to improve the show's ratings. The two get into a fight on the roof that ends with the second cast member getting pushed over the edge and falling to his death.
  • Expository Hairstyle Change: The major one being Lt. Van Buren's hair loss due to cancer, which leads to a new wig/hairstyle, and then reveals her real hair for the first time in the series.
    • This is around the same time Lupo & Bernard ditch the Perma-Stubble. This actually happens because Van Buren tells Lupo & Bernard to "look in a mirror" sometime and shave to appear more professional. In the next episode, "Steel-Eyed Death", when Lupo & Bernard shave, Lupo is seen looking in a mirror in one scene because he actually felt self-conscious when Van Buren told him to look more professional. It turns out that Lupo was obsessed with looking more professional because the current case reminded him of one he handled ten years ago, the grotesque nature of which made him turn toward alcohol addiction and nearly ruined his career.
  • Expy:
    • Any characters based on real people will generally be compared to the real thing, e.g. "she's nicer then Ann Coulter" or "he stole more than Bernie Madoff".
    • Businesses will go through the same thing. If a murder happens in a bank office, don't count on said office being Bank of America or Wells Fargo. Likewise, if anyone involved works in professional sports, expect New York (and likely Boston, Chicago, and/or Philadelphia) to suddenly gain more teams.
    • Adam Schiff was the expy of Robert M. Morgenthau, who was the Real Life District Attorney throughout the series' run, with the exception of Season 20, when he retired. Morgenthau was reportedly a fan of Schiff's character.
  • Expy Coexistence: All of the expies mentioned above share their existence with their real-life counterparts, whether they be real people or businesses.
  • Extra Y, Extra Violent: In "Born Bad", a lawyer argues that his client should not be found guilty since his extra Y chromosome predisposes him to be violent. This goes horribly right when the client buys into his lawyer's defense so much, that he asks to be sent to prison for life, despite only being a teenager.

     Tropes F 
  • Failing a Taxi: At the end of the episode "Rage". It's played as bittersweet; the trial involved a black stockbroker using the race card to justify killing his white boss. After he is convicted in the end and McCoy hails a taxi, the taxi driver ignores another black man who was before McCoy and thus had dibs on it, showing that racism is still alive.
    • Tragically averted in "Prejudice". A black CEO successfully hails a taxi, and a white man is so angry that the CEO got in before him that he hails another taxi, follows him for 20 minutes, then kills him.
  • Fake Alibi: A man is murdered and a witness's description of the killer leads the detectives to an Irish mobster. But the mobster is given an alibi by two FBI agents. Things get more complicated when the witness is killed, and then the detectives learn that the mobster has an identical twin brother who lives upstate and teaches math in a small college. Both brothers have motives for both murders, both brothers have an alibi for at least one of the murders ... so exactly who is guilty of what?
  • Fake Guest Star: Leslie Hendrix as Dr. Elizabeth Rodgers. She's been in the original series for more seasons than any current cast member: 137 episodes over 19 seasons. She started in Season 2.
    • John Fiore as Detective Tony Profaci. He appeared in 53 episodes over the first nine seasons, and even reprised his role on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, in the episode "Civil Forfeiture".
  • Fake-Out Make-Out: A less intense version of this where Connie and Lupo have to sell the fact that they're a married couple as part of an undercover investigation, so Lupo kisses her on the cheek.
  • Fallen Hero: Det. Green, sadly, although it's to a lesser extent to what the trope may imply. He covers up his girlfriend's gambling addiction (and, consequentially, his own) by pursuing a certain bookie to shut him up, and he ends up killing the bookie when he targets the detective's girlfriend. Green then completely covers up the fact that his girlfriend was involved and nearly goes to jail for murder to protect her. In the end, he is slapped on the wrist for justifiable defense, but quits the force anyway.
  • False Dichotomy: Defense lawyers and prosecutors are equally guilty of this.
    • A defense lawyer in "Phobia" uses this when her client attacked and killed his son's legal guardian to forcibly regain his son only after he discovered that the adoptive parents were a homosexual couple. The lawyer paints her client as a law-abiding, non-homophobic man, and claims that "either you find my client innocent of merely righteously claiming his sonnote , or you find him guilty of something he didn't intendnote ."
    • Cutter establishes a false dichotomy in "Great Satan". The police supplied fake bomb-making equipment to terrorists, who then used it to try to blow up a synagogue. However, this preempts a real bombing of a synagogue just a few blocks away, which the terrorists didn't know about. Cutter argues that "either these terrorists are guilty of intent to killnote , or you'll let terrorists who went through with everything just walk awaynote ."
  • False Rape Accusation: Played with in Season 5's "Virtue". A woman who died in a car accident is discovered to have been raped by a councilman prior to her death, but the police can't prove it. In their investigation, the councilman's former associate comes out and says that she was raped; however, it turns out that she consented to the sex, but did so because the councilman threatened to ruin her career. McCoy then uses a loophole in the law to convict the councilman via arguing that it was still rape, since he forced her into sex under threat of having her career destroyed. The final scene has Adam dubious about the conviction withstanding an appeal).
    • Also in Season 2's "Sisters of Mercy". The episode has a young girl at a convent named Maggie claiming that she was raped by a female nun, but this charge proves to be false; another girl named Maria convinced Maggie the morning after that she was raped. Maria did this because Jack Powell, an administrator at the convent, had sex with her under the threat that he would kick her out if she didn't comply; Maria thought that the aforementioned nun had figured out about the arrangement, so she set her up to take a fall. Ben Stone then goes after Powell for raping Maria because he'd threatened to kick her out onto the streets, and he wins.
    • Subverted in "Obsession". A conservative author's subordinate accuses him of this, eventually getting a settlement of three-and-a-half million. The author's wife alleges that the accusation was false, but it wasn't; the wife knew about the rape, slept with her lesbian friend, and told her to shoot the author out of revenge.
    • An unusually elaborate one in "Patsy." A woman injects herself with a date rape drug that will paralyze her, sets things up so a particular man she had been stalking would be implicated, and just before it takes effect she staggers out into the hall of her apartment yelling that she's been assaulted. Unfortunately for her, she used too much of the drug and puts herself in a coma. (The suspect is quickly cleared, but the police then discover the body of the accuser's sister on his property, and they have to figure out whether the accused man killed the sister or whether the accuser killed her own sister to frame the man for that too.)
  • Famous for Being First: Played for Drama in the episode "Big Bang," where the wife of a nuclear physicist dies from a mail bomb. A radioactive spring in the debris points detectives at a rival physicist. The two men were working separately to prove the existence of the omega minus particle. Doctor Steadman submitted his proof just days ahead of Doctor Manning. As one witness explains about science awards: "There's no prize for second place."
  • Fate Worse than Death: For the few defendants that get Not Guilty verdicts, they find they have to live with the consequences of the damage they've done.
  • Faux Yay: Lupo's done this on at least two occasions to nail down certain witnesses. Much to his chagrin.
    • In "Political Animal", he pretends to solicit oral sex in the bathroom of a department store to get information about a senator, and it turns out that the person he catches was, in fact, the senator.
    • In "Sweetie", he pretends to be a gay trucker to catch a man who was a prostitute at truck stops.
  • Felony Misdemeanor: The shows occasional treatment of minor felonies - particularly upscale prostitution.
    • Sometimes prosecutors use it to their advantage. New York has a "three strikes" law, where after three felonies, no matter how minor, the perps face huge jail time, sometimes even life in prison. In cases where perps have committed two felonies and pleading guilty to a third one would be disadvantageous, they decide to give the information the cops want in exchange for pleading to murder, which, ironically, entails a reduced charge.
  • Fell Off the Back of a Truck: Either used and promptly mocked by the police, or the police use a line along the lines of "where did you get it, did it fall off the back of a truck?".
  • Figure It Out Yourself: A lot of episodes involve the police having to convince certain people that their loved ones were truly capable of committing a crime. Sometimes they use the naive loved ones to catch the criminals by having them figure out for themselves the capability of their loved ones of committing the crime.
    • "Hindsight" involved the son, whose mother is suspected of killing his lover, participating in a fake hostage situation. He points an unloaded gun at Nick Falco, the original suspect in the murder, and the police call his mother over to "straighten out the situation", when Falco, of course, was in no danger at all. The mother then confesses to the murder; as the police are handcuffing her, the son tells her that he only participated in the hostage situation to take remove suspicion from her.
    • "Mad Dog" provided an interesting, if tragic, deconstruction of this trope. A rapist who was convicted of six sexual crimes and in suspicion for seven others is paroled in the beginning of the episode. He then rapes and murders a young woman, and leaves absolutely no evidence for McCoy to prosecute the case; McCoy then puts 24 hour surveillance on the rapist and drags the man's name through the mud throughout the entire state of New York and Ohio. However, the rapist never admits the crime. It's only after the rapist's daughter, who never believed that he committed a single rape, takes him to a friend's house to test his urges, and her father tries to rape the friend that the daughter realizes just what kind of man her father is. The daughter then kills her father.
  • Financial Abuse: While varying degrees of this exist throughout the series, "Breeder" takes this to crazy levels. A woman essentially uses her unborn child to extort money from three separate couples who want to adopt. She words her promises extremely carefully, as per her lawyer's recommendation, making larceny difficult to prove because she never guaranteed to any couple that they would receive the baby. She extorts a cumulative $60,000 from the couples by emotionally blackmailing them, claiming that if they don't cough up, she would abort. Stone pulls all kinds of legal loopholes to finally nail her.
  • Firing Day: Serena Southerlyn was the only Assistant District Attorney fired by the DA in the original Law & Order. Dismissed in the episode "Ain't No Love" by Arthur Branch, she had frequently butted heads with the DA and EADA over politics and procedures, and Branch ultimately decided that she was too sympathetic to defendants and couldn't properly serve as an ADA.
  • Flanderization: At least two of the times that Paul Robinette appeared on the show after his departure he is demonstrated to be a borderline black militant, conspiracy theorist defence attorney. Robinette was pro-Black when he was a regular, it was even a significant part of his character, but he never took this character trait to almost ridiculous extremes until AFTER he left.
    • Explained by Paul himself at the end of one episode after his departure as ADA: "Ben Stone once said I'd have to decide if I was a lawyer who was black or a black man who was a lawyer. All those years I thought I was the former. All those years I was wrong."
      • Stone actually said this in "Out of the Halflight", a Season 1 episode where a self-serving black congressman uses the fact that a black girl was allegedly raped by white cops to advance his career. Robinette must confront the girl's family and the congressman, who tells him "You may be the most simple-hearted down-the-river nigger to ever wear a tie." Later, when Robinette asks Stone whether it's true, he replies that regardless of Robinette's beliefs, he should have no problems with who he is or his race.
  • Flatline: The final scene of Season 7, where Adam terminates life support for his wife. He has the most heartbreaking "My God, What Have I Done?" look in his eyes.
  • Flawless Token: Deconstructed with Van Buren. She is portrayed as very intelligent and often points the detectives in the right direction if they overlook something, and will graciously accept responsibility if she does make a mistake (or she will articulately stand up for her convictions if she believes she is not at fault). However, it's mentioned multiple times during the series that she absolutely cannot make a mistake or speak ill of authority because since she is a black female lieutenant, and that she will be viewed doubly irresponsible for her errors in judgment.
  • A Fool for a Client: Defendants represent themselves an average of once every other season. Interestingly, of the guilty ones, not one of them ever gets away with their crime. The ones who are guilty and acquitted invariably either die or go down for another crime before the credits roll.
  • For Great Justice: Subverted sometimes. Despite the implications of the show, most people in the criminal justice system, even the main characters themselves, are fallible and resort to stroking their own ego when pursuing or dropping charges upon certain criminals.
    • Usually when McCoy goes on a tirade about how he "owes the People of the State of New York an obligation to put away a murderer", he's usually talking about an obligation to his own ego.
  • Formula-Breaking Episode:
    • One of the most famous episodes, "Aftershock", is a look at the personal lives of the four principals the day they witness an execution - the first in New York state history since the moratorium was lifted (something that never actually happened in Real Life). There's no investigation, no trial, no homicide until the closing moments, when ADA Claire Kincaid is t-boned and killed.
    • There are also the episodes "Mayhem" and "Couples", which focused almost entirely on Briscoe and Logan & Briscoe and Green, respectively, and had them investigating several unrelated cases on the same crazy day.
  • Framing the Guilty Party: See the Thanatos Gambit example.
  • Freakier Than Fiction: Considering the show's episodes are based on Real Life cases, some things the people say, think, or do in some cases defy conventionality. To a freaky extent.
  • Four Lines, All Waiting: Season 8's Subplotapalooza. It was notable because each episode slightly progressed or gave a glimpse of each character's subplot, still making the episodes rerun friendly.
    • Lt. Van Buren sued the police department for promoting a white woman less qualified than her. We get glimpses of this throughout the season, and it's resolved when the captain demands that she should resign. In the first episode of Season 9, she grudgingly admits that it was all for naught.
    • Lennie's daughter was arrested for a drug charge, and the ADA in charge of her case didn't want to look like he was favoring a detective's daughter, so he charges her with the highest available sentence. In exchange to reduce her sentence, Lennie convinces her to participate in an undercover operation against a drug dealer, which is successful after the dealer is arrested. However, the prosecutor in charge of the case is very weak, and the dealer is acquitted and kills Lennie's daughter. In the first episode of Season 9, he gets news that the dealer was shot.
    • Adam faces reelection problems when his old friend and rival starts funding an incompetent young man to run against Adam, and starts accusing him of being weak and ineffectual. Adam thus becomes increasingly political as the season progresses, sometimes even forcing McCoy to pursue extremely higher charges for certain crimes. He is reelected, thankfully.
    • McCoy hid a witness in one case, and the end of the final episode of the season shows him going to face the disciplinary committee. In the beginning of Season 9, it's revealed that he's acquitted, although his new ADA, Carmichael, still holds the charge against him.
    • Jamie Ross, throughout both of her seasons, was shown to face numerous problems in getting custody of her daughter due to her asshole ex. Plus, she's torn by McCoy's disciplinary charges, which leads to her leaving the DA's office at the end of the season.
  • Fun with Acronyms: The show's research on the various parts of the NYPD is pretty accurate, so we get accurate acronyms for them. The crime scene guys are CSU, Crime Scene Unit; the anti-mob branch is OCCB, Organized Crime Control Bureau, and the local equivalent of SWAT is part of ESU, the Emergency Services Unit.
  • Furnace Body Disposal: In a composite story of both the Susan Smith and John List cases, "Angel" has a pious young woman claim her infant daughter was abducted while she was in confession. Although she lead the detectives on a wild goose chase with several dead ends, with Curtis encouraging her to confess owing to her strong faith, she eventually admitted to smothering her daughter and disposing of her body in her apartment building's furnace to save her from a dangerous world.

