Welcome to my blog, the Unofficial Law and Order Casebook. The Casebook will explore the world of Law & Order – its characters, stories, and themes. We’ll look at its episodes (cases), setting (jurisdiction), the police (law) and the attorneys (order). We’ll also look at different episodes to see if there’s a pattern to the themes. And along the way we’ll learn a little about the criminal justice system as portrayed by Law & Order. I welcome your comments and input as to topics to cover.
When Law & Order was abruptly cancelled in May 2010, it was the longest running crime drama in television history. In spite of its untimely demise, the show has continued to be popular, as evidenced by the sales of Law & Order episodes on Amazon.com, blogs, twitter posts, and almost daily reruns somewhere in the United States. The show’s effective pacing, realistic dialogue, and surprise endings—aspects that apply to a tightly woven crime story as well as television drama—all contributed to its popularity.
Law & Order was arranged in a series of vignettes, from the discovery of a body through the conclusion of a trial or plea bargained agreement. Of course, we all know that a murder is rarely solved and prosecuted in 60 minutes, but the headings leading into each vignette gave locations and dates that showed the passage of place and time. Unlike Perry Mason, where the person who was arrested and put on trial was never guilty, Law & Order kept its audience, and prosecuting attorneys, guessing as to the final outcome. As happens in real life, sometimes the guilty party was acquitted, sometimes a person you just knew was innocent would be convicted, and sometimes the not so pretty arm twisting scenario of a plea bargain brought about a solution. Both prosecuting and defense attorneys pulled out all the stops, including short cuts when they thought they could get away with it, to win their case.
The district attorney’s office had the police investigation and related evidence on its side and so seemed to have the upper hand, but sometimes the police took short cuts, short cuts that often put the case in jeopardy. And behind the scenes of each episode were police and legal consultants to keep the story as close to the law as could be managed in such a scenario. And it’s because of this behind-the-scenes expertise and the way the episodes were managed that endeared the show to its fans.
The plot centered on the police who tracked down and arrested the suspect and the legal system that then worked to convict (or not). The police followed and gathered evidence, and then the lawyers and judge decided which evidence could be admitted at trial. If the police made errors in obtaining their evidence or in interrogating the suspect, the results could be challenged. It’s interesting to see the balance between the police and the justice system, something not all crime stories explore.