Bob Ingersoll: The Law Is A Ass #406
CHICAGO JUSTICE JUSTICE NOT BELIEVABLE
Between the Law & Order franchise, the Chicago franchise, and the ill-conceived, even ill-advised, attempt to revive Dragnet without Jack Webb, Dick Wolf may be responsible for more hours of television that I haven’t watched than Susan Lucci. I know he’s created and produced some of the most popular shows on TV, but I think his collected works are oeuvre-rated. So when I watched the first episode of his new show, Chicago Justice, I wasn’t expecting much. But even I wasn’t expecting so little.
First, there was the problem that the first episode of Chicago Justice was the third part of a three-part cross-over event that started in Chicago Fire and continued in Chicago P.D., neither of which I had watched. Fortunately, television still does something comic books seem unwilling to do nowadays, give recaps. So I was able to pick up the story’s threads as easily as a seamstress with agile fingers.
Someone set fire to a warehouse that was being used for a rave. Thirty-nine kids died and dozens more were injured. In Chicago Fire, they put out the fire. In Chicago P.D. they tracked down the arsonist/mass murderer, Dyan Oats.
One of the main officers on the case was Alvin Olinsky. Not surprising, Olinsky is one of the main characters on Chicago P.D. What was surprising is that the Chicago P.D. allowed Olinksy anywhere near the case.
See, Olinsky’s daughter was one of the victims who died in the fire. I don’t care what kind of “I deserve justice” heartstrings Olinsky pulled, the Chicago P.D. would never let an officer who was so emotionally involved in such a high-profile case be personally involved in the investigation. They have rules about that sort of thing. But this is Dick Wolf television so excess drama co-opting express police procedure is part of the show’s procedure.
Finally in Chicago Fire, Oates stood trial. Which is where we come in.
As is usual in a Dick Wolf show, things didn’t go well for the prosecutor. Assistant District Attorney Peter Stone had an eyewitness who saw Oates start the fire. But her eyes were damaged in the fire so she was now blind. She couldn’t see Oats to pick him out in a line-up or to identify him in court.
Still, she could, and did, describe his height, eye color and hair color to the jury. And she described the brown cargo coat with the distinctive shoulder patch he was wearing and the even more distinctive silver skull ring he was wearing — both of which Oates was still wearing when he was arrested and were exhibits in the trial.
Pretty damning stuff, right?
But defense counsel pointed out that at the rave she had consumed two whole beers and a half tab of Ecstasy. And the rave had loud music and flashing strobe lights to distract her. So, naturally, she couldn’t be a reliable witness, now could she?
Well, not in a TV show, anyway. Honestly, eyewitnesses are discredited so easily in TV shows, I’m surprised that TV DAs ever bothered to prosecute cases with eyewitnesses in them.
Stone also had a confession mentioned in a police report, but he had problems believing it. The two officers who included the confession in their police report were series regulars, the aforementioned Olinsky and Hank Voight. So they were the officers the viewers have watched over the years and formed a bond with. Officers the viewers are supposed to trust. Stone, too. But Stone didn’t buy it.
Stone thought Oates never confessed and that Olinsky and Voight added a nonexistent confession to buttress the case. (Although I didn’t see the episode of Chicago P.D. where the arrest and confession allegedly happened, I got the impression from the episode of Chicago Justice I did see that the confession was bogus. So much for that whole officers the viewers can trust thing.) Stone was hoping some other police officer — any other police officer — could come in and corroborate the confession. When no other police officer corroborated it, Stone didn’t even bother to oppose the defense motion to suppress the statement. So out it went.
Stone had physical evidence. Voight testified that he found metal wedges in Oates’s apartment which matched exactly — as in same dimensions, same metal, and same manufacturer exactly — the metal wedges the arsonist used to wedge the doors of the warehouse shut so no one could escape. But defense counsel was able to discredit Voight by asking him about the confession mentioned in Voight’s police report. “It’s curious, don’t you think, that the People haven’t introduced that statement into evidence?”
ADA Stone quite correctly objected to this question. The judge quite incorrectly overruled his objection. So defense counsel got to ask the detective why the jury should trust the detective, when the prosecution didn’t even trust him.
Bunk. That question would never have been allowed in an actual trial, you know one operating under the Rules of Evidence and not under the need to go into commercial break on a strong story beat.
The same judge presiding over the trial also presided over the suppression motion. She knew that she had suppressed the statement, so it couldn’t have been introduced into evidence. I don’t know of any judge who would allow a defense inquiry into why a suppressed confession wasn’t introduced into the trial. And in my many years of practice, I knew many, many judges.
Now that’s a lot of legal poppycock for one story, but here’s the thing. I’m only just getting started. I’m almost 1,000 words in and I haven’t even gotten to the biggest problems I had with this episode of Chicago Justice.
Unfortunately, while I’m just getting started, I’m also finished. If I go on any longer this week, the column will take up more band width than the horn section at fat camp. So come back next time when I finish up with the first episode of Chicago Justice. It’s where we’ll get into things so outrageous that you won’t believe it until you see it. Hell, I saw it, and I don’t believe it.