     Tropes G 
  • Gambit Roulette: "Lucky Stiff" involved a man sleeping with his stepsister, murdering his father and stepmother, and making volatile financial stakes in his father's businesses. He was able to thus predict the values of the stocks of the companies and shares he was invested in by being constantly kept in the loop of his father's shady business practices. He thus used the same volatile financial stakes his father used, as part of a get-rich-quick investment scheme to rip off his stepsister.
  • Game Changer: Two men riding the train together make a Devil's Pact: each would murder the other's antagonist, thinking the police would fail to connect them to their crimes. Their scheme almost worked until detectives discovered the suspects routinely rode the same train together. This game-changing fact moved the prosecutor's cases from iffy circumstances to roll-over confessions.
  • Geeky Analogy/Lampshaded the Obscure Reference: Arthur Branch does this in "True Crime" (Season 13, Episode 3).
    But, I also know that trying to build a case on an illegal break-in by a writer is like trying to do a kickflip without lifting your front foot off the skateboard. Grandson.
  • Genre Savvy: Lots of suspects and witnesses, who claim that they've seen enough cop shows to know what's going on.
  • "Get Out of Jail Free" Card: One murderer asks for this in exchange for ratting out his father for three murders. The father, in turn, asks for this in exchange for a possible terrorist. When McCoy realizes that the father and son teamed up to drive him into a corner, he decides instead to prosecute the son for a felony, which, according to the "three strikes" rule, would put him in jail for life. The son then testifies against his father for real.
  • Glory Hound: If there's ever a conflict between police departments over jurisdiction to investigate and prosecute, this is the main motive.
    • Taken to egregious levels in "Bronx Cheer", where the Brooklyn D.A. disallows the NYPD from investigating a murder that occurred in Brooklyn, because he was convinced that his police were completely correct in their judgment when, in fact they sentenced an innocent kid to jail for twenty-five years. Not to mention that because of the Brooklyn D.A.'s obstruction, McCoy had to concede that the murderer plead to 7 1/2 to 15 years... FOR TWO MURDERS.
  • Gone Horribly Right: In the season 4 episode, Born Bad, a defense attorney argues that her client, a teenage boy on trial for second-degree murder, isn't in full control of his actions because he has XYY syndrome (a genetic condition where a male has an extra Y-Chromosome, which was believed at the time to cause increased aggressive behavior). Unfortunately for her, one of the people most convinced by her defense is her own client. He believes that he's a monster, and cuts an unusual plea bargain with the prosecutors. He agrees to put in a plea of "Guilty" in exchange for the maximum possible sentence: Life in prison. He even rejects the prosecution's attempts to have him placed in a juvenile detention facility until he turns eighteen.
    • In a late season 20 episode, Cutter attempts to have a gay couple's adoption overturned so that the witness can testify without the defense mentioning that she is an heir to the fortune in question to the case. The family court judge accepts his arguments that the adoption was only there as a substitute to a marriage that wasn't legal at the time and nullifies it. She then goes further and states that since the two were de facto married, spousal privilege applies and she can't testify at all.
  • Good Cop/Bad Cop: This trope is very occasionally played straight, mainly because witnesses aren't idiots. However, you can often see this in the character dynamics, when detectives go out to interview witnesses.
    • The senior detective (most often Briscoe and Fontana) would generally play the bad cop while the junior detective (Logan, Curtis, Green for seven seasons, and eventually Lupo) would play the good cop, with certain exceptions. The general premise is that the senior detective would be more adept at controlling his temper and would thus make sarcastic comments when interrogating witnesses, while the junior detective would play it more fair.
      • An aversion of this was Season 17's Cassidy, who repeatedly drove witnesses to hot-headed temper and would make them clam up, much to Green and Van Buren's chagrin.
  • Good Ol' Boy: Arthur Branch
  • Good Girls Avoid Abortion:
    • Discussed but subverted in the episode "Life Choice", in which a pregnant woman is killed in an abortion clinic bombing. It ultimately comes out that the victim, Mary Donovan, was actually at the clinic to have an abortion, but her family didn't want to tarnish her reputation by revealing this, so they let the police believe she suicide-bombed the clinic rather than admit the truth. The group who committed the bombing, naturally, also strongly oppose abortion, though they didn't realize that a pregnant woman was inside. However, as Ben Stone points out, they are themselves responsible for what they consider murder as a result nonetheless. Their leader, who's on the stand when this exchange happens, breaks down as a result.
    • In another Season 1 episode, "Out of the Half-Light", the rape of an African-American girl by white cops turns into a witch-hunt against the judicial system after an ambitious Congressman gets involved. It turns out that the girl was never raped; she lied about it knowing this was the only way her strictly religious father would allow her to have an abortion.
  • Gravity Is Only a Theory: In "Good Faith", a man uses his belief that evolution is a myth to justify murdering his daughter's science teacher. It's subverted, however, when it's discovered that the defendant only uses the argument to cover for his true motive: his daughter was sleeping with another teacher (not the science teacher) and contracted chlamydia, but the defendant believed it was the science teacher, so he killed him.
  • Grey-and-Gray Morality: For instance, in "Prisoner of Love": Greevey wants to be taken off the case because he's a Catholic, and he feels sickened because the victim was a controversial artist deeply into BDSM. Later, when interviewing the daughter of the victim, who died from hanging, she says that her father never would have committed suicide. When asked why, she says that it's because he's a Catholic.
  • Gut Punch: At the end of the first part of "Refuge", where the ADA helping Jack and Abbie in their case against a Russian mob is brutally murdered, along with a six-year-old boy who testified against the mob, and his mother.

     Tropes H 
  • Hackette: The hacker in "Narcosis" who steals a ton of credit card numbers.
  • Halfway Plot Switch: There's plenty of cases where it seems like all the suspects in a crime have been lined up and figuring out whodunnit is either wrapping up nicely through the episode or meeting a bit of a brick wall because nothing lines up. Then a curve ball is thrown into the mix in many ways, whether it be a suspicious bail or defense attorney intervention, the actions of a questionable judge, a new suspect having popped up and thrown everything into chaos, or even one of the pre-existing suspects suddenly doing something unexpected (like dying) that shakes up the case hard; the result tends to be that the rest of the episode swiftly focuses on the new mystery-within-a-mystery, though sometimes the plot switch only tangentially is involved with the initial plot.
  • Hanlon's Razor: Frequently averted by the police and D.A.'s. They generally assume the worst in people when they commit a crime, when in fact stupidity, not malice, fuels a lot of murders.
  • Happy Ending: In the series finale the school bomber is captured without loss of life and Lt. Van Buren's cancer is in remission; also skier Lindsey Vonn, who claims to have seen every single episode of the show, was the series' last guest star. Perhaps the only thing to regret is they never got around to a story on the Times Square Failbomber, but that's probably more of a Criminal Intent thing.
  • Have I Mentioned I Am Sexually Active Today?: Played straight with a lot of female witnesses toward detectives. Mostly Curtis.
    • This exchange in "Political Animal":
    Green: If it were the '50s, him and Sean wouldn't be living together.
    Witness #1: They weren't living together. Todd was gay, but... Sean was straight.
    Witness #2: Very straight... (points to her breasts, which are hanging out of her revealing top) He had a lot of friendly conversations with my boobs.
    Lupo: ...Ah. Huh.
  • Heel Realization: The mother in “Captive" who found out that her child would rather be raped than be with her and her Jerkass boyfriend
  • Hello, Attorney!: Every post-Robinette ADA.
    • Even Robinette for some.
  • Heroic BSoD: McCoy pulls one at the end of "Criminal Law", where he confronts a mass-murderer released from prison on the courthouse steps. The mass-murderer's son then pulls out a gun and kills his father; at the end, McCoy, who is visibly shaken, says, "I thought I was the target".
  • Heteronormative Crusader: Varying degrees of this throughout the series. There's one couple who expresses momentary disgust that their deceased son's half-naked pictures ended up on gay websites, but it's somewhat swept under the rug considering that they're mourning. In another, the parents yell at McCoy when he asserts that their daughter may have been a lesbian. In another, a bigoted politician murders his rival and takes a moral high ground in front of the jury.
  • Heroic Bystander: Occasionally, like in "Deceit", there is a bystander who witnesses a crime who has the presence of mind to do things like accurately write down vital information like a license number of a suspect's vehicle. To the featured cops, this stuff is usually manna from heaven.
    Briscoe: Wow, if she hadn't been away at dinner, she'd probably come back with the guy who did it.
  • Hidden Wire: Notably Lennie in "Corruption", which is actually his (super effective) and preferred method of nailing the corrupt cop.
    • Hidden wires almost never have transmission failures or muffled clothing sounds. The only time it ever becomes an issue is in "Deceit", where the police use an informant to implicate a suspect; during the transmission failure, the informant threatens the suspect. Since this is coercion, the incriminating statements are then deemed inadmissible by a judge.
  • Hide the Evidence: Lupo & Bernard want to do this with a dead cop's logbook in "Four Cops Shot", which implicates her and her dead partner in using unauthorized informants. However, by finally giving it in at Van Buren's behest, Cutter is able to use it to prove that the cops' killer was solely motivated by greed.
  • High-Powered Career Woman:
    • In the season 17 episode "Corner Office," the Villain of the Week was a Bad Boss who tries to control everything about her company, fired employees for not using pre-approved words when talking to the press, had the entire office building bugged, and had her Gold Digger girlfriend kill the executive who was blackmailing her for the bugging. She spent the entire episode accusing everyone of hating her because she was a powerful woman.
    • In the revival episode "Impossible Dream," the charismatic female CEO of a medical startup prides herself on the image of being a powerful woman in a male-dominated field who had to fight an uphill battle to get to where she is now. She's not willing to let anything tarnish this reputation, even if it means letting fake cancer tests that give results at random hit the least until falsely accusing the victim of abusing her conveniences her, knowing both her status and the charged nature of the accusation would put the lawyers in a position vulnerable to public backlash, making it seem like any attempt to convict her would just be evidence of a biased and hostile justice system trying to keep a powerful woman and (alleged) abuse survivor down.
  • Historical Villain Downgrade: The real life inspirations for the "Mac Rangers" in the episode "Performance" were actually quite a bit worse than what made it onto the screen. The Mac Rangers pressure and bully teenage girls into sex, and in one case this crosses over into physical force. The real life "Spur Posse," though, is believed to have used physical force a number of times, sometimes with girls as young as ten.
  • Hollywood Blanks: A murder scene from a web series within the show results in the actor dying for real, on camera. The detectives spend a while fruitlessly investigating who could have swapped out the blanks for real bullets. Then they find out from the coroner that there was no bullet; the victim was killed by a blank fired too close.
  • Hollywood Law:
    • 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 always get their just desserts in one way or another.
      • "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 "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.
    • 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.
    • It's worth noting that a large number of homicides, unfortunately, remain unsolved, and anyone with the detectives' consistency in the series must be extremely, extremely lucky. A lot of leads tend to die out, and with the detectives' caseload, a lot of evidence or information tends to go missing. The rate at which Law & Order finds and convicts criminals, in short, is kind of unrealistic. Nevertheless, it makes for extremely good storytelling.
    • By the same blade, the number of cases that do go to trial is very slim; in real life, over half the cases in the series that reach a verdict would be plead out beforehand. In addition, the trial process is extremely rigorous and not always as straightforward as shown in the series; very few surprises would be sprung upon the opposing counsel, and even clear-cut trials and investigations would be too massive to sort through by just two ADAs.
      • Not only that, but the time-lines of trials seem to be rushed and take place within days of the crime. Most of the cases on this series are homicides, with a few rapes and kidnappings thrown in. These cases, if not plea bargained, are seldom heard in less than a year after the event.
    • In "Corpus Delicti," Rey and Lennie lament the fact that they cannot arrest a man for killing his daughter's beloved horse for the insurance money, as he has technically committed no crime (he withdrew the insurance claim on the horse's life and, therefore, cannot be prosecuted for insurance fraud.) Did they forget that they could still arrest him for animal cruelty?
    • The detectives are shown to be working that weeks case give 100% of their time and attention to it. It's more common for detectives to have many active cases going at any one time, and may devote a few minutes or hours to several over the course of a single day.
    • When the Detectives want to "bring in" or "pick up" someone for questioning are usually located instantly. That might work if they had a consistent schedule they followed faithfully every day, but there are few people who do that. Also, many of the people they are looking for are homeless or otherwise itinerant, and even they don't know where they will be tomorrow.
    • When witness or suspects are brought to the station and interrogated sometimes it's pretty clear they didn't want to come. If there is no probable cause for an arrest or an active arrest warrant, the police can't make you go anywhere against your will. Once in a while, a wealthy or educated person will assert this, but mostly the cops just walk up to people, put the cuffs on them, and place them in the car.
    • Sometimes, detectives are shown picking up a weapon with a handkerchief or by inserting a pencil in the barrel. Both of which are forensic no-nos as the handkerchief might contaminate possible DNA evidence, and the pencil would destroy microscopic markings inside the barrel, making it difficult to match the weapon to slugs retrieved from a victim's body or a crime scene. Instead, one expert recommends holding a weapon in place with gloved fingertips and sliding a thin, stiff sheet of plastic beneath it.
    • In real life the same group of police officers working with the same group of prosecutors in one year is highly unlikely. Also the same could be said of the police and prosecutors getting through 22-24 cases per year.
    • In one episode, Van Buren has Lennie and Mike spend a lot of time looking into the background of an unstable woman who was shot and killed while attempting to shoot her husband because she miscarried. The detectives go through a LOT of investigating before they even know that there's an actual crime other than her irrational attack. There is not a single cop in the world who won't drop (what at least appears to be for quite a while) an open-and-shut non-case - they have too many real ones to bother with one that has, to all appearances, already solved itself.
    • In a few episodes, Lennie Briscoe will approach a drug dealer whom he will know has information valuable to the case, but the dealer will usually play dumb so Briscoe and his partner will frisks the dealer and find drugs, the cuffs come out and the dealer will spill his guts. This action is called the squeeze and the way it's done is illegal. The proper procedure is that after finding the drugs the police are supposed to arrest the dealer and bring him to the D.A's office for a plea-for-information deal. As only the D.A's have the authority to put the squeeze on as they will need proof of evidence in case the dealer's testimony is needed in a court of Law.
    • the most egregious example is "By Perjury". Bascially, the detectives and prosecutors suspect that an Amoral Attorney killed a judge in a case he was involved in two years before. the thing is, one of the attorney's clients was convicted and subsequently executed for the crime six months ago. The murder case should have still been on appeal.
  • Homosexual Reproduction: Taken to absolutely head-spinning levels in "The Taxman Cometh". One lesbian (Catherine) uses her egg to conceive a child in vitro, but uses her partner (Louise) as the surrogate. Also, prior to the events of the episode, Catherine had legally been Louise's mother because New York hadn't legalized gay marriage, so Catherine had adopted Louise has her child so they could have family rights. For this reason, the daughter Louise is pregnant with had, at one point, been both Catherine's daughter and granddaughter. Making inheritance issues really, really complicated.
  • Honor Before Reason: Stone, McCoy, Cutter and Adam Schiff have all had their moments, generally paired with an effort to gain Justice by Other Legal Means. An occasional variant is the refusal to hand off a case to a different jurisdiction (who would have a stronger case or stronger punishment) because "they have a responsibility to the people of New York" to try the case there.
  • Horrible Hollywood: Taken to almost reflective levels in "Everybody Loves Raimando's", where Hollywood's romanticized portrayal of Italian mob families (The Godfather is cited as being guilty of this) directly results in a mob boss ordering a hit on the producer of such a film.
  • How Did You Know? I Didn't: In "Bounty", pain-in-the-ass attorney Randy Dworkin almost pulls off a very compelling argument to the jury that his African-American client killed a bounty hunter due to negative stereotypes toward black people such as Affirmative Action. McCoy completely turns the entire case around when he bluffs that he will call Denise onto the stand, a woman the client might have slept with in Greenwich, CT, despite the DA's office never having been able to locate her. The client, out of fear, immediately makes a plea agreement. At the end of the episode:
    Dworkin: Lawyer-to-lawyer... you never talked to Denise, did you?
    McCoy: No.
    Dworkin: Then how did you know?
    McCoy: I didn't. But I do know that I'm barely white enough to live in Greenwich, CT.note 

