As you should know by now, Hollywood has long over-dramatized and fictionalized the legal world. They've made trials look glamorous and fast-paced. They've made an attorney's job seem like a constant whirlwind of epic exclamations in court, where the prosecutor is the knight in shining armor and the defendant is overtly villainous. This is not the case. The law is not black and white. More so, our justice system is made up of many shades of gray. We thought it'd be a fun break from whatever you're doing right now, whether it's bar prep, or taking a breather from your summer internship, to take a look at a couple of our favorite films that completely missed the legal mark.
This movie is an absolute classic. You've got the mob, corruption, suspense, and crime. What more could you ask for? Possibly a little bit of legal inaccuracy? You got it!
In this film, Kevin Costner plays Eliot Ness, a lawyer that is hell-bent on breaking the chokehold that Al Capone has on Prohibition-era Chicago. *SPOILER ALERT* Nearing the end of a heated trial, Capone’s lawyer sees he is fighting a losing battle. To the chagrin of his client, he changes the plea to guilty. The courtroom goes wild in celebration. Al Capone punches his lawyer and gets dragged away yelling, "Is this justice?"What's wrong with this, you ask? Well, Capone was right. That wasn't justice. In reality, a court is not permitted to accept a plea without a defendant's verbal consent, regardless of whether their lawyer blurts it out or not. The lawyer is working for his client, after all. Capone could have merely fired his attorney and gone on with his not-guilty plea. But, that wouldn't have made as satisfying of an ending.
Twelve Angry Men
This is the court drama film. This is a classic movie following the deliberation of a jury on a case that isn't ever shown to the audience. The entirety of the movie is spent with the jurors.
The case involved a young man that was accused of killing his father. At the beginning of the film, 11 of the 12 jurors are convinced that the young man is guilty. Juror No. 8, played by Henry Fonda, is unconvinced. He questions every piece of evidence that was presented in court. He goes so far as to produce a knife similar to the one allegedly used by the young man, which was said to have been very unique. By the end of the film *SPOILER ALERT* Juror No. 8 convinces everyone to switch their vote.In reality, Fonda's character should have immediately been kicked off the jury. Juries are prohibited from conducting their own investigations. It is the jury's responsibility to determine the "veracity" of the evidence presented, as is, rather than question and interpret every piece of evidence presented. In real life, Juror No. 8 would have been replaced with an alternate!
I'm sure as you progress in your legal career, you will begin to point out more and more legal inaccuracies in Hollywood. Movies and television are rife with examples! Feel free to send us legal inaccuracies you've pointed out in your favorite shows and films! For those of you studying for the bar exam, I hope you liked that small break! Now, get back to that bar prep!