How much disbelief am I suspending?
January 27, 2016 8:28 AM   Subscribe

Last night I was watching the Arrow, an admittedly ridiculous show that requires some suspension of disbelief, but this episode showed some legal procedures I didn't understand was possible.

Basically, an 18 year old gets arrested for DUI (that happened when she was 17), her lawyer says they'll accept some plea bargain offered by the jury (?). The judge denies the plea bargain, trying to make an example out of her, and says "see you in trial." Then her mom says something like, "so much for the best criminal defense lawyer in the city."

So, several parts I was confused by:

- is there even a jury before the trial? I thought it was the prosecutor who offered plea bargains.
- if she already pleaded guilty (by accepting a plea bargain), what's going to happen in trial? Isn't the whole point of trial to try to prove the defendant's innocence?
- she didn't hit anyone with her car, so wouldn't this be a civil case instead of criminal? or is "criminal defense lawyer" a kind of catch-all term?

I didn't go to law school so this could very well be a dumb and obvious question. I'm just curious about how that process happened and whether it could in real life.
posted by monologish to Law & Government (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
This is a dumb question, but not because of you. It's dumb that anyone would write such crap.

-There is no jury until the trial.
-Even if there were, the jury is not who offers the plea bargain. The prosecutor does.
-I suppose the judge could theoretically reject a plea bargain agreement, but I don't see why, since the defendant has admitted guilt and the prosecutor has indicated that they are not interested in pursuing the case further.
-If she already pleaded guilty, there would be no trial. The case would be disposed before the trial began.

It is a criminal case, since she broke a law and therefore the plaintiff in the case is the state.

This could not happen in real life.
posted by kevinbelt at 8:32 AM on January 27, 2016 [4 favorites]

just realized i had confused criminal with civil in my head. oops. thanks for the insight.
posted by monologish at 8:37 AM on January 27, 2016

judges totally can (and do) reject plea agreements. in that case "trial" is actually "sentencing" since that's the part judges reject.
posted by nadawi at 8:42 AM on January 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

Add to the fact that I would need it explained how one went a whole year without an arrest for a DUI. If she wasn't arrested at the time and evidence collected good luck getting a conviction.
posted by cjorgensen at 9:00 AM on January 27, 2016

oh the wreck happened two days before her birthday, so the lawyer was trying to make her a juvenile, but the judge wouldn't take it.
posted by monologish at 9:04 AM on January 27, 2016

I just have to respond to this:

Isn't the whole point of trial to try to prove the defendant's innocence?

No no no. Definitely no. The whole point of a trial is to prove the defendant is guilty. Big, massive, huge difference. The defendant never has to prove anything; the state does. If the state doesn't prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt (in a criminal trial), the defendant has to be found not guilty. The defendant doesn't even have to put on a case (and very often doesn't).

This is one of those things that make me insane about how popular culture treats the criminal justice system. TV shows constantly say dramatically, "Will the defendant be able to prove his innocence?" or the like, and it drives me completely bugfuck because that's completely backwards and suggests to viewers, many of whom will eventually be in a jury pool, that the burden of proof is on the defendant. That's not the way it works (or at least, not the way it's supposed to; whether it does is beyond the scope of this discussion).
posted by holborne at 9:07 AM on January 27, 2016 [14 favorites]

As noted above, judges must accept pleas arranged between the prosecution and the defense. These pleas can be rejected by the court but, as also noted above, that generally only involves the sentencing. The state has absolute discretion in deciding what charges to pursue (see the Chicago case last year where an off duty officer who shot and killed a young woman was acquitted entirely because the state chose to prosecute him for an impossible crime in the circumstance).

It is unlikely that a year would pass before arrest for a DUI, equally unlikely that a year would pass before charges were initiated by the state's attorney--not at all unlikely that a year would pass before *trial* but it absolutely would not affect whether the defendant as considered a juvenile for purposes of trial. Crimes are adjudicated in the criminal (colloquially called "adult" court) or the juvenile courts based on age at the time of the crime (not arrest) and a host of other statutory factors. Again, this is the prosecutor's decision--not the court's--although defense motions claiming the case was improperly transferred to criminal court from the juvenile court can be made and the judge will decide.