     Tropes I 
  • I Cannot Self-Terminate: Averted in "DNR", where a judge heavily wounded in an attack her husband ordered decides to withdraw from life support on the basis that she doesn't want her husband to go to jail for the attack. McCoy tries heavily to prove that she isn't capable of deciding for herself to terminate, which fails in court. Finally, the husband, out of guilt, cops to the attempted murder.
  • I Want You to Meet an Old Friend of Mine: Regina Taylor, who co-starred as Sam Waterston's maid in the critically-acclaimed but short-lived drama I'll Fly Away, appeared in the episode "Virtue" as a lawyer who took the stand against the senior partner who forced her to sleep with him for a promotion, thus getting him convicted of felony extortion. Fans of I'll Fly Away couldn't help but smile as the two shook hands at the end of the episode.
  • Iconic Item: Jamie is the only ADA in the series to use a laptop in court, despite having served from 1996-1998, when laptops weren't in as much use as in recent years.
  • Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: Most episodes usually use some name that becomes a symbol for or represents the story behind a murder. The title may be mentioned in the episode, and other times it utilizes pop culture or literary references.
    • "His Hour Upon The Stage", for example, is a line from a famous Macbeth soliloquy about people's lives being devoid of meaning, comparable to actors in a play. In the episode, a producer's body is found five years after he was killed by an actress who used him and his play production company to advance her career and as a front to sell drugs, and killed him when he got wind of the plot. Stone lampshades the fact that she viewed the victim as an actor on her stage.
    • "Judge Dread" is a vague reference to Judge Dredd. The episode involves a judge who sentences prisoners to hundreds of years in jail for minor felonies, and is nearly killed in the beginning of the episode by a hit-man. The assassin was hired by a public accountant who was remanded by the judge due to credit fraud, which rarely, if ever, would happen if a fair judge had presided over the allocution. Indeed, in the end, when Nora decides to plead the defendant to 12 1/2 - 25 years because it was fair thing to do, the judge comes to her office and insults her.
    • "Untitled" (yes, that's the title of the episode) involves an out-of-luck painter murdering his victim in a manner similar to a painting she supported in an art gallery: by stripping her, tying her up, gagging her, cutting her hands off, and letting her bleed to death. The offensive nature of crime is unspeakable, similar to the victim's state before she was killed: hence the weird title.
    • "Heaven" is the name of a nightclub that burned down in the episode. It also holds the highest body count in the series for a single murder: 53 people.
  • Idiot Ball: Usually used to set up an As You Know scene. Subverted when the suspects in the interrogation room are legitimately innocent, and end up giving the detectives something upon which to continue their investigation.
  • Imperiled in Pregnancy: In "Losing Season" (based on the story of Rae Carruth, when a near-term woman is murdered, it turns out the hit was organized by her football player boyfriend, who didn't want to be stuck paying child support.
  • Impersonation-Exclusive Character: "Nowhere Man" starts with the investigation of the murder of one of Jack's colleagues, Dan Tenofsky, only for the police and the DA to discover "Dan Tenofsky" was an imposter named Jacob Dieter. The real Dan Tenofskie (actual spelling) was a law school dropout, whose identity the imposter stole and fabricated his entire career off of.
    Serena: [Dieter] has no family, Jack. No next of kin. What do you want me to do with his personal effects?
    Jack: What personal effects? Those were more like props.
    Serena: So who was he really? Dieter or Tenofsky?
    Jack: (saddened) Who knows?
  • Inherent in the System: In "Nullification", where a small, far-right political party conspires to commit an armed robbery that involves the murder of three police officers. The sole lawyer in the party argues that the government is inherently biased and is out to get them for what they did. It's an extremely prejudicial argument, which successfully nullifies the jury and grants a mistrial to the defendants.
  • Interrogation Montage: Shown, sometimes for hilarity, in cases with a large number of witnesses and suspects. They're usually all shown denying the crime with their lawyers playing a variant of "don't answer that" or "what's on the table?".
  • Invented Individual: Played With in "Nowhere Man", Daniel Tenofsky's real name was Jacob Dieter, who stole the identity of the real Daniel Tenofskie. It's never revealed why Dieter stole Tenofskie's identity, but another lawyer blackmailed Dieter, saying that he would reveal the truth and thus nullify every single case Dieter tried. This eventually led to Dieter's death.
  • Insanity Defense: McCoy hates these. He goes so far as to completely trash Dr. Olivet or Skoda's expert psychiatric opinions over the defendant's condition, despite never having had a degree in psychiatry.
    • Dr. Olivet lampshades this once in "Homesick", where McCoy pulls off all kinds of legal loopholes to try to get her to testify on the stand that a woman's condition might have caused her to murder a baby.
    Jack: The au pair was the only one with opportunity... I just want you to shed some light.
    Liz: And then you'll bitch and moan when you don't get the results you want. It doesn't work that way, Jack! I can't analyze someone I haven't met!
  • Inspector Javert: Played with in "Mad Dog". A rapist who McCoy had previously convicted is released early for good behaviour, and soon after a rape-murder matching his M.O. is committed. McCoy becomes determined to put the rapist away for good, but while it's heavily implied he's the guilty party it's never conclusively proven and there's insufficient evidence to prove it. The episode instead begins to focus on McCoy's increasingly overzealous and unethical efforts to get the man locked away without proof.
  • Irishman and a Jew: Subverted with Logan and Briscoe. Briscoe's father was Jewish, but his mother raised him Catholic.
  • Iron Lady: Van Buren takes the cake. Then Carmichael. Ross to an extent.
  • Irony: At the end of "Red Ball", the Season 16 premiere, Arthur tells McCoy that he'll never become a DA when he refuses to do the politically correct thing. Fast-forward to Season 18, when Arthur leaves his position and appoints McCoy as his replacement.
  • It's Personal: Every single character that has ever appeared on the show has cited this. At least once.
    • Notably Det. Mike Logan, who elicits a confession from the man who killed his partner by putting a gun to the perp's head.
    • Oh, McCoy. Please, stop trying to avenge Kincaid and Borgia by delaying due process.

     Tropes J-M 
  • Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique: (Joe Fontana + perp + toilet.)
    • McCoy defends Fontana's actions in the episode, but when he later becomes D.A., he becomes increasingly intolerant of such police tactics. Especially when he goes after almost the entire Bush administration for waterboarding detainees in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo.
  • Jack the Ripoff: Lots of murders.
    • Subverted in "C.O.D.". Two women decide to kill each others' husbands, but use the same exact M.O. (the same gun, the same seemingly random targeting, the fact that the murders occur within the same week). It doesn't take the cops much effort to put the women together.
    • In both parts of "Entitled", the police and DA's find a serial killer that escaped the police in Season 4's "Mayhem" because of the similar nature of the crime... until it's discovered that the murder was actually committed elsewhere by the daughter of a wealthy family, but was set up to look like the serial killer did it, to cover-up the daughter's involvement.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Arguments could be made for Jack McCoy and Mike Cutter.
  • Joker Jury: Invoked sarcastically by Claire in "Charm City". A white man kills 26 black people on a train from Harlem, but the white man's lawyer argues that a jury in New York County would be too prejudicial with all its minorities, so McCoy changes venues to Westchester, a primarily white town. Claire's response:
    Claire: Oh, I see. Twelve Jewish golfers don't have a biased bone in their bodies, but the Irish and Italian working class? They'll lynch you as soon as they look at you. I'm sorry. I must have missed the day they taught ethnic stereotypes in law school.
    Adam: We didn't make the system, we just try to survive within it.
  • Judge, Jury, and Executioner: Quite a few defendants over the years play all three. "Patriot" and "Public Service Homicide" are good examples.
  • Jurisdiction Friction: The 27th precinct of the NYPD and the DA's office attract a lot of enemies. The detectives rub the crime scene unit, police officers, entire precincts, certain captains and lieutenants, the legislature of the NYPD, and departments in other cities (most often Baltimore, in the Homicide crossovers) the wrong way. The DA's office has rubbed all the aforementioned entities, the state legislature, the FBI, the CIA, the national Attorney General's office, the White House, the entire Bush Administration, and the embassies of volatile countries such as Iran and Colombia the wrong way, as well.
  • Joggers Find Death: Played straight numerous times.
    • Subverted in one episode, where a jogger has a heart attack, and when the cops arrive on the scene, they find another body. It also turns out that the jogger died of a nicotine overdose, despite being a non-smoker. His male lover wanted to kill him to inherit their property... but decides to give it all up when the lover realizes that their marriage in New York was illegal. And can't inherit a single dime.
  • Jury and Witness Tampering: Any time a witness changes his/her testimony while on the stand, or a jury returns an unexpected verdict when the opposite outcome should have been the obvious one, it's generally because of this. Two examples in particular stand out:
    • A noteworthy instance of witness tampering from Season 4 is in the episode "Old Friends," where a witness commits perjury while testifying against a member of the Russian mob, then later refuses to testify to the truth because she's been threatened. She eventually does tell the truth but shortly afterward is murdered. This causes prosecutor Ben Stone to quit the DA's office out of guilt.
    • One example of jury tampering is the episode "Hubris," where a defendant, acting as his own lawyer at his trial for killing a woman, kept zeroing in on one of the female jurors every time he stood up to give an argument. It's later revealed that he'd actually approached her outside the courtroom prior to the verdict, and he'd sweet-talked her and convinced her of his innocence. He really was guilty, and later dumped the juror after being acquitted...and she was later forced to kill him in self-defense.
  • Justice by Other Legal Means: Jack McCoy practically lives this trope.
    • L&O and its Spin Offs just as often defy this trope (by refusing to rely on lesser charges or lawsuits) or invert it (not mentioning other ways to nail the defendant, acting like the top count is the only charge they have) as play they play it straight.
    • There are cases where the prosecutors are dissatisfied with the verdict. In "Mother's Milk", for example, Abbie is extremely disappointed in herself for having only convicted a negligent mother for manslaughter instead of murder.
    • McCoy outright plays with and defies this trope in "Endurance". In the case, a woman tries to burn herself along with her terminally ill son in their apartment, but in the last minute, backs off and solely allows the boy to be killed. Her lawyer turns out to be incompetent, and the judge allows for the option to let the jury consider a count of manslaughter instead of murder, which would have guaranteed a conviction. However, McCoy decides in the last minute that the woman doesn't deserve to go to jail, and instead belongs in a psychiatric ward. He solely lets the jury consider murder; the jury acquits the woman by reason of mental defect.
    • Done again in "COD". Two women make an arrangement to kill each other's husbands, one is acquitted while the other is convicted. What does McCoy do? Offer the convicted woman a deal to testify against the other woman for arranging her own husband's murder (the murder the convicted woman had committed). The other woman realizes there's no getting out of it this time and accepts a deal of her own.
  • Kaleidoscope Hair: Dr. Rodgers, played by Leslie Hendrix, who is a natural blonde. She's a brunette in the beginning, a redhead in the middle, and a blonde toward the end of the series.
  • Kangaroo Court: Not usually but there were several and memorable episodes where judges would vacate a jury's guilty verdict — most notably Judge Wright who encouraged the defense to ask that the verdict be vacated in when a mentally ill girl was raped, since he believed she enjoyed it.
    • The most egregious example was in "Knock Off", in which Lupo and Bernard go to Dargerville, NY (a fictional town) to arrest a certain man, and then Lupo gets arrested by the regional sheriff because the police were about to uncover a conspiracy. In Lupo's indictment, the judge is an old man who is easily swayed by the police officers.
  • Karma Houdini: Epic example in "Patient Zero" when the defendant who injected a woman with whom he had broken off one of many affairs with SARS, and the defendant's wife, who perjured herself to inexplicably get him off, despite numerous confirmed affairs.
    • It's heavily implied that the defendant's wife actually didn't give a damn about traditional attitudes toward marriage. She wasn't the obedient, bend-over-backwards wife, but the cold, calculating one who played the legal system just so that she could get a say in the matter.
    • Also most rich defendants. See Screw the Rules, I Have Money! below.
  • Karmic Death: The fate of many defendants who are definitely guilty, but who manage to escape legal justice. Especially prevalent in cases where defendants tried the case pro se (meaning they served as their own attorney). Most pro se defendants in the show's history has either been convicted or killed by the end of the episode.
    • So many people have been shot on the court house steps it is a wonder anyone goes near them.
  • Killed Off for Real: During the show's run, several ongoing characters were killed off:
    • Max Greevey
    • Lennie Briscoe. After the death of actor Jerry Orbach, who at the time was playing the character in the Trial By Jury spin-off, the character's death was also acknowledged on the parent series.
    • Claire Kincaid. Ironically, Kincaid's actress, Jill Hennessey, thought that her character actually survived the car crash, but remained in severe paralysis or something of the sort. Only after her friend watched Kincaid's final episode and told her what happened that she discovered that Kincaid actually was killed. Her death was furthermore confirmed on screen in a later episode..
    • Alexandra Borgia
  • The Kindnapper: One episode involves a mentally-unbalanced woman who kidnaps a young girl from a neglectful mother and keeps her in a secret room in her basement. At the end of the episode the woman is acquitted of kidnapping and is planning on suing for custody of the girl.
  • The Kirk: With the A.D.A. generally being The McCoy and the E.A.D.A. generally being The Spock, you would generally expect that The Kirk would be the D.A. However, Adam, Arthur, and McCoy (when he's a district attorney) almost always have their own preconceptions and political aspirations on hand while going into a trial, and direct their subordinates to perform contrary to their judgment.
  • Lampshade Hanging: The episode "Bottomless" had a member of a big bad corporation comment on how Jack McCoy often goes after "big bad corporations."
  • Laser-Guided Karma: The feds pull this off in "Payback". Jack is able to plea a certain defendant in exchange for information regarding a mob boss, whom he arrests. However, as Jack is putting charges against the mob boss, the feds intervene and tell him to drop the plea, which would then entail that the mob boss goes free. Jack grudgingly does so, and releases the mob boss; later, the mob boss is found dead. Jack realizes that the feds decided that rather than keep the mob boss in jail, it would be better to give the illusion to the others in the mob that the mob boss himself had given damning information to the police and was released. The feds planned that mob would then kill off the boss.
