Law & Order: Criminal Intent or Shut Your Mouth and Call a Lawyer

14 May

Goren and Eames

Over my long career of watching cop shows with my dad, I’ve developed a number of pet peeves about repeated cop show tropes. The biggest general peeve is probably with cops who don’t play by the rules, who seem to be the heroes of most cop shows. Why aren’t we supported cops who actually adhere to proper procedures, who won’t see their investigations wasted when the evidence they find is thrown out of court because they obtained it illegally? I have lots more to say about that, but that’s for another day and another post. My cop show trope pet peeve of the day is about the legions of police procedurals in which EVERY SINGLE EPISODE ends in a confession by the guilty party.

This happens in many, many shows, but what has it on my mind currently is its appearance in Law & Order: Criminal Intent, which I’ve had the good fortune to catch a number of times with my dad in the past few months. There are a number of detectives who feature on the program, but the most common  detective and face of the program  is Robert Goren played by Vincent D’Onofrio (who works side by side with his partner Alexandra Eames played by Kathryn Erbe). Goren is a genius detective. He knows multiple languages, tons of sciences, and simply a little or a lot about everything, so whatever the case is about, be it art fraud, tax evasion, or just your garden variety domestic dispute, Goren knows every single relevant fact without the aid of a computer that could come up during the investigation.

Let’s even forget that know-it-all quality, another modern cop trope I can’t stand (William Peterson’s Gil Grissom on CSI also had these qualities, among other modern detective characters). In every episode, Goren craftily boxes in the guilty party over the course of an interview, usually halfway through the show, before any formal interrogation and before the party has any idea Goren is on to him or her. He asks piercing questions that force the perpetrator to evade, dodge, or reveal more than he or she intended to. This all builds to the last few minutes of an episode when Goren, armed with more evidence, and knowing for sure who the perpetrator is, uses his sheer interrogation talent to play off the emotions of the perp and elicit a dramatic confession,  yelled loudly, or spoken softly through tears, as over the top music plays in the background.

The show then ends, with the criminal having confessed, it’s assumed that an easy conviction or a guilty plea will naturally follow.  Without a confession, either we wouldn’t know for sure who did it, or many times we might but we wouldn’t know for sure that the law got him or her. Without that confidence I suppose the episode would seem unfinished and open ended even if the police arrested the person with a fair amount of evidence but no confession. We’d never know if justice was served, and who could go to sleep without knowing that.

Here’s the thing: Why is everyone confessing? Sure, I get that some of these people are poor and/or uneducated, and some are particularly emotional and might come apart in the moment . But some of them are well off, some of them are smart, some of them are taciturn and should know when to keep their mouths shut. You have a right to an attorney! Every American has watched enough cop shows to know that one. Call a fucking lawyer!

Forget the lawyer for the moment. Just shut your mouth! How difficult is that! How does no one do that? Don’t admit you did it! Even if all the evidence is against you, you have so much more leverage for a plea if you make it actually difficult for them to go through the work of prosecuting you, rather than feeding the state a conviction on a silver platter.

I know, why do I expect reality from a television show. And I admit, this is a very personal pet peeve that shouldn’t prevent many people from enjoying these shows, and I’m sure it doesn’t. But the more of these I watch, the more it drives me crazy.

It’s the most simple, most practical aspect of what characters would do. I don’t expect it every time. But a couple of times in the entire run of Law & Order: Criminal Intent, someone really has to call a lawyer and shut their mouth.

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