Juries are seated on the first day that trial is scheduled, yes. Sometimes this means that a jury is selected and then dismissed almost immediately because a defendant makes an 11th-hour decision to accept a plea bargain or enter a plea. The jury would be dismissed, I believe (although this had never happened in a case I've observed or been involved in) even if the jury was required for sentencing because the sentencing would not happen the same day.

Television is *terrible* (even the "good" shows) for law. and worse for criminal procedure. Arrow is particularly grossly egregious.
posted by crush-onastick at 9:12 AM on January 27, 2016

If the Judge rejects the plea bargain, which can happen, the defendant could then (1) go to trial or (2) still plead guilty and just let the judge sentence her without the benefit of the plea bargain (I've always heard this referred to as a "straight plea").

In the jurisdiction where I practiced criminal law for a very brief period several years ago, everyone in the system knew what sort of sentence was commonly given for a first-time DUI. If you straight pled, you'd likely end up with the exact same sentence as that offered by the prosecutors. It was something like a sentence for a month of incarceration with all but 2-3 days suspended so the defendant would actually serve 2-3 days in the county jail (a weekend, possibly starting on Friday after work to get in the 3rd day) and the rest of the month would be hanging out there in case they violated probation conditions. I suppose you could interpret that scene as meaning the prosecutors had offered a sentence the judge recognized as being more lenient than the standard deal, and that the defendant would likely get the standard deal if she straight pled. A judge might not like seeing that a particular defendant was offered a sweetheart deal by the prosecutor; of course, the prosecutor could still decide to drop the charges or continue the case for a year and then dismiss it if the defendant doesn't further offend so the Judge only has limited control over that sort of thing.
posted by Area Man at 9:23 AM on January 27, 2016

oh the wreck happened two days before her birthday, so the lawyer was trying to make her a juvenile, but the judge wouldn't take it.

In that case, the judge in question was also breaking the law. If you commit a crime as a juvenile you get tried as a juvenile, full stop.

In real life, also - unless I am very confused about something - the lawyer would not have been submitting a 'plea deal' at all, but filing a motion to change the venue of the case to a juvenile court.
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:24 AM on January 27, 2016

it wasn't a year, it was a couple of days. the dui happened on the day of the party for her 18th bday (i went and read the episode synopses)
posted by nadawi at 9:25 AM on January 27, 2016

Well, different jurisdictions all have different rules. Is the show set in Lala Land?
posted by grobstein at 9:52 AM on January 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

If you commit a crime as a juvenile you get tried as a juvenile, full stop. No, this is not true. All states have laws which permit the transfer of a case with a defendant who is legally a juvenile out of the juvenile court into the criminal "adult" court. Some states even have rules for automatically transferring a case which can then (on defense motion) be returned to juvenile court.

Some states have ages under which no-one can be prosecuted at all; some have laws which set an age at which no-one can be transferred out of juvenile court. Some (possibly all, I don't actually know) have laws which saw even if the case was tried in criminal "adult" court, the juvenile cannot be held in the prison until his 18th birthday and instead must remain in the juvenile detention facility.
posted by crush-onastick at 10:02 AM on January 27, 2016 [8 favorites]

Ianal, but were they talking about a grand jury?
I belive thats the only per-trial jury in the USA, but i doubt they offer plea bargains
posted by Jacen at 10:45 AM on January 27, 2016

she didn't hit anyone with her car, so wouldn't this be a civil case instead of criminal?

The law is "don't drive while loaded". She broke that law, ergo criminal case.
posted by disconnect at 11:47 AM on January 27, 2016

How much disbelief am I suspending?

It's Arrow. All of it. I've put up with a lot of crappy, nonsensical things to finish a TV show, but even I have had trouble continuing to watch Arrow.
posted by limeonaire at 5:00 PM on January 27, 2016

« Older Menopause: Not with a bang but with a whimper?   |   Pulled-together, fancy-ish vegetarian menu...from... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.