  • Later-Installment Weirdness: The show was almost adamant about not focusing on the personal lives of it's characters, feeding us information only through the various tidbits one might drop to a co-worker, but rarely, if ever showing it. Which is why the Season 6 episode "Aftershock" was such a shocking departure from the norm as it featured no case and for once actually did focus heavily on the main cast. For the next 2-3 seasons, there proceeded to be just as much focus on the character's lives as there was on the case of the week. Most viewers didn't like it.
  • Laugh Track: The gallery was very occasionally portrayed as this in the first season, most egregiously in "Prescription for Death". Thankfully, this isn't seen in later episodes.
  • The Law of Conservation of Detail: If a detective makes a shallow remark a suspect knows jujitsu or that he was in Alcoholics Anonymous, you can bet that it's somehow relevant to the case.
    • It's invoked bittersweetly at the end of "Bronx Pride". The victim's sister, at the beginning of the episode, makes an offhand remark that her father refuses to visit New York until the killer is caught. In the end, McCoy is forced to plead the killer out to only 7 1/2 to 15 years for two murders because the Brooklyn DA repeatedly poached the investigation... and as Jack is congratulating himself for winning a particularly difficult case, the father shows up to the office, with Jack dreading to tell him about the outcome.
  • Lethal Negligence: The episode "Profiteer", the victim of the week was an executive at a body-armor company that sent a shipment of defective body armor to soldiers in Iraq. After securing a confession from the shooter, the DA's office decides to go after the company for negligent homicide in the death of the shooter's friend, who got stuck with one of the defective vests.
  • Letting Her Hair Down: Serena in the 14th and 15th seasons. It's also somewhat representative of her attitude during those seasons; she becomes more emotional and headstrong, openly criticizing Jack's tactics. Eventually she gets fired.
  • Limited Wardrobe: Jack prefers a bulky windbreaker to a more aesthetically pleasing overcoat, and occasionally wears jeans and a denim jacket. Justified in that he rides a motorcycle instead of driving a car: can't really wear overcoats with those.
  • Littlest Cancer Patient: Always there to break the viewer's hearts. And to give a doctor in "Compassion" accused of negligent homicide a justification to do what she did: to keep helping these patients.
    • In one of Van Buren's chemotherapy sessions, she meets one, who tells her, "I was scared too, at first."
  • Long-Runner Cast Turnover: The series ended with a completely different cast than when it started. The series lost its last original cast member at the end of its tenth season, when Steven Hill's Adam Schiff retired. So half of its run was done with no one from the first season cast. The Other Wiki has a section dedicated to the cast/character changes and overlaps.
    • It's worth mentioning that S. Epatha Merkerson and Sam Waterston, Van Buren and McCoy, had remained on the show for 17 and 16 seasons respectively. Merkerson planned to depart after Season 20 (though this was moot after the show was cancelled at this time), and Waterston switched roles from Executive A.D.A. to the D.A. in Season 18, after thirteen seasons as the former role.
  • Long-Runners: As mentioned above, S. Epatha Merkerson, Sam Waterston, Jerry Orbach, and Steven Hill all remained on the show for ten years or more.
  • Longer-Than-Life Sentence: McCoy sentences one defendant to 240 years in prison for selling saline solution in place of a legitimate flu vaccine, cause the deaths of 18 people.
  • Lost Episode: 'Sunday in the Park with Jorge' was pulled from reruns for 8 years following complaints from Puerto Rican activist groups.
  • Love Overrides the Law: An episode where the defendants, a high school couple, invoke the trope when accused of killing their newborn baby. The baby would have gotten in the way of their going to the prom. When charged, the girl actually says "But we're in love!" as a defense and can't understand why that doesn't excuse everything.
  • Love Triangle: Considering that there are 456 episodes, you can bet that every single one of these has appeared at least once.
  • Make the Dog Testify: In "Who Let the Dogs Out", McCoy calls a ''very' aggressive dog into the courtroom to disprove the witness's claim that it was harmless.
  • The Main Characters Do Everything: The original series is a notable aversion of this trope. The writers made sure that the main characters stick to their own job and operate within their limits. This applies to both the policemen and the attorneys. If something outside their spheres needs to be done, it usually won't be shown on-screen, or more rarely will be shown done by a minor guest character or even a disposable extra.
    • However, the A.D.A.s do perform follow-up investigations/interviews, which they generally would not do in Real Life, considering their heavy workload: which, also, is not shown on screen.
  • Majored in Western Hypocrisy: In "Promote This!", a high-class Latina pretends to be a house servant to avoid suspicion from the cops. Det. Bernard is able to identify just from her attitude while speaking to her that she isn't low-class. When questioned on the stand later as to why she pretended to be a house servant, she asserts that it was the police's mistake in seeing her as a "groncho", which is a derogatory term for poor Hispanics and Latinos.
  • Malcolm Xerox: If an episode showcases racial issues, you'll see several of those. Especially if a black lawyer is the defense attorney.
    • As noted in Flanderization above, this is especially true if Paul Robinette is the defense attorney.
  • Mama Bear: Any number of victims, perps, and their relatives. Jamie Ross is this to her daughter.
  • Manslaughter Provocation: A lot of husbands or wives over the years. An interesting subversion is a priest in "Under God", who killed a man, who had been released from jail for murdering a couple's young son. The priest justifies his murder by claiming that God made him do it, and Dr. Olivet decides that he was competent enough to not render an Insanity plea. It seems as though the priest will get a successful justifiable homicide defense, until McCoy points out to him that if he were truly acting under God's orders, he wouldn't have tried to cover up the crime.
  • Mathematician's Answer: Skoda is notorious for ambiguous answers, since he is usually hesitant to come up with a clear conclusion toward a suspect's psychological make-up. It bites him in the butt a few times.
    • In one episode, he and Dr. Olivet both interview a defendant, and Olivet is more sure of her answer than he is, so McCoy uses her as a witness; the defense later catches wind that Skoda had an opinion that would help their case, so they use him as a witness. McCoy isn't pleased.
    • In the series finale, Skoda tells Cutter that the angry blogger is not very impulsive... and later, when the blogger suddenly decides to go through with his plan with little warning, Cutter grills Skoda, who defends his earlier ambiguous opinion.
  • Mauve Shirt: The psychiatrist characters, Olivet and Skoda and Medical Examiner Elizabeth Rodgers. Also, Detective Profaci during the first nine seasons.
  • May–December Romance: A bit of a reversal, as the May is a 20-year-old guy and the December is a 60-year-old woman. The guy is shocked that his lover had gotten a "vagina-lift" (among other revitalizing procedures), since he liked her just the way she was.
    • Jack and Claire are a straight example. The actors who play them, Sam Waterston and Jill Hennessy, were born 28 years apart.
    • Reversed again in another episode, where a sixty- to seventy-year-old woman marries a twenty-year-old man... and it's later revealed that the young man is attracted to older women because his mother slept with him as a younger child.
  • The McCoy:
    • Definitely not Jack McCoy. Usually the female A.D.A. Except when Angie Harmon played the role as a conservative Republican, which led the writers to bring in a new D.A. who was female and a former college professor, and made her The McCoy.
    • Played With in one episode, where Jack McCoy feels guilty about prosecuting a teenage girl who was raped as a child as an adult for murder. Serena, the biggest McCoy of all the A.D.A.s, passionately calls him out for overtly sympathizing with a teenage girl, to which Jack responds that she wouldn't understand. When it's later revealed that the teenage girl was in fact a manipulative adult, McCoy completely holds it against the defendant and ruthlessly prosecutes her.
  • Medical Rape and Impregnate: A very disturbing example in "Grief", where a woman, whose daughter went into a debilitating coma in a car accident, paid a hospital orderly to rape her comatose daughter to conceive a child. The daughter eventually dies, but the baby is saved. But in the end, both the daughter's father and the orderly's parents sue for custody of the child.
  • Men Act, Women Are: In the episode "Doped" after a deadly drunk-driving car accident the media and all of his friends blamed the husband for his wife’s actions despite him having nothing to do with it other than being married to her.
    • Ultimately averted with the cops however while unlike him they didn’t believe in his wife’s innocence they gave the case a thorough examination to give him some form of closure.
  • Mercy Kill:
    • Subverted by a Honduran woman, in "Promote This!", who terminates life support for her son who was an illegal immigrant brutalized by a group of teenagers. Initially one would think that she did it because she had given up hope on her son and didn't want to see him or herself suffer by prolonging his life. However, Connie points out that she probably did it because she somehow knew that the teenagers, who were convicted of first degree assault against the man, could be charged again for first degree bias murder.
    • Also subverted in "Burden". A doctor is seemingly justified in using poison hemlock to kill a quadriplegic boy; however, the prosecutors uncover that he is actually a thrill killer who murders patients with debilitating injuries. Unfortunately, McCoy can't bring in evidence of his previous killings, and the doctor is solely sentenced to Man Two.
  • Miranda Rights: Played with. The cops generally don't use cards and have the suspects sign them, which is what they're supposed to do to guarantee that the suspects know and can properly waive their rights.
    • In "Panic", for example, an FBI agent declines having his Miranda Rights read to him. The police aren't supposed to assume that a suspect knows his or her rights, regardless of what he says, and his lawyer even tells the police this when entering the interrogation room. Thankfully, this doesn't bite them in the butt later.
  • Mistakenfor Racist:
    • McCoy has had his fair share of allegations toward him by black lawyers.
    • Green, surprisingly. In "Suicide Box", a black teenager under suspicion for attempting to murder a cop justifies his actions by accusing all cops of being racists who target and kill black children. note  To highlight the ludicrousness of the allegation, Green sarcastically tells the boy that he gets "a toaster oven for every black boy he beats up", and the teenager, suddenly forced to face the consequences of his actions, cops to the attempted murder. However, the boy's lawyer argues that Green was a racist who drove the boy to confess.
    • Briscoe in "Marathon". While arresting a black man because he had the bike that was used in the killing, Briscoe tells the black man that he should have ditched the bike to "blend in with the rest of the roaches." This leads to Det. Green being hostile toward his partner for the entirety of the episode, and eventually leads to a screaming match between the detectives near the end of the episode. They kiss and make up, thankfully.
  • Mistaken for Terrorist: One episode subverts this when a guy killed a terrorist group by using terrorist tactics which accidentally killed some people as well.
  • Modesty Bedsheet: Mostly played straight whenever police raid a home and, unfortunately, find the suspect intimately, erm, you know the rest. It's played for laughs in an earlier episode, when the police are handcuffing a mostly-naked perp; Det. Logan approaches his girlfriend to tell her to dress up, but she promptly drops her bedsheet in a case of Toplessness from the Back. He actually isn't amused.
  • Morally Ambiguous Doctorate: Lampshaded by lots of detectives when arresting Wall Street bankers, prestigious doctors, or popular lawyers with impressive degrees. The perps' education usually led to their feeling of superiority, which usually caused them to commit murder.
  • Mr. Fanservice:
    • Rey Curtis. Frequently mentioned by almost every female extra on the show.
    • This was intentional. One of the reasons for letting Chris Noth (Det. Mike Logan) go was to bring in someone more handsome than him, to allow more women to watch the series. Enter Benjamin Bratt.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Nina Cassady. Invoked both In-Universe and Real Life: Van Buren constantly criticizes her sex appeal and unorthodox methods, which resulted in her being noted as the "Beauty Queen Detective"; Milena Govich was panned by critics and the audience alike during her run, allowing her to solely run for a single season.
  • Multipart Episode: "The Torrents of Greed" pts. 1 & 2 (Season 1), and "Refuge" pts. 1 & 2 (Season 9).
    • There were three two-parters done with Homicide. "Charm City" (L&O Season 5) was followed by "For God Or Country" (Homicide Season 4). "Baby It's You" (L&O Season 8) was followed by "Baby It's You" pt. 2 (Homicide Season 6). "Sideshow" (L&O Season 9) was followed by "Sideshow" pt. 2 (Homicide Season 7).
    • Also Season 10's two-parter with SVU. "Entitled" pt. 1 (SVU) was followed by "Entitled" pt. 2 (L&O).
      • A second one, six seasons later, with "Design" (SVU) and "Flaw" (L&O).
    • Season 7's "D-Girl", "Turnaround", and "Showtime" was the series' only three-parter, dealing with the same exact case, even if there's no mention in the titles that the episodes are related.
  • The Münchausen: An interesting take on this trope is in "Sweetie"; it's just deconstructed all around considering the number of times it's subverted. An author writes a book claiming that he was a male prostitute who went by the name "Sweetie Ness", but he just turns out to be a fraud. The police then find a man who matches much of the description in the book, but his claim that he's Sweetie Ness turns out to be unbelievable. The prosecutors then decide that Sweetie Ness was not a single person, but an amalgam of various male prostitutes from whom the book's producer took stories; the stories seem too disparate for one person to have experienced all the events stated in the book. However, in The Reveal, it turns out that the book's producer (a female, no less) was the real Sweetie Ness all along.
  • Münchausen Syndrome: A "Munchausen-by-Proxy" case occurred in Season 5's "Precious", where a woman smothered four of her children and cited "crib death". The police struggle to find evidence to prove this and are barely able to take it to trial. McCoy then pulls off one of his most controversial arguments he's ever made (even Sam Waterston, McCoy's actor, was against this) where he says that he will agree to plead the woman to Man One, if she was forced to be sterilized so that she would never have kids.
  • Murder by Mistake: Notably in "Misconception". In the episode, a husband beats his pregnant wife, who consents to the abuse, to cause a miscarriage as part of a plot to extort the wife's employer, who was sleeping with her. The husband's defense is that since the unborn child was under 24 weeks of age, it's not murder. However, Stone makes a famous but prejudicial argument that intent follows the bullet, and that since the couple's intent was to kill an unborn child, regardless of whether it was of age or not, it still counts as attempted murder.
  • Must Make Amends: In "Excalibur", the Season 18 finale, McCoy tries to nail Governor Shalvoy by himself by disregarding the feds' cooperation and Cutter's advice. It fails when Governor Shalvoy destroys all the loose threads in the investigation, so that McCoy didn't have any avenue to prosecute him. In the Season 19 finale, "The Drowned and the Saved", Cutter completely manipulates the governor into resigning by waving a blank piece of paper in his face, claiming that it had names of all the prostitutes he had slept with in the past year. When McCoy hears about this, he's happy that the governor's out of office, but disgusted that it took a dirty trick to get him out of there.
  • My Card: From detectives to annoying businessmen.
  • My Sister Is Off-Limits: Used by a brother in "Black, White, and Blue". The police like him a lot for the murder, but it turns out that he wasn't involved.

