You have likely seen criminal defense cases on TV, whether entirely fictional, reality TV or simply real but sensational cases. However, you also likely know that what you see on TV is not how criminal defense cases often happen in real life. How these cases really happen is useful to understand if you have found yourself part of one, are conducting research or are simply curious. Here are some of the biggest differences between fictional criminal defense cases and real ones.
One of the biggest differences between a courtroom case on TV and in real life is the fact that there are almost never dramatic reveals or surprise twists that happen on the courtroom floor. There are, of course, dramatic moments in real courtrooms, but they are very, very rare. There is a good reason for this. Trials must be meticulously researched and the defense planned out in advance. Most lawyers, in fact, spend nearly all of their time pouring over documents and evidence, in addition to conducting research. This does not leave any room for surprises, because attorneys want to prepare and have the best chance of succeeding in their client’s defense.
In TV courtroom dramas, it’s not uncommon for lawyers to almost constantly lie. They do it to other attorneys, to their staff, to the judge and even to their own clients. After all, lawyers lie all the time, right? Otherwise, why would they have such a negative public reputation? In reality, lawyers will never, ever lie in the courtroom. Attorneys getting caught in a lie, hiding evidence or using illegal evidence can jeopardize their entire case, not to mention their career, so it makes little sense why they would do it. No qualified, professional attorney would hide or use illegal evidence when the real challenge is to use the existing evidence to come up with plausible explanations to present to the jury.
One of the most fundamental things lawyers are taught in law school is to never ask a question they don’t already know the answer to. Criminal defense lawyers simply do not come up with theories on the spot to fit the evidence
, and especially not in the middle of a case that is being heard. All theories as to what really happened must be entirely supported by the evidence, which is why it’s critical for lawyers to be able to closely examine the evidence and determine what it says. As mentioned previously in the first point on this list, courtroom cases are won or lost before anyone even sets foot in the courtroom. A real lawyer will have already had all theories and possibilities in mind well before he begins arguing a case before a judge and jury.
A prolonged, dull and boring case does not make good TV. However, this is how criminal defense
cases usually are. It is very rare that a real case is significantly sensational, such as the famous O.J. Simpson case. Even in sensational cases that captured national attention, you can observe that there is a lot of boring question asking. You can verify this by watching almost any recording of a real criminal court case. Almost no cases are completed within a single day, either. Cases can take days, weeks or even months to be decided. TV often cuts down timelines drastically in order to speed the process along and show its audience the most enticing parts. The same is true for a related type of TV show – detective shows. Crime scene investigation and especially forensics also take much longer than they are portrayed on TV.
While some TV shows strive to be accurate in their portrayal, the fact of the matter is court cases are often not as exciting as they are made out to be on television. The vast majority of criminal defense cases are professional, unexciting occurrences that are prepared for and often won or lost well in advance. It’s important to understand this if you are involved in a criminal defense case or simply want to know how they really happen. However, knowing how cases are conducted in real life shouldn’t make watching a courtroom drama on TV any less fun.