Maybe They Should Investigate the Death of Constitutional Rights

In My Girlfriend Does Not Play Video Games on January 10, 2011 at 8:05 pm
I love it when the pen shoots down it's all like bam and stuff



I love this show.  I’ve not traditionally been into mysteries or crime procedurals, although my friends will note that, technically, The Dresden Files is more mystery than fantasy (in my defense, I bought the first four books off of Waldenbooks’ speculative fiction shelf, though I’ve seen it in practically every section of the bookstore).  Outside of that, I only watch Law and Order or CSI: Topical Subject / Popular Location while I’m at my parents’ house and The TV Must Remain On At All Times.

If asked, and the presumption of an isolated editorial is that I have been asked, I would say I watch it for the characters and characterization.  Nathan Fillion is possessed of a charming demeanor, non-traditionally handsome countenance and the miraculous ability of deft and subtle portrayal of his character.  He’s geeky, whiny and awkward while also being suave, smooth and debonaire; a definitive stand-in for all of us would-be writers and fans that is human enough for us to know where he’s coming from.

Rick Castle isn’t just a “likeable” character.  He’s a believable, real person thanks to the quality writing and excellent portrayal.

Kate Beckett is also indispensably played by Stana Katic, who makes believable this woman who has succeeded and flourished in the man’s world of homicide and detective work.  She pounds the pavement and grills suspects in such a way that we never forget that not just a woman, but written as one as well.  This is important.  It’s too easy to give a male character a female actress in the interests of making a “strong female character.”  She works with the victims in a way that might seem demeaning or mercenary with a male lead.

The rest of the cast is equally well supported in tandem of being the supporting cast.  Ryan and Esposito get just as much done as the rest of the cast, and the captain is suitably advocates and obfuscates lightly across each season.

All of this makes me love the show.  Each character relates with the rest believably and you’re genuinely invested in moments, like Ryan’s proposal to his girlfriend in last week’s episode, and little touches like how Beckett teared up at the proposal just like my fiance did.

So all of that makes it harder to say that Castle, sadly, ranks very poorly in terms of accurately depicting any type of accurate procedures or methodical legitimacy — two huge issues for the police and the citizenry today.  Not just that, but it does join the ranks of CSI and Law and Order in demonizing those that exercise their constitutionally-mandated rights.

This comes up because, for the first time in more than a dozen episodes, and among just the few times it’s happened in the series, one of the people they questioned lawyered up.  And I think it’s the first time it happened with someone that actually turned up innocent.  And, of course they vilified her.

We’re always lead to sympathize with our recurring cast members much more so than the cast that rotates out with each new case.  As such, we’re meant to hate the barriers that prevent them from doing their job and exult when that barrier is removed.  And no barrier is more prevalent than grabbing a lawyer in a police procedural.  We’ve even actually heard heartfelt speeches about how only criminals ever invoke this right because they know the jig is up.  Most of the time the phrase, “I want a lawyer” comes out only when they’ve found the real killer.  So the intent is clear: only guilty people get lawyers.

Why?  Tanya, the scheming soon-to-be divorcee from this episode just got linked to an ongoing murder investigation that the police are trying to close as quickly as possible, and while the last thing they’d want would be to waste time investigating someone that had nothing to do with it, much less book them on charges so the investigation actually stops, they would be obligated to do so if Tanya had said something stupid or accidentally admitted to something.  And even if she didn’t become involved in the booking for the murder, she probably would have gotten charged with something relating to extorting her husband with the honey-trapping.  At the very least it would weaken her pending divorce settlement.

To put it more succinctly: currently there’s over ten thousand offenses on which one might be charged.  Unless she knew each of those offenses intimately and how precedence has affected how they’re deployed by the prosecution, she’d be a complete moron to speak with the police without a lawyer present.

The same goes for all of us, really.

An example I’ve heard about how even answering the police’s questions without legal counsel illustrates it even better:

Imagine that someone you didn’t like got murdered.  As you live down the street from them, the police question you.  Now, you’d read about the dead in the papers: a “grisly gangland-style killing.”  Naturally, you tell the police that you didn’t hear any gunshots, and nobody you know in the neighborhood even owns a gun.

You’re in trouble now.  Nobody ever actually said they were shot.  But now you’ve revealed information that the police had been keeping confidential as part of the investigation.  And believe me when I tell you, it doesn’t matter that it doesn’t matter that you “just assumed” gangland meant gunshots.

So now the police mark you as an interested party and want to know where you were two weeks ago.  Can you remember what you had for lunch two days ago?  Now imagine that any inconsistency will be thoroughly checked by a team of people looking to clear this case as quickly as possible.  Your reported evening out with aunt Mabel didn’t check out.  You thought you were there all evening, but apparently you left early to watch the game, conveniently around the time of the murder.  And oh yeah, even though you said you have no problems with the deceased, every other neighbor spilled the beans on how he’d been hanging around your wife too much.