     Tropes N-R 
  • Naïve Newcomer: Robinette is shown to be this in the pilot, "Everybody's Favorite Bagman". Somewhat justified, given that he's a young attorney, his boss is noted to be a hard-ass, and his childhood mentor is in suspicion for being part of a corruption scandal and murder.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: In the episode "Gov Love", McCoy is attempting to prosecute a murder but a gay witness might seek the use of marital privilege laws. So Jack goes to the NY Court of Appeals and gets the marriage (and all gay marriages in the state) invalidated, as they were not legal under state law. It completely backfires, as while the witness would have voluntarily testified before, he is so incensed at McCoy's tactics that he refuses to testify now no matter what.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Too many to count. It got to the point where an Indian lawyer named Ravi Batra filed a suit against Dick Wolf, because he claimed that a "hot-shot Indian lawyer" character who fixes divorce settlements in the Season 14 episode "Floater" (named Ravi Patel) was a harmful caricature of him. The parties eventually reached a settlement.
    • Usually the show references various universities in the region (Columbia, NYU, Fordham, Pace), but a Season 9's "Haven" involved a fake Ivy league school named "Hanford" because the episode delivered a particularly biting critique of Affirmative Action, and the show's creators probably didn't want to deal with any wrong implications.
  • No Mere Windmill: Subverted in "Fed", where a man working for a leftist reelection campaign is found murdered with the word "FED" scrawled on his chest. The police initially believe a far-right activist did it because the met with the victim, and outright hates the government. It turns out that the far-left company the victim worked for killed him to cover-up plans he made to extort far-right companies, which then would cover-up bribery and corruption at the executive positions of that leftist company. They only pretended to believe that he was an evil government worker to implicate a far-right group.
  • Nobility Marries Money: One episode, "Merger", featured a case made more complicated by the fact that the murder involved neighboring families with engaged children with a very complex relationship. It turns out the engagement was a merger between impoverished patricians on the one hand and nouveau riche on the other.
  • No Ending: A couple of episodes. One notable one was the midpoint of the series, the season 10 finale. McCoy has convicted a Chilean national of a murder committed during a military coup, but it's being challenged on jurisdiction grounds. We see McCoy and the opposing attorney, Chiles, make arguments to the Supreme Court in DC, and then a clerk comes to deliver the verdict to the lawyers... and the show ends just before she gets to them.
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: Considering that you're dealing with lawyers on this show, this trope is definitely played straight.
    • One particularly notable example is in "DR 1-102", when a perp taking a hostage in a convenience store demands a lawyer. Rather than have the police risk sacrificing a civilian, Serena goes in to deal with the man under the pretense of being his lawyer. She is able to sufficiently calm him down and have him confess to the two murders he committed, and the police are able to separate him from the hostage. However, she faces a hearing from the disciplinary committee and risks being disbarred because a) she pretended to be his lawyer, and b) she didn't read him his rights, which prompts an unwarranted confession. McCoy is barely able to successfully defend her.
  • No Hugging, No Kissing: One longstanding aspect of the series was that it rarely if ever delved deeply into the personal lives of the main characters. This is particularly the case for Jack McCoy and Claire, who carried on a relationship during much of their partnership that was indicated by very subtle Ship Tease moments that led to fans debating if anything was actually happening or not due to the absence of overt signs of affection. It wasn't until some time after Claire was Killed Off for Real that a line of dialogue finally confirmed that the relationship did happen.
  • No Party Given: Averted. Given the show's Manhattan setting, it's not surprising that most characters are explicitly Democrats; the only confirmed Republicans are DA Arthur Branch (explained in-series as a reaction to both 9/11 and the pushover nature of the previous DA, Nora Lewin), and ADA "Hang 'Em High" Abbie Carmichael. Also, Ben Stone is portrayed to espouse certain conservative values such as being pro-life.
    • These exceptions aren't coincidental: both Branch and Carmichael are played by well-known Republicans. Fred Dalton Thompson was actually a Republican Senator from Tennessee before he took the L&O gig—and left the show in 2008 to run for President (he lost, not making it past the first couple of primaries).
    • Angie Harmon is noted as a Republican activist; some of the reasons Dick Wolf immediately selected her for the job was due to her Texas accent, and to bring in an ADA who would outright challenge McCoy's opinions.
    • Michael Moriarty, the actor who portrayed Ben Stone, is a strong conservative: although, he wasn't as vocal about his opinions on the show as he is in Real Life.
  • No-Tell Motel: Any case which even tangentially involves two people meeting in some kind of temporary lodging plays into the murder.
    • Although it's completely averted in "Melting Pot", which had the husband of the victim meeting with a woman in a hotel... but it turns out that the woman was just his half-sister, and he had nothing to do with her murder.
  • Noodle Incident: Det. Nina Cassady's undercover operation that made her famous as the "Beauty Queen Detective". Lt. Van Buren isn't very happy about her headstrong attitude, which directly resulted from that case.
    • Lennie slept with John Munch's wife. He isn't very pleased. In Munch's interactions with Lennie, however, they come off as very good friends.
  • Not Afraid to Die: The defendant in "Genius".
  • Not Blood, Not Family: In "Caviar Emptor" the Asshole Victim was the patriarch of a wealthy family who wouldn't allow his daughter to adopt a baby from China. His exact words were: "I won't allow someone else's bastard to become my grandchild."
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat:
    • One episode, "City Hall", features a semi-sting to get potential criminals in front of a witness, with Detective Briscoe posing as an Obstructive Bureaucrat and loving every second of it.
    Briscoe: I told you, the amnesty requires the form be filled out in triplicate!
    Random Guy: But there's only two copies!
    Briscoe: [snatching forms] We'll mail you the other one.
    Green: [observing via hidden camera] He's enjoying this way too much.
    • Most corporations and lawyers fit this trope to a T, at least until the detectives dig up some dirt and threaten them with a subpoena from the IRS. In the cases where that doesn't work, McCoy brings out the hardball.
    • The police force itself. "The Blue Wall" is the imaginary boundary that protects the police from reproach from their colleagues, and is used often to cover up bad acts committed by investigators. Invoked, obviously, in "The Blue Wall", where Captain Cragen is under suspicion for destroying evidence, and fellow policemen both refuse and are willing to testify against him, for various reasons.
  • Obstructive Vigilantism: Nick Falco shows up after his short run as a suspect and his determined efforts to clear his name repeatedly pooch the investigation.
    • Played with in "Myth of Fingerprints", where it is revealed that a fingerprint analyst has been falsifying records to ensure convictions. She was finally revealed when the brother of a man who was convicted on the analyst's falsified testimony is brought up on charges, proclaiming both his and his brother's innocence. When an FBI analyst went through a random selection of the police analyst's files, including the convicted brother's, it was revealed that over 30 percent of the supposedly confirmed cases were impossible to match. At one point, the DA's office refer to her as a 'cop in a labcoat'.
      • To make things worse, one of the cases the analyst helped get a spot-on murder conviction for directly resulted in Van Buren's promotion to Lieutenant. Thus, Van Buren's reputation is on the line because a forensic analyst didn't do her job properly.
    • An intentional example is in a later episode, where a former captain in the precinct now serving as a pushover corporate sponsor gives the detectives unwarranted evidence which conclusively implicates two people in a murder... and then lies on the stand by saying that the detectives asked him to get the evidence, so that the evidence may be thrown out in court. Van Buren is not pleased.
  • Occam's Razor: A lot of investigations play this straight. The prosecution, which carries the burden of proof, is able to portray certain pieces of evidence as extremely damning toward the client, but the defense can usually only challenge the conclusiveness of the evidence and suggest alternate pieces of evidence for alternate theories. But the prosecution tends to stick to the fact that if the evidence conclusively establishes a certain scenario, any evidence to the contrary that isn't extremely strong isn't able to establish enough reasonable doubt.
    • For example: in "Exchange", an Opportunistic Bastard brother uses his schizophrenic sister to steal her expensive artifact, and withholds her medication to have her murder her roommates and pose as a threat to keep her from getting any of the money. The brother then testifies that she was sane, even without her medication, blowing a hole into Cutter's theory (and the truth) that the sister was a helpless victim. However, Cutter uses the brother's own testimony to establish that the sister was a co-conspirator (which isn't true), and nail the brother for murder by an alternate means. In effect, Cutter uses the defendant's own theories of reasonable doubt against him by relying on the simplest explanation regarding the evidence, even if it wasn't true.
  • Occupiers Out of Our Country: Every single defense looking to bait xenophobic feelings pulls this one out of the hat. In "Patriot", notably, where the defense's closing statement could be read as a call to war against Muslims.
  • Of Corpse He's Alive: A lot of killers leave their victims on public benches to make it look as though they're sleeping. One victim, an attractive woman in "Turnstile Justice", is actually eyed by men surrounding her before cops try to get the men away and wake her... and realize that she's dead.
  • Off on a Technicality: Oh, boy. The police have their best interests in mind, but end up doing something completely logically valid that ends up getting thrown out by some hotshot lawyer.
    • One episode featured the detectives, while searching a perp's house, uncovering documents that would firmly establish the perp's motive. However, the documents and the entire case get thrown out because the warrant established that the detectives were solely allowed to look for evidence relating to the elements of a crime... and motive is not an element of a crime, apparently.
    • Thankfully averted in another episode where Nick Falco got on a phone with a judge to make sure that the search warrant covered the car they were about to search, just as Fontana was about to bust into the car regardless of the validity of the warrant.
  • Offstage Villainy: The actual crimes are rarely, if ever, shown to the viewer. Most suspects and killers are never shown doing anything bad in view of the camera. Except when they take hostages to resist arrest, of course.
  • Old Cop, Young Cop: Played straight with the senior detective/sergeant and junior detective, respectively, all the way up to the end of Season 16. This was played with in Season 17 and most of Season 18, when Ed Green took over as senior detective (his actor was 38 at the time), but he was a mentor to both Cassady and Lupo. Averted when Lupo replaced him: his actor was 35 at the time, which actually made him younger than his junior partner, Bernard, who was 39.
    • But don't let looks fool you. Lennie proved to be just as charming (if not even much more charming) than his much younger and more good-looking partner, Rey, who is a Happily Married man (who did step out on his wife once, though that was with Jennifer Garner's character, so it's understandable).
  • Old Money: While those with nobility or old money are portrayed as ruthless or selfish in most instances, "Pledge" provides an interesting aversion. A man who went to college in a state school wanted to marry high-class, aristocratic girls who ended up in more prestigious private schools. However, these girls laughed him away, and the man hates himself and his self-perceived "low-class" wife and daughter for the rest of his life. This prompts him to kill the son of one such woman who rejected him. In the end, Cutter puts another woman on the stand pretending to be a high-class girl whom the defendant loved many years ago, and uses the fact that said woman married a low-class man to guilt the defendant into confessing.
  • Ominously Open Door: Averted in one episode, where the perp superglues the lock on the door to hide his crime for a few hours.
  • Omnidisciplinary Lawyer: Lampshaded by McCoy in "Double Blind". In it, the suspect asks for his parents after being arrested by the police, and because the detectives do not have any obligation to satisfy an of-age (above 18) suspect's demand to see his parents, they ignore it and squeeze a confession out of him. However, the suspect had vaguely mentioned to the police days beforehand that his father was a corporate lawyer, and when McCoy asserts that he had no authority to represent his son anyways, the judge disagrees. The confession gets thrown out.
  • Once Done, Never Forgotten:
    • A running gag of the last decade of the show has been other prosecutors bringing up McCoy's many indiscretions/lapses in professional and personal judgment. Some such incidents including a time when he once purposely hid a witness in a murder case and evidence from the defense team, instigated "fake trials" (twice!), attempted to have a woman sterilized (albeit she did have Munchausen's Syndrome and was murdering her babies), tried (unsuccessfully) to bring up murder by proxy charges where he goes after gun manufacturers for depraved indifference homicide and, of course, sleeping with his assistants.
    • This was invoked when Cutter's feelings for Connie were outright stated in a Season 20 episode; Cutter says, "Who would put their assistant in a difficult place by sleeping with her?" to which McCoy replies, "you mean, besides me?"
    • When Jack McCoy has an argument with one of his subordinates over questionable tactics, expect the phrase "You once hid a witness" to come up. In the episode "Under The Influence" (s8e11), McCoy hid an exculpatory witness from the defense, in order to maintain murder charges against a drunk driver who killed two pedestrians (a mother and daughter). (He later relented, but still faced sanctions for his actions.)
    • Similarly, expect the fact that he slept with Claire Kincaid to pop up at least once a season.
    • Mike Cutter also liked to point out the time that he held a bunch of Russian gangsters without charge for weeks on end, and took it almost all the way to the Supreme Court.
    • Mike Logan got Put on a Bus for punching a politician. He features in a later TV Movie. Naturally, when Law & Order: Criminal Intent rolls around, he's gotten a reputation as a hothead, and carries around a clipping about the incident in his wallet. Though having a temper and an attitude was part of Logan's character from the start, it really didn't get thrown back in his face until CI.
  • Only Bad Guys Call Their Lawyers: The detectives pull this on many, many suspects before continuing to question them. Of course, their lawyers are not amused once they do get inside the interrogation room.
  • Opening Credits Cast Party: In some episodes, contrary to the implication of the trope, all four characters in the walk (the senior and junior detectives and the executive and assistant district attorneys) do appear together in a single scene. The viewer tends to see this a lot more often during the later seasons, with Cutter, Rubirosa, Lupo, and Bernard working a lot more closely.
  • Opening Narration: One of the most famous in TV history.
    • The only episode in the series where the opening narration isn't played is "The Torrents of Greed" pt. 2, where Steven Zirnkilton (the narrator) instead provides a summary of the previous part.
  • Opportunistic Bastard:
    • A lot of prosecutors are portrayed this way when looking for the death penalty to boost their career. Nora Lewin is a notable aversion, when her decision to allow an 18-year-old to be sentenced to death is against everything she stands for.
    • Branch definitely comes off as this in "Tragedy On Rye", where three black men are sentenced to death for a crime they didn't commit, before McCoy finds evidence which exculpates them. Branch had been petitioning for the death penalty for the men throughout the episode, and when confronted in the end after the men are released, he says that he's happy that he set an example.
  • Oppressive Immigration Enforcement: Throughout the franchise, immigration authorities are often used as a Spanner in the Works. If a victim or witness is in the country illegally, one phone call from the Villain of the Week will cause them to be instantly deported. While the agents involved will usually show a lack of concern for how their actions will impact the prosecution of a heinous crime, they are rarely portrayed as outright evil, just Punch Clock Villains.
  • Organ Theft: "Sonata For A Solo Organ". It's a pretty interesting, non-Black Comedy take on the whole practice when the victim, who actually survives, later testifies that he feels raped.
  • Orgy of Evidence: Considering that the D.A.s go to trial with little, if any, hard evidence, they get pretty suspicious if there's too much.
  • Out with a Bang: With Julia Roberts, no less.
  • Outliving One's Offspring: Several of the murder victims are outlived by one or both parents.
  • Papa Wolf: Any number of perps, victims, or their fathers.
    • Subverted in some cases where the papa wolves display their protective personalities for show.
    • Cutter is sometimes this to Connie. On one occasion, when his career as a lawyer is on the line, he tries to cut a deal with a homophobic gay-basher, who then turns to Connie and calls her a "spick". Angry beyond reason, Cutter slams the desk and tells the client to accept the maximum deal (25-to-life), or he'll get himself disbarred so he could testify against the client and have him serve back-to-back life sentences. The client takes the deal.
    • In "Good Faith", Jacob Reese killed Nash because he believed that he had sex with his teenage daughter and gave her chlamydia. This turned out to be a lie since his daughter was afraid to tell him who really had sex with her.
  • Parallel Porn Titles: In-Universe. In "High & Low," there is a videocassette box for a film titled American Booty.
  • Patched Together from the Headlines: As the Trope Namer for Ripped from the Headlines, would we expect anything less than a lot of episodes that fall into this bracket?
  • Pedophile Priest: In "Bad Faith". It turns out that Det. Logan was one of his victims when he was a child.
  • Penultimate Outburst: Fed up, the judge yells "One more outburst like that and I'll clear this courtroom!" in "Life Line". There's a subsequent outburst and the judge clears the courtroom, as promised. Unfortunately, neither of the troublemakers —both obvious gang members making death threats towards the testifying witness— led out in handcuffs.
  • The Perfect Crime:
    • In "Called Home", a doctor who handed out instructions on how to kill oneself painlessly had made comments in other contexts suggesting it was anything but painless. However, no one but the victims would know the truth, and part of said procedure would render them incapable of expressing it.
    • In "Submission", a wine dealer would sell cheap wine to rich people expecting to pay top dollar for good quality wine. It's the perfect crime, because the buyers would have no idea how good quality wine was supposed to taste, and thus have no idea that they were being ripped off.
