Skip to main content

How Hollywood Lied to us About What it Means to be a Lawyer Part 3

That’s Right, I Did It!

“The scene opens on a seemingly normal and innocent affair, perhaps a picnic in the park or kids playing a game in the alleyway. People go about their business until someone breaks off from the group, noticing something is amiss. A cracked door, a tiny spot of blood. It’s…a murder (Cue opening credits for Mentalist, Psych, Person of Interest, NCIS, and CSI:Everything).”

From there we follow the formula. Investigate and cast suspicion on the first and most obvious suspect, only to later find out the culprit was the rather unassuming person that was initially glossed over (experience tells me that 80% of the time it is the third suspect presented; go ahead test it out for yourself). Add in a tiny bit of ensemble character development, and with about 5-7 minutes left in the show, a key piece of evidence is revealed… and the killer confesses.

“Does it feel like we do this every week?” “You know that’s right.”

The killer always confesses, and I have a few theories as to why, but let’s examine why this is so improbable in the legal world. Thanks to the 5th Amendment and  Miranda v. Arizona, those accused of a crime have the right to avoid self incrimination. Yet every time, the episode ends with the killer confessing and another case closed. Who are your lawyers?? Just be quiet!! Most of the time the crime solving gang didn’t know it was you until you said something!

Here are a few reasons why the criminal always confesses:

It wraps the story in a neat little bow. More often than not, these types of shows have self contained episodes, with the events of previous episodes only occasionally carrying over. From a storytelling perspective, it makes sense to wrap it up with a satisfying conclusion of the guilty getting their just desserts.

Public policy. Perhaps in hope of life imitating art, criminals in shows confess to avoid giving real life criminals better advice on how to be criminals.

Most of the evidence gathered would be utterly inadmissible at trial. While it makes for great TV to break into the house of the guy you “have a bad feeling about”, it would also get a mistrial in about 2 seconds.

Fortunately, shows like Law and Order project a somewhat more realistic version of events, so budding young lawyers aren’t entirely confused when they get to the real world and a defendant gives them the silent treatment.

Although I suppose it is not entirely fair to blame modern crime shows: we’ve been lied to for years:


And I would have gotten away with it if I wouldn’t have waived my right to self incrimination!
– AL

WVU LAW Facebook WVU LAW Twitter WVU LAW Instagram WVU LAW LinkedIn WVU LAW Youtube Channel