So they now have motive and means, and you “lied” on record.  Sure, they don’t have a murder weapon, but between your previous “confession” about guns being involved and all of your other inconsistencies, you’ll have an uphill battle not getting convicted.  At the very least, the next few months of your life are going to be on hold as the police turn your life upside-down.

A lawyer would have prevented you from volunteering any information or accidentally assuming anything about the murder weapon.  You wouldn’t have revealed your plans for that evening by invoking the fifth amendment, and they certainly wouldn’t have had any reason to go checking on your relationship with the deceased.  You’d be just another neighbor they questioned on the way to catching the real killer.

So with how important it is to exercise your rights, it’s a little surprising how little lawyers come into play in Castle.  It’s equally dismaying to see how infrequently Beckett procures a warrant, and when was the last time she Mirandized someone she was arresting?

At the end of this episode, she  confronts the killer at his office and does not mention anything about warrants or arrest.  Yes, he randomly confesses to her in a fashion that would do Perry Mason proud while brandishing a weapon in front of an officer.  But the entire thing could probably be thrown out by any decent lawyer as Beckett tried arresting him without a warrant and didn’t Mirandize him; more damaging for him, he’ll probably get a full second-degree murder charge, even though it should be downgraded to manslaughter, since she accidentally died while he assaulted her.  Or even downgraded to non-negligent homicide.

And speaking of making plea bargains, Gretta might get screwed as she made a deal with the police that she never signed and no lawyer ever reviewed.  Heck, Beckett even waived a bunch of scary charges in front of her, but she wasn’t actually charged with anything at that moment; I imagine a little lawyering would have removed most of those charges anyway.  So she basically confessed to a number of things she probably could have gotten off on because she was too stupid to get a lawyer.

I realize that much of what doesn’t happen is for the sake of fitting the entire thing into a 48-minute episode with a beginning and an ending, rather than just getting blocked by lawyers at every turn.  And it’s realistic, since most people also forfeit their rights and get convicted in similar circumstances.

But it’s still disappointing to see Castle joining the ranks of lesser crime dramas and mysteries that villify exercising your rights while showing a number of intelligent people jumping at the police with confessions and letting them run rampant with no warrants, issues they at least paid lip service to in the first season.

  1. To be honest, I’ve always seen Castle as a murder mystery rather than a crime procedural. I do agree that much of the strength in the writing comes in the character development more than anything else, and I feel that more of the fun in the show comes in the whodunit than anything else.

    I would certainly agree that the legal stuff is the weakest point. I was surprised when the woman in the recent episode you mentioned lawyered up as hard as she did and I wouldn’t be able to blame the characters for finding her suspicious when the most she can do is confirm one piece of information. To that point, a mutual friend of ours stated one of his problems on the outset of the show was actual Beckett’s rank, that she’s behaving like a Sergeant when she’s ranked as Detective, and a simple adjustment in her title would resolve that problem.

    To this point, I think Castle’s more about the atmosphere. “Sergeant Beckett” gives a different vibe than “Detective Beckett” and I think the vibe is what they were going for. Humorously enough, same friend’s favorite part of the show when it first started was that the portrayal of the precinct was one of the most believable he’d ever seen on television, which was accentuated with Castle’s misconceptions versus the reality he became a part of.

    That said, I love the show. I first watched it for Nathan Fillion and stuck with it because of how strong the writing and cast were. My wife, who doesn’t care for crime procedurals, eagerly awaits it every week for the same reason. As long as shows like Law and Order which do (or at least should) stick to the more realistic approach of investigation, I’m perfectly fine with Castle remaining as what it is.

    Besides, if I wanted lawful-stupid, I would just watch CSI: Miami.

  2. Castle is a slick, well-oiled mystery with loads of metacontext. So I agree that bitching about the legal flaws is more than a little petty, especially since the show is so enjoyable and, as you said, it isn’t “about” proper procedure; it’s a whodunnit at its core, one with a very novel framing device. It is just, that the framing device was initially used to mock the conventions they tend to cling to nowadays.

    That said, it’s actually more realistic to have people often forget or waive their rights. This is how most cases get cleared, is by the convicted party waiving their right to remain silent or against unreasonable searches. They don’t ask for lawyers because they don’t think they need one. Just as in Castle, it tends to work out better for the police in the end. So that’s actually okay.

    To our mutual friend’s point — does “The Observer” have a problem being named on the internet? — yeah. It always strikes me as odd that Beckett can order as many people around as she does, commanding several “fellow detectives,” hogging the coroner and whatnot. I think she even called to shut down the airport once or twice. But then, the show is more about figuring out whodunnit, rather than working around broken or ineffectual tools.

    Blargablarg. What this was really all supposed to be about was how Castle joined the proud ranks of shows that like to villify those that invoke their rights. Which it does so sparingly but without exception.

    And it is a bit more fun to watch knowing that whomever they’ve confronted would actually get off scot-free were it not for their impassioned confession.

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