  • Perp Walk: Usually of the Up (or Down) the Courthouse Steps version. Expect a Vigilante Execution whenever you see one.
    • A Vigilante Execution can happen during any courthouse Perp Walk, but if the walk in question happens in either the middle of the episode or in the final minutes, find cover behind something.
    • A particularly hilarious/memorable Perp Walk was in the last episode of Season 5, when a politician accused of murdering his gay rival is released, and starts spouting vitriolic comments toward the homosexual protesters outside. In response, Det. Mike Logan punches the politician before shoving him into the car.
  • The Perry Mason Method: McCoy and Claire let the defense counsel pull one at the very end of "Homesick". It's somewhat justified, given that the killer was the victim's 10-year-old step-brother, whom the police didn't suspect until the very end of the case.
  • Persecuted Intellectuals: In "Genius", where a genius writer accuses the detectives of pursuing those as "educated" as himself.
  • Persona Non Grata: Quite a few. "Personae Non Grata", obviously, invokes this.
  • Phallic Weapon: In "Tango", where a prostitute shoves a hairdryer up a girl's... rear and kills her due to extreme jealousy.
  • Plot-Powered Stamina: Well, sometimes - they're inconsistent about it.
    • In episodes like "Double Down", where cops are shown pulling all-nighters to chase criminals, they appear tired and spent. In other episodes where they seem to have consistently been pursuing the case, they appear awake. Chalk it up to the inconsistent narrative and the fact that cops are shown to be fully pursuing one case at a time, which in most cases, they're not.
  • Poe's Law: In "Blood Libel", teenagers who codify a certain message in their yearbook, "Kill all kikes", pretend that it's satire. However, their other grossly anti-Semitic writings and words convince the detectives that it's the real deal.
  • Police Brutality: In varying degrees throughout the series. "DWB" is probably the worst; it involved white cops committing a disgusting hate crime against a black man by dragging him outside of a car for hundreds of yards before gutting him with a knife.
  • Police Lineup: Shown in lots of cases. They're pretty accurate; even if a witness makes a subtle remark such as "I'm pretty sure" when referring to an identification, it's usually not admissible.
    • Subverted in "Big Bang" - the suspect refuses to participate in a lineup, so the detectives take the witness to where he works to see if they can identify him. His lawyer gets the identification tossed because the suspect works as a doorman, wearing a garish uniform that made him stand out.
    • The most notable one is probably in "DWB", where McCoy orders the detectives to tell the witness which person to pick out of the line-up. McCoy later justifies this to Abbie, claiming that it was legal because they weren't actually going to use the line-up in court, but rather as a means to induce the suspects to confess and take a plea bargain. Abbie seems less certain.
  • Political Overcorrectness: The Ann Coulter Expy in "Talking Points," Judith Barlow, claims this belligerently.
  • Pop-Cultural Osmosis: In the 90's, more television shows started shifting away from the trial portion of law enforcement, favoring instead the investigation side. Law & Order is often credited with keeping fictional trials on television into the 21st century, and developing public knowledge of the trial system. Even its little sister, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, focuses more on the investigative portion than the law.
  • Pop-Cultural Osmosis Failure: Amusingly averted in "Three Dawg Night."
    Lonnie Liston: You ever heard of G Train?
    Ed Green: The G Train?
    Lennie Briscoe: Even I've heard of G Train.
  • Powered by a Forsaken Child: In "Slave", a woman owes her drug dealer over $800, and since she couldn't make that kind of money, she instead basically offers her thirteen-year-old son up for payment. The drug dealer then abuses the boy and turns him into a vicious money collector financing his operation.
  • Power Outage Plot: In the episode "Darkness", the cops have to solve a kidnapping case during a city-wide blackout.
  • Pragmatic Villainy: In "Shrunk", an open-and-shut murder case which involved a mentally unstable screenwriter killing his girlfriend out of rage. It turns out that the screenwriter's psychiatrist had dated the victim, who was an actress, before breaking it off, and decided that he wanted her killed. The psychiatrist then influenced the screenwriter to date the actress and withheld his medication, knowing that it was only a matter of time before the screenwriter exploded and killed the actress. The psychiatrist, then, would receive more prestige and recognition from drug companies while his client wouldn't suspect him of betraying their mutual trust.
  • Preemptive "Shut Up": McCoy pulls off a variant of this trope in "Double Down", where he must prove that he didn't know that the perp had shot his accomplice in a robbery before he made a deal with the perp. When Briscoe and Curtis came to inform him that they found the body of the accomplice, McCoy shut them up so that he could claim that he solely knew that the accomplice was dead, not that he was killed by the perp. Curtis isn't very amused by McCoy's little game of splitting hairs.
  • Pretty in Mink: A few episodes, if the guest character is wealthy (not always the perp, so it's not that other trope).
  • Primal Scene: In "Killerz", a woman and her boyfriends would constantly have sex in full view of their 10-year-old child. This traumatized the girl enough to psychologically justify to herself that killing her classmate, pulling his pants down, and stuffing a battery in his mouth was alright.
  • Product Placement: The "Anthora" brand of coffee cups, which is unique to New York, is used throughout the series, to reflect regional color.
  • Profiling: Inverted with Frank Pembleton, a Homicide character who appears in the episode L&O episode "Charm City". He uses a payphone in a bar to find a criminal, and when he's leaving, the bartender asks him to pay two dollars for a short call. Pembleton flashes his badge, and the bartender tells him to come back with a real one next time. He isn't very amused as he's forking over the cash.
  • Promotion to Opening Titles: Carolyn McCormick as Dr. Elizabeth Olivet, The Shrink. The only such promotion in 20 years, as every other new cast member was introduced out of the blue in their premiere episode. Olivet was later Demoted to Extra before her actress left the show entirely; in its later seasons, she returned in the same limited capacity.
    • Michael Imperioli as Nick Falco, Det. Green's replacement for the last four episodes of Season 15. He goes back to being an extra in the penultimate episode of Season 16.
  • Punch-Clock Villain: Lots of mooks cite this when caught to alleviate punishment.
  • Put on a Bus: Happens to every character that left the show but wasn't killed off.note  A few of these were given in-show justifications, such as retirement or getting new jobs, but about half just disappeared between one episode and the next.
  • Questionable Consent: Especially in "Damaged", where McCoy must weigh just how far a girl with an IQ below 70 (legally, mentally retarded) can consent to having sex with three boys in a music room. And getting a plastic bottle shoved up her... ah, um.
  • Quip to Black: Lennie Briscoe is famous for these. The Schiff One-Liner also applies here.
  • Race Fetish: A particularly weird example in Season 3's "Conspiracy", where a black woman says that her white ex-husband encouraged her to join the African American Congress and become extremely involved in civil rights movements because it turned him on to see her fighting for racial equality.
  • Racial Face Blindness:
    • A member of a Black nationalist group snarks that he can't identify a White man accused of killing the group's leader, because White people all look alike to him. Subverted though when he does identify the suspect.
    • In an episode, a defendant's lawyer tries to argue that a key witness, who is Korean, is incapable of telling non-Asians apart and could therefore not correctly identify the Puerto Rican defendant.
    • Another episode had a Japanese defendant argue that a Chinese-American witness was unable to tell non-Chinese Asians apart.
  • Rape as Backstory: Abbie. It's revealed in "Punk", and it allows her to finally sympathize with a young woman toward whom she spends the entire episode trying to enact criminal vengeance.
  • Real Life Writes the Plot:
    • The departure of DA Arthur Branch was entirely because Fred Thompson decided to run for the Republican nomination for President.
    • Detective Ed Green was shot so that actor Jesse L. Martin could take the time necessary to reprise his role as Tom Collins in the film version of RENT.
    • Lennie Briscoe was transplanted to the ill-fated Trial By Jury because Jerry Orbach was suffering from prostate cancer. When Orbach died, Briscoe had to be killed off, although his death wasn't mentioned on-screen until years after.
    • Serena's famous coming out was a result of the fact that Elisabeth Rohm's agents didn't want her reprising her role through the fifteenth season, so when Dick Wolf decided to write her off, he asked her, "Do you want a normal Law & Order ending... or a splashy ending?"
    • George Dzundza was stressed out travelling constantly from L.A. to New York, and he had thought initially that he would maintain a starring role in the series. So, his character, Max Greevey, was shot and killed the first episode of the second season.
  • Real Stitches for Fake Snitches: Fontana gets a scared bartender to talk by threatening to drop money on the bar while Green would smile and say "thank you" within plain view and earshot of the people he was scared to talk about.
  • Reality Is Unrealistic: Considering the amount of political pressure District Attorneys in New York county face, it's hard to believe that throughout the span of the entire series, with the exception of Season 20, the real District Attorney of New York County remained the same: Robert M. Morgenthau, who served from 1975-2009. Especially considering that the character of the District Attorney changed hands four times in the series' run, though that was mainly due to Revolving Door Casting.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: The D.A.s generally recognize McCoy's reluctance to argue certain things, but sometimes they force him to argue against his convictions for the sake of justice.
    • In "Black, White, and Blue", Adam, to set an example for the police force to not overstep their authority, forces McCoy to find two cops guilty of intentionally placing a bratty teenage boy in the middle of a riot, where he was later killed. McCoy is initially against any legal action against the cops, but is able to place a deal with their attorneys for five to fifteen years. But an angry Adam forces McCoy to charge them with something much higher, and McCoy ends up biting more than he can chew and pleads for a reduced sentence. Adam is not pleased by the end of the episode.
    • Arthur understands McCoy and Serena's ideological differences, but forces them to argue against Roe v. Wade just so they can establish that a certain defendant did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy toward his emails. McCoy isn't very pleased to argue that privacy is just an abstraction, not intended by the framers of the constitution.
    • And, ironically, McCoy becomes this to Cutter, even though he tries to be fair to his subordinate. In the former's reelection year, he forces Cutter to prosecute a crazy mob for terrorism. Cutter, Lupo, Connie, and Bernard, to an extent, are all against his decision. Finally, Cutter is able to convince his boss to just cut deals with the members of the mob.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Prosecutors tell this toward certain hostile witnesses. One example is in "Sweetie", where Cutter outright accuses a witness of being a hopeless stalker in order to turn her against the defendant.
  • Red Herring: The success of an investigation is inversely proportional to the amount of time of the show that's left.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: Usually played straight with an A.D.A. (notably Serena, Borgia, and Claire) and McCoy, respectively.
  • Refuge in Audacity: Jack, frequently. Defense attorneys, just as frequently. The cake has to be taken by a legal aid attorney on his first murder trial using his own lack of experience as part of his strategy.
    Judge Stein: Either you're a brilliant strategist, Mr. Fienman, or you are the biggest jackass ever to set foot in my courtroom.
    • In "Political Animal": Victor Vargas, a conman funneling money from bogus investments towards various political campaigns, chose to defend himself on a triple homicide case. His defense boiled down to flaunting that he was a conman and a crook, and that it would have been in his interest to pay the victim off, but all the politicians he was funding had plenty of reason to keep the victim quiet. What really qualifies him for this is how he justifies his decision to represent himself;
    Vargas: I have been to law school.
    Connie: We don't have any record of that.
    Vargas: It was under another name, and I was disbarred for stealing funds from clients. But I think I remember enough.
    • In "Anchors Away", Lupo and Bernard take away a gossip columnist's press rights because she wouldn't give them the name of the source. The columnist sighs and says that she legitimately doesn't know. Lupo then asks her why she would even bother invoking her right to protect her sources, and the columnist smiles and says, "it's the principle."
  • Restored My Faith in Humanity: Mike Bodack (played by Frank John Hughes) in "We Like Mike". The police wrongfully arrest him at his wedding; after releasing him and catching the true killer, they mess up the investigation and all the evidence against the perp gets thrown out. So, Bodack's testimony becomes McCoy's entire case against the perp, and Bodack volunteers to testify, despite his family's objections. Things get a lot more complicated when Bodack gets arrested for gambling; so, if he does testify against the perp, then he'll incriminate himself for the gambling charge. In the eleventh hour, McCoy tells him to do the right thing and testify, and he does. The killer gets convicted. In the classic Schiff One-Liner, Adam invokes this somewhat sarcastically.
    Schiff: Nice to know that the entire criminal justice system rises or falls on the decency of a Mike Bodack.
  • Restrained Revenge: As McCoy notes regarding the Actually Pretty Funny example above, while Curtis is forced to reluctantly bend his ethics under pressure from McCoy and Briscoe in order to convict a cop-killer, he does at least get the mild satisfaction of calling McCoy an idiot who does not know what he is doing on the stand.
  • Revenge by Proxy: Oh, too many to list. "Phobia" is an example, where a man kills his baby's new adoptive parent only after he discovered that the parent was gay.
  • Revolving Door Casting: The show is also notable for having replaced every single character at least once; no actor appeared in a regular role in all twenty seasons (although several notable cast members appeared in the majority of the series). Character departures have varied widely, from Dropped a Bridge on Him to Put on a Bus to Chuck Cunningham Syndrome.
    • Both George Dzundza and Paul Sorvino (Det. Greevey and Cerreta) were tired of the repetitive nature of the show, so their characters were both killed off, first episode of Season 2 and mid-Season 3 respectively. (Well, Cerreta is later shown to have survived the gunshot.)
    • Dann Florek and Richard Brooks (Lt. Cragen and A.D.A. Robinette) were sent off after Season 3 because NBC complained that there weren't enough female characters on the show. So, Cragen was transferred into Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, and Robinette joined a Wall Street firm, before later becoming a defense lawyer.
    • After Florek and Brooks's send-offs, Michael Moriarty's (Exec. A.D.A. Stone) speeches and conduct became more vitriolic and problematic for Dick Wolf; he even went so far as to call the Attorney General at the time "a psychopathic Nazi". Moriarty's dissatisfaction with the "homogenization" of the series (inclusion of female characters) forced him to resign. His character resigned after his conviction of a Russian mobster led to a witness being murdered.
    • Chris Noth (Det. Mike Logan) had the same attitude toward the series as Michael Moriarty after Dann Florek and Richard Brooks were fired, so Dick Wolf canned him as well after Season 5. Mike Logan punches a homophobic politician in the Season 5 finale, which leads to him being transferred to Staten Island. His story is later further addressed in Exiled: A Law and Order movie. He eventually joins Law & Order: Criminal Intent's cast.
    • Jill Hennessey (A.D.A. Kincaid) left to focus on other pursuits, so Kincaid was killed off in Season 6's finale.
    • Carey Lowell (A.D.A. Jamie Ross) wanted to spend more time with her daughter, so Jamie Ross was also sent off the show to spend more time with her daughter after Season 8, in a weird case of "life imitates art". She makes a guest appearance in a Season 11 episode as a defense attorney.
    • Benjamin Bratt (Det. Curtis) decided to leave the show, so his character elected to pursue a desk job to spend more time with his family after Season 9.
    • Steven Hill (D.A. Schiff) decided to retire, and Adam Schiff was said to work with Jewish charities in Europe at the end of Season 10.
    • Angie Harmon (A.D.A. Carmichael) left the show, so her character got promoted to the Attorney General's office after Season 11.
    • Dianne West (D.A. Lewin) wasn't a very popular character on the show, so her character stepped down as well after Season 12, in response to the 9/11 attacks, as the public favored the more right-wing Arthur Branch.
    • Jerry Orbach (Det. Briscoe) was suffering from prostate cancer, so his character retired at the end of Season 14. He continued to work on Law & Order: Trial by Jury, and completed two full episodes before succumbing to the disease. It's applied much later in the series that he died soon after retiring.
    • Elisabeth Rohm (A.D.A. Southerlyn) couldn't handle a fourth season, so her character was fired mid-Season 15. Along with a "splashy" send-off.
    • Jesse L. Martin had to leave Season 15 near the end to work on filming the movie RENT, so he was replaced by Nick Falco (Michael Imperioli) for the last four episodes of Season 15. He returned in Season 16.
    • Annie Parisse and Dennis Farina (A.D.A. Borgia and Det. Fontana) both left the series after Season 16 for other projects, so Borgia was killed off and Fontana retired.
    • Milena Govich (Det. Cassady) was not a very popular character, so after a single season on the show (Season 17), her character was promoted.
    • Fred Thompson (D.A. Branch) left the series after Season 17 to run for President, so his character steps down. McCoy takes his position, and Mike Cutter (Linus Roache) replaces McCoy's role as Exec. A.D.A.
    • Jesse L. Martin (Det. Green) permanently left the show mid-Season 18, so his character was suspended, then resigned after a scandal involving a murdered bookie.
  • The Rich Have White Stuff: The episode "Bitch" had Jackie Scott, an No Celebrities Were Harmed version of Martha Stewart who ran a successful makeup and beauty care empire, exclusively wear higher-end white clothing, even while at a poker game and during her trial.
  • Ripped from the Headlines: The franchise has its own page.
  • "Rashomon"-Style: Borgia lampshades this in "Obsession", where McCoy's only evidence against a woman ( for ordering the murder of her husband) is the testimony of two of her former lovers. It's their word against hers, until the woman's son testifies against her.
  • Running Gag:
    • The cops usually have to kick the soda vending machine by the stairs to get it to work.
    Van Buren: Damn! It ate my quarter!
    • Detective Fontana's "It's okay, we're authorized" bit with anyone who's reluctant to reveal sensitive information.

     Tropes S 
  • Safe, Sane, and Consensual: Sex workers in "The Drowned And The Saved" justify their client's predilection with being dressed up as a Holocaust victim and participating in BDSM sex tapes.
    • Also in "Stiff", where the lawyers almost say these exact words to defend their clients' creepy sexual kinks.
  • Samus Is a Girl: Van Buren implies in "Aftershock" that when she first transferred into the 27th precinct as a lieutenant and Lennie first saw her, she wasn't what he expected.
  • Say My Name: At the end of "Caviar Emptor", where the wife, Roya, is acquitted because her husband, Asher, testified on the stand that he committed the murder. After the verdict is read, Asher is arrested in the courtroom, during which both start calling out each other's name. "Roya. Roya." "Asher." "Roya." "Asher." "Roya! Roya!!" "Ash-Asher..."
  • Scare Campaign: Adam faces this numerous times when fighting for reelection, with the opposing party mainly attacking his reticence to apply the death penalty very often, and he would generally let his personal beliefs get in the way of his decisions. In one particular episode, Adam was recused by the governor from a case because he refused to apply the death penalty to a man whom he believed was not deserving of it. In addition, his wife had suffered a massive stroke and he had to pull her off of life support in the end, which also explained his reluctance.
  • Schiff One-Liner: Trope Namer.
    • Pretty much every character pulls one of these sometime in the series. To varying degrees of moral ambiguity.
  • Schmuck Bait: Deconstructed in "Public Service Homicide". In the episode, a fictional reality TV show, "Hard Focus", calls child rape victims to come forward to report the pedophilic men who abused them. The show then stages scenarios where the rapists are lured to "young children's" homes under the pretense that they would have sex with the children, when in fact, the police would be waiting to arrest the rapists. The trope is deconstructed, however, when it turns out that the real schmucks are the rape victims themselves; the TV executives just use them to get a Monster of the Week. Indeed, one TV producer armed a rape victim and had her enter her rapist's house to murder him and catch it on tape, just to increase viewings.
  • Science Is Wrong: Lots of religious fanatics.
    • McCoy, very sarcastically, invokes this at the end of "Talking Points". When Connie questions a very reluctant McCoy about his views toward Stem Cell Research, he replies:
    McCoy: If God created man in His image, than we've all degenerated from whatever's on that Petri dish.note 
  • Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right!: McCoy on quite a few occasions.
    • When Borgia is killed, McCoy arrests a corrupt DEA agent involved in her murder, but cannot charge him with a significant crime. So, he basically creates a fake grand jury to generate a fake indictment against the agent, by telling a witness to perjure on the stand; but it doesn't count, since it's still a fake proceeding. When a judge catches wind of this she shuts it down; McCoy releases the agent and tells the police to follow the agent, who is then killed by the mooks who killed Borgia. McCoy is able to catch the mooks and get justice for Borgia in the end, but Arthur is not pleased.
    • One episode, "Under the Influence", had Jack McCoy team up with a judge to get a drunk driver convicted of multiple counts of second 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 Deus ex Machina-ing 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 "Monster". While McCoy is facing a hearing from the disciplinary committee due to his actions in "Under the Influence", he tells a doctor to lie in a deposition to a defendant that the comatose girl the defendant had raped may be recovering, when the doctor had determined that she was in fact terminal. This gets the defendant to confess to the crime.
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Money!: At least once a year starting with season 4, there's a rich prick who just walks away from it all; because of the cash they can afford to spend on lawyers buying them reasonable doubt.
  • The Schizophrenia Conspiracy: Averted in most cases, surprisingly. Especially in "Pro Se", where a man afflicted with a severe form of schizophrenia murders three people, yet is able to pull off a severely compelling and genius argument that nearly defeats McCoy's.
    • "Double Blind" subverts this trope. A college student diagnosed with schizophrenia murders a man whom he believed was a Knight Templar out to get him. The schizophrenia medication the boy takes is unable to repress his paranoia, and his Smug Snake doctor argues that mistakes are sometimes made with medication and clinical trials; that is, until it's discovered that the boy actually doesn't have schizophrenia: he has a brain tumor. Which the doctor didn't disclose to him because it would've torpedoed his research.
    • "Skate Or Die" deconstructs it. A paranoid schizophrenic roller-blader (who is a serial killer) testifies against his colleagues, but is easily rendered unreliable when he starts ranting about the KGB and the Russian government out to get him. Cutter, then, goes to the roller-blader after the cross-examination and taunts him, claiming that the US government is in on the KGB conspiracy. The roller-blader then lunges at him, before being restrained and medicated by the prison officials. He is then deemed competent to testify.
  • Seers: Double Subverted in the episode, "Seer", where the detectives arrest a man who claims to have had a psychic vision about the murder, and they conclude that he was the real murderer. In reality, it turns out that he was a witness who repressed his memories of the crime after it happened, and convinced himself that he had a psychic vision.
    • Subverted in "Refuge". A young boy who witnessed a murder claims to have had a dream about the incident prior to witnessing it. Olivet explains to the detectives that it's a psychological response to trauma; there was no dream, but the boy's subconscious mind convinced him there was.note 
  • Seinfeldian Conversation: Often occurs between random civilians during the episode opening, only to cut off abruptly when said civilians discover the dead body of the week. Sometimes the detectives engage in this as well while in pursuit of a criminal or while puttering around a suspect's home.
  • Self-Disposing Villain: Deconstructed in "Mad Dog", where Jamie criticizes McCoy for this. In the episode, McCoy hounds a rapist he is unable to convict so hard that eventually the rapist's daughter murders him when she sees just how much of a monster her father is.
    McCoy: I'm sorry it had to happen this way.
  • Serendipitous Survival: One episode featured a woman who survived having a hit put out on her because she didn't show up where she was supposed to be. It takes the police some time to realize this because a woman who looked like the intended victim was murdered instead.
  • Serial Escalation: As the concept of terrorism became more real to an American audience, more and more episodes dealt with more egregious instances of mass-murders, terrorist, and mob blocks.
  • Series Continuity Error: The Season 15 episode "Fixed' had the murder of Jacob Lowenstein, the Villain of the Week from the Season 1 episode "Indifference". The prosecutors said that Lowenstein got parole after fifteen years because the original prosecutors offered him a plea deal, because they didn’t have a slam dunk case. "Indifference" ended with Lowenstein being convicted by a jury and sentenced to twenty-five to life.
  • "Shaggy Dog" Story: Frequently, the prosecutors and detectives go to great lengths to convict the defendant, only for the jury to be deadlocked (resulting in a mistrial), or for the obviously (to the viewer) guilty party to get off scot-free.
    • "Kids" is a good example. The prosecution has a rock-solid case against a kid for murdering a boy; however, the case becomes extremely complicated when the defendant's father, a former detective, pooches the investigation. A witness positively identifies the kid in a line-up; however, the detective gets the identification thrown out after claiming that all those who were in the line-up weren't wearing the exact same shade of red. A gun-dealer was to testify about how the kid was able to get the gun; it's heavily implied that cops in the detective's former precinct intentionally kill the gun-dealer to silence him. The case ends in a mistrial.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: Played straight, sadly, with a few homeless veterans.
    • However, at least two defendants in the series have claimed that the events of 9/11 have given them PTSD to justify murder.
  • Ship Tease: very rare given the show's avoidance of going too deep in to the personal/off-duty lives of the main characters. A notable exception is McCoy and Claire, whose relationship was the subject of numerous, and sometimes extremely subtle ship-tease moments, which led to debate among fans as to whether a relationship actually occurred. It wasn't until some time after her death that an episode confirmed that the two had had an affair while working together, and that she wasn't the only A.D.A. he'd gone to bed with.
  • Show Within a Show: Played with in "Swept Away: A Very Special Episode", which involves the police dealing with TV cameras filming them while they investigate a murder that occurred on the set of a reality show.
  • Shout-Out: Serena is named after one of Dick Wolf's kids. The other two are Elliot and Olivia.
  • Shown Their Work: One of the more accurate Legal Dramas, mostly with regards to Prosecutors.
    • While it doesn't go into minute detail (thank god), the show displays detectives following false leads and grilling painfully oblique witnesses. It also shows the prosecutors facing PR fallout for their decisions.
  • Signature Item Clue:
    • Played with in "The Ring". In it, the detectives are able to prove that a woman's murderer cut her hand off and placed it in the rubble of the Twin Towers and stashed her body uptown, with the intention of making it look like she in fact died when the towers fell. The purse recovered in the towers, however, was the victim's evening purse: filled with items one would carry when going on a date in the evening. Her husband, however, lies that the evening purse was her morning purse. Because of this, Serena is able to put two-and-two together and realize that since he was the only one who had foreknowledge of which purses his wife carried, and since he couldn't have made a mistake as to which purse was her morning vs. evening purse, he must be the true killer.
    • In "Born Again", a psychologist is under suspicion for murder when she uses bedsheets to simulate a little girl's act of "being born again", and the procedure results in the girl going into respiratory failure and suffocating and dying. It turns out that the little girl's mother coated the bedsheets in latex, to which the girl was allergic, and the girl instead suffocated on that. The mother was the only one who both knew that the girl was allergic to latex, and had access to latex gloves used in the procedure.
  • Signature Sound Effect: The very famous CHUNG CHUNG. Dann Florek called it the Doink doink, while Richard Belzer called it "the Dick Wolf cash register sound". It's actually an amalgamation of nearly a dozen sounds, including an actual gavel, a jail door slamming, and five hundred Japanese monks walking across a hardwood floor.
  • Simple Country Lawyer: Arthur Branch loves to play with this trope.
    • He subverts it, however, as a character. He understands that many people view him as an uneducated "momma's boy" type (with a degree from Yale Law School) and is able to manipulate the politics of his position effectively.
  • Single Mom Stripper: A married-mom prostitute, anyways, in "Working Mom". She even used her interior home decorating business as a front for her and her friend to... earn some cash.
  • Sinister Minister: In "Angelgrove", where the leader of a Christian mission teaches his kids to use violent tactics against infidels, which directly incites a teenage boy to stone his mother, who was having an affair with a Muslim man. The Father is acquitted, unfortunately.
  • Sleeping with the Boss:
    • McCoy's first four ADAs slept with him. One married him; another is a lawyer named Diane Hawthorne, who actually suppressed evidence in Season 6's "Trophy" to win his affection; yet another is a recurring defense attorney in the series, Sally Bell. The last ADA he sleeps with is Claire; after she dies, he blames himself for getting too personal with her. Afterward, he doesn't sleep with any other assistant, even though his reputation precedes him.
    • Connie slept with one of her bosses, Marcus Woll, years prior to the events of the series.
    • Cutter is deadset against forming a relationship with Connie, despite having feelings for her. McCoy is disappointed, but Cutter continues to defy this trope, stating that the act of a female sleeping with her boss is inherently sexist, for it forces her to call into question everything she has achieved.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: Serena, who is probably the most idealistic ADA in the series' run, has her moments of cynicism. Especially when in "The Ring", a woman's murderer stashed her hand in the rubble of the Twin Towers with the intention of making it look as though the victim died when the towers fell, when in fact, she had been murdered the night before. Serena presents this alternate theory to the victim's family and friends, who completely reject it; later, when speaking to Jack, this exchange results:
    Serena: People that knew her best seem to think that she was killed in a terrorist attack.
    McCoy: There's something to be said for closure.
    Serena: That's a better theory than mine.
    McCoy: Which is?
    Serena: They saw something heroic in being killed in a trade center.
    McCoy: (silence)
    Serena: It's been a long day.
  • Slut-Shaming: Par for the course with every rape case. The victim gets taken through the ringer. In real life, Rape Shield laws exist to prevent this kind of thing.
    • Taken to absurd levels in "Helpless", where Dr. Olivet is fondled, then raped by a gynecologist whom she was investigating. Dr. Olivet gets taken through the ringer - par for the course - until the jury convicts the doctor... but then the judge sets aside the verdict because he believes the jury was too motivated by the shock that she was allegedly raped to judge the case fairly. (What, because rape is shocking, the perpetrators get an automatic acquittal?) Thankfully, the gynecologist's acquittal prompts over fifty-four additional women to testify against him.
    • Also in "Release". A porn executive rapes one of his actresses, and the defense is allowed to play a porn video she recorded three weeks before the rape - where she seductively talks to the executive, nothing more - and uses it against her to claim that she consented to the sex on the night of the rape.
    • A rare male example occurs with McCoy when his multiple affairs with his assistants become a point of discussion.
  • Small Name, Big Ego: John Munch got hit with this hard in "Sideshow" (Season 9, Episode 14, original airdate February 14, 1999). John Munch asks an FBI agent if he could see his file and worries that their car might not be big enough to hold it. It turns out to be one piece of paper that says that Munch "is considered a dilettantenote  and is not taken seriously amongst the radical community."
  • Smoking Gun Control: Frequently, the important evidence usually does exist, but legal mistakes in handling it means it can't be admitted in court.
    • Often beaten into the ground by the various L&O franchises, where multiple pieces of evidence are tossed for various (occasionally contradictory) reasons. The worst offender was arguably the Law & Order: Special Victims Unit season 8 finale, "Screwed" where more or less ALL the evidence against the defendant was tossed based on an offhand comment the defendant made (which was clearly an intentional move on said defendant's part) because the defendant insisted, and the judge agreed, that he was intending to ask for his lawyer and the detectives should have recognized that. Pretty much everyone else connected with the case agrees that it's absurd, although for some reason they never appeal the decision and instead decide to go to trial with what little evidence they have left.
    • This was often averted in the very early days of Law & Order "Prime." There would be some ambiguity back then about whether some defendants were actually guilty. Eventually either the producers or the audience decided they wanted certainty, so after, say, season three the cops always find damning evidence that gets thrown out of court.
  • Smug Snake: Plenty throughout the years. Most get nailed — or answer to a higher authority — in a satisfactory manner.
  • Snuff Film: "Performance". Briscoe and Logan investigate a possible snuff film, but it turns out to be faked when they find the girl on the tape is still alive. This does, however, expose an underground sex club at a prestigious high school.
  • Solomon Divorce: Averted in "Dazzled", where the mother gets full custody of her two children. This leads to the elder daughter being completely spiteful toward her father's new wife, and kills her because she believed that the new wife ruined the family.
  • Split Personality: In "Switch", a girl named Megan has two split personalities, Bobby (a protective boy) and Nancy (a seductive dominatrix). It was Nancy.
  • The Spock: Frequently McCoy and Stone, who tend to exploit the circumstances of the situation and pull outright gambits to get what they want. However, they're subject to normal human foibles, and sometimes due to their haste they end up losing an opportunity to convict.
  • Spot the Imposter: McCoy pulls tests like these a lot in meeting rooms to get the true killer to confess. Notably in "Dazzled", where he incites two ex's on trial for murdering a woman to get into a shouting match in the conference room, to get their daughter to scream, stop the fight, and declare herself to be the true killer.
  • Spousal Privilege: Pretty much cited by every married couple, happily married or not.
    • McCoy takes this to an absurd length once. During the 15th season, gay marriage was still illegal in New York State, but over 200 gay couples were married by a certain judge due to his interpretation of the statute. Thus, a homosexual couple in one case was able to express marital privilege to prevent themselves from testifying against one another; McCoy, then, nullifies every single marriage done by the judge just so he can get one man to testify against his lover. Of course, this backfires when the man perjures on the stand because he's pissed off by McCoy's tactics. But thankfully, the killer, to protect his lover, finally accepts a plea bargain.
  • Status Quo Is God: Very few episodes mess with the formulaic structure or the limited information about the characters. Those that do are cited to be clunky when juxtaposed with the other elements of the episode.
  • Statute of Limitations: On certain felonies. In one episode, McCoy tries to take a pedophile priest to court, even though his crimes were decades old, by asserting that since the defendant had tried to bribe a cop (who had been one of the defendant's victims) not to go public about the crime, that crime (bribery) was a perpetuation of the same felony, thus resetting the statute of limitations. They then spend most of what remains of the episode trying to establish if he actually bribed the guy or not, since the cop in question isn't alive to clear up the matter, and the defendant tries to argue the money he gave the cop was for another reason entirely. It's ultimately determined it was in fact a bribe, at which point the defendant agrees to a plea bargain.
  • STD Immunity: Averted with Van Buren. Her cheating ex-husband gave her the human papillomavirus, which eventually resulted in her cervical cancer.
    Van Buren: (crying) That no-good son of a bitch.
  • Stereotype Reaction Gag: McCoy is notorious for putting his ADAs on when he wants to portray something sympathetic toward the jury. Such as when he asks Claire to cross-examine a battered woman, and she calls him out on this. McCoy acts surprised and replies, "I just want to win."
  • Sterility Plague: The freaky realization certain women have in "Birthright", before realizing that their doctor performed these procedures without their knowledge because they were drug-addicted women who gave birth to abused children.
  • Stock Legal Phrases: And how.
  • Stop, or I Will Shoot!: The most hilarious variant of this is probably in "Blood Money", when a black kid tries to jump out of his window to evade the police. Det. Green points the gun at him before he can open the window and sarcastically says, "Rock! Paper! Scissors! Gun..."
  • Straw Feminist: Attorney Mildred Kaskel, who appears in "Mayhem" and "Blue Bamboo". She invokes extremely prejudicial arguments in defense of battered women; especially in the latter case, where she forces the jury to judge the victim's Japanese ethnicity rather than her client's actions.
  • Strictly Formula: With certain exceptions, every episode would begin with the commission / discovery of a crime (often, but not always, a murder) and would follow the police investigation through the viewpoint of the two main detectives assigned to the case. At about the halfway point, they would make an arrest, and the point of view would switch to the prosecutors as they prepared and conducted the prosecution in court or tried to make a deal with the suspect. Certain other scenes also tended to be codified as part of the formula:
  • Subculture of the Week: Lots. The show often got heat for it; Dick Wolf was once Mistaken for Racist due to the episode "Sunday in the Park with Jorge", which negatively portrayed the Puerto Rican Independence parades that year.
  • Subtext: As mentioned, the show focuses on the cases, very nearly to the exclusion of the character's personal lives. All these things inform the characters actions and choices, but sometimes this was done well (Jack and the drunk driver), sometimes not.
    • Det. Curtis and Det. Bernard both had Catholic upbringings, and they are thus both able to relate to religious witnesses and suspects. However, they remain very fair toward nonreligious people.
    • Det. Briscoe's failed marriages and parental transgressions both affect the way he views conventional families, leading him to immediately suspect spouses or children.
    • Det. Green's gambling addiction comes up a few times during the series, but it's still kind of surprising in his final episode where it's revealed that he was paying off a bookie to keep his mouth shut about his and his girlfriend's addiction.
  • Sudden Sequel Death Syndrome: The actor who played Sgt. Max Grevey left the show after the first season. In the second season opener, Sgt. Grevey is killed execution-style outside his home while getting papers from his car. It is obviously not the same actor; all we see is his hat and trench coat from the back.
  • Suicide Watch: One episode has a suspect sent to Rikers (a correctional facility) and put on suicide watch. He still manages to kill himself.
    Briscoe: I specifically asked for him to be put on suicide watch. Apparently, here at Rikers, they watch you commit suicide.
  • Suspect Existence Failure: When a doctor who's supposed to be giving vital testimony in his daughter's case (she's up for murder, her defense is that it was assisted suicide) kills himself on the stand (via poison he administered several hours beforehand.) This, obviously, calls for a mistrial and gets him out of facing consequences even though he'd practically admitted that there were less-than-merciful motives for the "assisted suicide" all along.
  • Suspiciously Specific Denial: Frequently done to parody Bill Clinton. When cops insinuate even the remotest possibility that a female may be having an affair with a male witness, the witness stands up and pulls some variant of "I never slept with her".
  • Sympathetic Murderer: Pick an episode. You have an 80% chance of finding a murderer with whom, on some level, one can sympathize.

     Tropes T-Z 
  • Take That!: A thirteenth season episode opens with the cops repeatedly telling the CSI guys to leave the detectoring to them. They got everything but the basic facts of the crime wrong, and left some of the victim's property in her pockets instead of bagging it. CSI had been on the air for a few seasons by that point, and CSI: NY had recently premiered.
    Briscoe: Those crime scene guys are all highly overrated; problem is, they all think they're cops.
  • Taking the Heat: Played mostly straight and occasionally for a Downer Ending when someone actually goes to jail to protect the real guilty party (or shield co-defendants).
  • Taxman Takes the Winnings: The main motivation behind the conspiracy of "The Taxman Cometh", which involved a lawyer who used a quack cancer doctor to prolong or cut short the lives of old men and women suffering from cancer to ensure that they would all die in 2010. This was because due to a loophole in the tax law, any inheritances would not be taxed provided that they were given up in 2010. This would result in the heirs receiving millions more than they would receive if their parents or grandparents had died in any other year, and the lawyer would receive much more in royalties.
  • Team Dad: Adam Schiff, then Jack McCoy.
  • Team Power Walk: Toward the end of the opening theme song, the senior detective/sergeant, the junior detective, the EADA, and the ADA are all shown walking in some sort of hallway in the courtroom. It started off with a stroll in the earlier seasons before eventually becoming a walk.
  • Technology Marches On: Invoked practically by name by Don Cragen in "Wedded Bliss" (Season 3, Episode 5, original airdate October 21, 1992) when he is telling Phil Ceretta about a new way the FBI has to help ID a victim.
    CRAGEN: "The march of technology, Phil, sometimes it works."
  • Teenage Wasteland: Played with. There was an episode from season 11 actually named Teenage Wasteland" where the teenaged suspects had parents that were simply unaware of their children's behavior. However, they all were more of a case of Teens Are Monsters.
  • Temporary Substitute: With Jesse L. Martin committed to the filming of RENT in 2005, Ed Green was shot late in the season and spent the remaining four episodes recovering in the hospital. Michael Imperioli took over as Fontana's temporary partner Nick Falco for the duration. Falco made an additional appearance the next season in a non-substitute capacity.
  • Thanatos Gambit: In one episode, the victim had set up his suicide to look like murder for hire, implicating his wife and her lover. This is only revealed at the very end of the episode, through a video will. Considering that the prosecution had chased their tails round and round again prior to The Reveal (the fact that the hitman the victim's wife allegedly hired was in jail at the time of the murder, the fact that there was no way to tie the wife's lover neatly into the crime), it's surprising that they didn't see this coming earlier.
  • That Was Objectionable:
    • Attorney Fallon (played by Giancarlo Esposito) is fired by his defendant in court in "Locomotion". As the defendant's standby counsel, he isn't allowed to really say anything, but at one point he steps up and says, "Objection! If... I'm even allowed to..."
    • It's worth noting, however, that it's not so much the grounds of the objection that matter, but its timing. As defense attorneys press further and further while cross-examining the prosecutor's witness, the prosecution doesn't focus on really why the defense's statement was objectionable, but instead looks to cut off the line of questioning in order to keep the witness from being intimidated or revealing an expressly inconvenient fact.
  • Theme Naming: It's probably a coincidence, but across the spinoffs there's been ADA Skinner, ADA Borgia, ADA Carver, Det. 'Gore'n, ADA Cutter, CPS Steele, CPS Thorne, and (probably a stretch) ADA Barba.
  • Theme Tune: There's a certain rock theme associated with the series — it's remixed in a different manner for all the spinoffs.
  • There Are No Girls on the Internet: Myra Camp, a computer hacker for the police who appears in a few cases, loves averting this trope. To the point where she flirts with Det. Green while she does her job. From "Access Nation":
    Green: Can you pull up that file the way it was before it was changed?
    Myra: (smirking) I told you, detective. I can pull up anything.
  • There Are Two Kinds of People in the World: Cops who use this trope, and cops who don't.
  • There Should Be a Law: Uh oh, someone's climbing on a soapbox again...
  • They Look Just Like Everyone Else!: Lots of defendants, but like the defendant in "Hubris," who is firmly established as a villain without ever doing anything evil or sinister in view of the audience.
  • This Is for Emphasis, Bitch!: Inverted, for laughs, at the end of "Homesick", where a man realizes that his first teenage son killed his second infant son out of jealousy. He goes up to his son and says, "You son of a- I'll break your neck." The son replies, "Go ahead, dad."note 
  • This Is the Part Where...: This is the part where detectives tell this to their suspects to threaten them with prosecution.
  • Thousand-Yard Stare: In Curtis's debut episode, while he and Briscoe are giving their investigation report to Van Buren, Curtis does this because a young girl was kidnapped and murdered, reminding him of his own daughters. Van Buren chastises him for being too emotionally attached to the case.
  • Time-Delayed Death: Lots throughout the series. Notably in one episode where a man is pushed under a truck, which prompts the detectives to go after a homeless guy who left an impression on the bystanders. It turns out that the man had actually died from a bullet in his chest.
  • Token Minority: Even S. Epatha Merkerson admits that Anita Van Buren was one. Prior to her arrival and even during much of her time on the show, Van Buren was actually an exception; no black woman had been promoted to the title of lieutenant in the NYPD.
  • Took a Level in Badass: Serena in "DR 1-102". See No Good Deed Goes Unpunished for more info.
    • Van Buren in "Competence", where she stands her ground when a black kid pulls a piece on her while she's withdrawing cash from an ATM. She accidentally ends up shooting the kid's arm; the bullet tears through and hits an autistic boy, who did not knowingly participate in the stick-up.
  • Trauma Conga Line: Collette Connolly of "The Dead Wives Club" dealt with a pretty substantial one: she was deeply affected by the 9/11 attacks and believed that all of the misfortunes that happened after that (her PTSD, the collapse of her marriage, her firefighter husband leaving her for her best friend, a 9/11 widow who lost her husband, a fellow firefighter and best friend of her now-ex, the couple deciding to fight for custody of their sons, etc.) caused her to lash out and kill the woman who stole her husband.
  • Trophy Wife: Completely subverted in "Mega", where a husband and wife start a large scheme to defraud their clients, which results in the seemingly innocent wife declaring no involvement in the ultimate conspiracy. In fact, she pulled a ruthless Batman Gambit which resulted in her getting everything she wanted, and laughing in Abbie and McCoy's face in the end.
  • Übermensch: A few throughout the years. They tend to fascinate Dr. Olivet and Dr. Skoda.
  • Unconventional Courtroom Tactics: Some defense lawyers dress or have their victims act in a certain way to prejudice the jury. One defense lawyer, while defending a homeless man, keeps him in his dirty clothes in the courtroom to invoke pity for her client. Another one, while defending a man with Alzheimer's, refuses to medicate his client so that he shakes throughout the trial.
  • Undercover as Lovers:
    • Completely averted by the Chinese government in "Take-Out", where it intentionally sends ugly men to do espionage business with women so to not generate even the remotest possibility of love complications.
    • Played straight in "Quit Claim" when Lupo and Rubirosa pose as a married couple who fall for a suspect's scam.
  • Ungrateful Bastard: Too many to count. "The Sixth Man", for example, has a famous basketball player who flaunts his money and power, and throws it all away to solely protect his pride.
    • "Deceit" has a man who cheated on his wife with different men and women cop to a murder that his wife committed, out of guilt. He gets indicted by the grand jury and almost faces at least 25-to-life, before McCoy figures out the truth, and forces him to do the right thing and testify against her. He does so hesitantly, only on the condition that the grand jury indict her for manslaughter, not murder. Right after the indictment, the police go to arrest her... and they find that she stabbed her husband.
  • Unresolved Sexual Tension: Between Connie and Cutter. Lampshaded frequently by McCoy and the characters themselves.
    • Subverted with Kincaid and McCoy; they seem to be merely flirting in many of their interactions, but there are some heavy implications during Kincaid's stint that indicated that they slept together (which are confirmed a few years after her death).
  • Unspoken Plan Guarantee: Played straight a lot. Some of McCoy's best gambits are those where he preempts everyone - even his ADAs - into getting or revealing information, before he exploits it in the end when he brings those involved in the case into the interview room and confronts him with the information. Conversely, when McCoy gets all headstrong about a plan (notably in "Under the Influence"), it has bad consequences for him down the road.
  • Useless Security Camera: Frequent. One episode has a Double Subversion: a store camera is both active and shows the killer dragging his victims to where he kills them. The only reason it doesn't get used is because the killer had the video and the trick police used to stall him so he couldn't destroy the evidence before a search warrant arrived was more than the judge was willing to let slide. - See the entry in Hollywood Law for more information.
    • In 'Strike!', from season 18, the detectives learn that their victim deliberately turned away a security camera so he could get in a fight without being seen. They gripe that the victim screwed up his own murder investigation.
  • Unusually Uninteresting Sight: New York's a tough city, but nevertheless it's remarkable how many average citizens are barely fazed (often barely looking up from whatever task they're doing) when homicide detectives roll up and start asking questions.
  • Vigilante Execution: The sheer number of times this has happened in the courts, New York must have the worst courtroom security in the world.
    • When the mentioned vigilantes are apprehended, expect the majority of lawyers to cite Jack Ruby, claiming that the vigilante might not necessarily have been part of a conspiracy. 99% of the time, this is bullshit.
  • Vigilante Injustice:
    • In Crimebusters, a vigilante group decides to help the protagonists and call their mission "Operation Molly". In the episode, the vigilantes are shown to be very unhelpful as they harass a suspect, contaminate evidence, and even assault the suspect after robbing him. The vigilantes are arrested for assault and robbery and the cops point out that the suspect's defense attorney will try to convince the court that the group planted evidence to ensure an arrest.
    • A convicted murderer escapes custody and kills four teenage girls, with the father of one of the girls standing close enough to hear the shots. The father later kills the convict; after he refuses a plea bargain, McCoy takes him to trial and is able to secure a conviction despite the circumstances (by pointing out that an acquittal would be an inherent endorsement of vigilantism). The creepy part, though? The killer's Amoral Attorney had actually sent him information about the other man's release, manipulating the guy into killing the culprit so she could make herself look good by defending him (she was running for political office). McCoy and his team get a ''spectacular'' revenge by foiling the last part of her plan and getting the lawyer indicted for murder and conspiracy, and the client she effectively suckered in gets a reduced sentence in exchange for testifying against her.
    • "Free Speech" focuses on the murder of a left-wing politician named Derek Hoyt by a man named Manny Lopez. Lopez was (wrongly) convinced that Hoyt was a pedophile and was incited to murder him by a right-wing media star named Jordan Reed, who had also fabricated photos of Hoyt with teenage girls to make him look like a predator. When Lopez hangs himself, the prosecution goes after Reed for causing Hoyt's death.
  • Villain-by-Proxy Fallacy: Jack practically lives this trope.
    • Played with in "Gunshow" (s10e1), depending on which side of the gun debate you stand. The episode was based on the real life Intratec TEC-9, and it involved McCoy pursuing a gun manufacturer because the company intentionally made their semiautomatic weapons easy to retool to have five times as many bullets fired in a minute. The piece of evidence which directly proved the company's greedy motivations, an email correspondence, was thrown out due to confidentiality agreements. McCoy relied, then, on this fallacy, which resulted in the jury convicting the manufacturers for depraved indifference; the verdict was then thrown out by the judge, who disagreed with McCoy's tactics in pursuing this case.
    • Also in "Slaughter". Jack goes after a meat executive for eight deaths because he paid off one of his factory workers to ignore health protocols, which led to E. Coli infecting children. Eventually, Jack relents and allows the man to plead to two years per murder.
    • "Release" has an interesting case. A porn executive rapes a porn star, which directly influences her to murder another man who tries to rape her that same night. McCoy goes after the executive for the murder, because he unwittingly set off a chain of events which led to that man's death. The jury convicts him.
  • Villain with Good Publicity: Governor Shalvoy, to an infuriating extent. His cronies are willing to overlook his transgressions (prostitution, bribery, corruption, scandals, you name it), because of all the positive legislation he's helped to pass... and maybe because he's been paying them off.
    • In "The Sixth Man", the jersey of a basketball player convicted for murder sold out overnight, becoming one of the biggest items of sports memorabilia.
  • Vomiting Cop
  • Weapon Specialization: Almost all the older detective main characters carry Smith & Wesson model 36 revolvers, while the younger ones tend to carry Glock 19 semi-automatic pistols. This is realistic, as both guns were/are standard issue in the NYPD. The most notable exception is detective Fontana, who carries a Smith & Wesson model 19.
  • We Will Have Euthanasia in the Future: In "Called Home", a doctor who disseminates information on how to commit suicide says this.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: In "Patriot". Especially so when it's revealed that the victim was indeed a terrorist, and was planning to organize an attack before he was killed by the defendant.
  • Western Terrorists:
    • In "American Jihad", a young white college student turns toward radical Islam, which is somewhat of a subversion, given that Islam isn't a faction of choice from terrorists originating in the West. It turns out he did it to justify his own impotency and violent fantasies toward females.
    • The Colombian and Russian mobs are tackled in multiple cases. Ben has a beef with both throughout his run. The latter ends up killing a witness whom he coerced to testify, which results in his resignation from the DA's office.
    • The Season 2 episode "Heaven" dealt with a Latino politician using his office to hand out forged green cards to his mostly-illegal constituency. When the plot is threatened to be uncovered, he pays off a hit-man to burn down a nightclub with over 50 Hispanics and Latinos, most of whom were illegal.
    • After the Oklahoma City bombings, more homegrown, radically right-wing American factions were shown. "Nullification" was a good example.
    • There were also at least a couple episodes dealing with neo-Nazi factions, such as "Evil Breeds" and "Hate".
    • Later episodes mainly deal with Italian mobs, notably "Everybody Loves Raimando's" and "Payback".
  • Wham Line: In "Prince of Darkness", in which a couple is murdered in a restaurant, every single person related to the crime - the husband's mother, the husband's employer, the killer, the killer's girlfriend, the gun-dealer who sold the perp the semiautomatic - are all murdered by the Colombian mob. When Ben asks Adam what happened to the couple's four-year-old daughter, the relieved District Attorney says that she was picked up in school by her uncle, until Ben says, "She doesn't have an uncle." Cue Adam's shocked expression and credits.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: When Paul Robinette was first written out of the series, no reason was given. It would not be until Season four was released on DVD, a deleted scene was included explaining his vanishing as him leaving to join a wall street law firm.
    • Briscoe's death wasn't even mentioned until long after it happened.
    • Detective Profaci, a regular Law and Order background character vanished around season nine of the series. His fate was revealed in the TV movie "Exiled".
    • In "Mayhem", a Season 4 episode, the first murder involved a man reported to have thick black glasses shooting an actor having sex with a girl in a car. Briscoe and Logan arrest a suspect, but they learn that the suspect was not the killer (after the suspect tragically dies in prison), so they never found the real killer. Until Season 10's two-part cross-over with Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Often pulled on McCoy when he goes overboard. He even got sent to the disciplinary committee for it once.
    • Claire, Jamie, Serena, and Mike have all been sent to the disciplinary committee, though they were all simply reprimanded (it's not explicitly stated whether Jamie was found guilty, but McCoy's a pretty good lawyer).
  • Where da White Women At?: The main plot behind "Good Girl". A white college student claims that she was raped by a black man; it turns out that the man was actually her boyfriend, whom she was secretly seeing contrary to her father's wishes. The case devolves into such political mania that finally, when apparently neutral ground is finally reached, this exchange results:
    Jamie: I just remember what it was like to be in love at that age.
    McCoy: (chortles)
    Jamie: Did I say something funny?
    McCoy: Almost forgot what started this circus. Two kids in love.
  • Where Everybody Knows Your Flame: In "Sideshow" part 2 (the Homicide: Life on the Street crossover), where the detectives investigate a very girly lesbian bar filled with Lipstick Lesbians all around. And it turns out that a witness had had two affairs with two regulars in that bar.
    • Some gay bars throughout the series love showing Leathermen.
  • White Dude, Black Dude: Robinette and Stone, respectively, for the first three seasons. A black and white detective pairing was included all the way from Season 10 to the end of the show (Green and Briscoe, Green and Fontana, Green and Lupo, Bernard and Lupo), with the sole exception of Season 17's Green and Cassady: a black dude and a white girl.
  • Who's on First?: Mentioned by name by Lennie Briscoe in "Tragedy on Rye" when Ed Green tells him that it was Elvis Costello who played a Rickenbacker, not Elvis Presley.
  • Wicked Cultured: A number of defendants, notably those in "Merger" or "Mega".
  • Witless Protection Program: A mob turncoat is under federal protection pending his testimony against a criminal kingpin. The turncoat gets shot dead in an alley by his date, who pleads self-defense against an attempted rape.
  • Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds: The angry, suicidal blogger who's planning on shooting then blowing up a school in the series finale is actually a teacher, driven to homicide by a molestation charge (he was trying to stop a rebellious student from peeing on his desk), losing his girlfriend because of said accusations, and being forced to spend months with other teachers who were also metaphorically put on a bus for being unprepared for classroom problems and a hyper-sensitive system geared to protecting students at all costs, even if it's the students who caused the disruption in the first place. Oddly, it's implied that he didn't have any sympathy for the other teachers, he just didn't want to be with them.
  • Worst News Judgment Ever: Especially whenever there's a substantial bounty promised to anyone with information. Expect racial profiling to be thrown around the press.
    • In "Submission", a newscaster does this intentionally. She is in a complicated love-triangle affair, where one man she sleeps with had his wife recently murdered, while the other is the aforementioned man's best friend who has lucrative businesses in selling knockoff wine and dog-fighting. She drops fake news stories and then tells Cutter and Rubirosa that she did it for the husband, leading the attorneys to arrest him. However, it turns out that the best friend is the murderer because he silenced the wife, and used the newscaster to plant incriminating evidence against the husband.
  • Worthless Foreign Degree: In the first episode, an Indian doctor is reticent to testify against his prestigious boss, because doing so would get himself fired. In the medical world, social skills are far more valued than integrity and expertise, as portrayed in the episode.
  • Writing Around Trademarks: If a business gets name dropped in casual conversation, but otherwise is not directly involved in the case, expect it to be one that exists in real life. If it IS connected to the case, such as where the murder happened or the suspect is employed there, then a different brand new company will be created to take its place. This is most evident whenever a professional athlete is involved. For example, the Yankees and Mets get referenced all the time on the show, but when the suspect is a professional baseball player, New York suddenly gets a third baseball team called the Empires.
  • Wrong Genre Savvy: The rich families who don't get away with their crimes are usually this such as the politician in "Family Hour", who is a belligerent Smug Snake throughout the entire proceeding.
  • Wrong Side of the Tracks: The defense lawyer in "Darwinian" claims that since the jury is filled with middle- to upper-class citizens with no knowledge of what it's like to step in a homeless person's shoes, they cannot convict her homeless client for murder. Jack completely rips apart her argument by saying that if the jury denied a guilty verdict for the client, then they would be denying justice for the victim, or anyone on the opposite end of the socioeconomic spectrum.
  • Writer on Board: With varying degrees of obviousness.
  • Xanatos Speed Chess: McCoy (and Branch) pull one off in "Red Ball". A man kidnaps a little girl and hides her in his mother's house. When caught, he asks for complete immunity on all charges while the police are still searching for the girl; the search leads them to find out that all of the kidnapper's accomplices have been killed. Fearing for the girl's life, McCoy, after much thought, agrees to grant him full immunity in exchange for the girl's location, a deal which is completely contrary to Branch's advice. Branch knew that McCoy would grant the deal, so he meets the judge (who is completely by-the-book) in charge of the case to tell her to not satisfy the kidnapper's demands; the judge, at the allocution, agrees and refuses to satisfy the terms of the deal. The girl is found safe, and her kidnapper will not pass go.
  • You Are What You Hate: In "Promote This!", where one teenage boy who kills illegal immigrants is half-Latino. It turns out that his mother had bred a feeling of cultural and class superiority in him, to the point where he hated all low-class citizens, regardless of whether or not they were his race.
  • You Didn't Ask: Lots of lawyers and witnesses. The detectives usually aren't pleased.
  • You Have GOT to Be Kidding Me!: McCoy's general reaction to completely ridiculous defenses. Chances are that the more ridiculous a defense sounds, the more likely a judge is going to allow it. One lawyer, for example, justifies an attempted murder by attributing his client's mental state of "sexual panic": that because his wife was having an affair with another woman, he was sexually driven to commit the murder.
  • Your Princess Is in Another Castle!: Played straight with many evasive witnesses. Also, scarily enough, some kidnapping victims.
  • Zero-Approval Gambit: Lots of characters, from Adam to Det. Green. See Scare Campaign and Fallen Hero for more details.

Executive Producer(s): The Tropers


Video Example(s):


Negative Peace, Positive Peace

After discovering the victim faked the aggression, Robinette confronts a congressman who used the case to address racial inequality in the justice system.

How well does it match the trope?

4.6 (10 votes)

Example of:

Main / WellIntentionedExtremist

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