The Lie Is A Ass

In My Girlfriend Does Not Play Video Games on January 21, 2011 at 6:36 pm

Discussing the law's portrayal in media is dedicated to the patron saint of such, Bob Ingersoll.

Lie To Me is an excellent show that was most definitely greenlit to capitalize on the popularity of House, M.D. Unlike House, Lie To Me keenly realized that it was not the presentation of a mystery us laymen would be incapable of understanding or solving that attracted its viewers, but rather the eponymous character’s dissection of the human condition.  So enters Lie To Me, its premise centered around the very real science of microexpressions, explored through Cal Lightman and his rag tag band of analysts and psychologists.

It’s had its ups and downs and several subtle retoolings — notably the heavy emphasis on the science from the first season is all but abandoned — but largely stands on the stellar capabilities of Tim Roth as a very crass, very crude, very intelligent and very British living lie detector who champions the truth, even if it means switching sides on a consult.

At this point, I’m convinced that Tim Roth has a heavy say in the writing process, else some of the writing staff must either be English or know him very personally, as the show does not shy away in the least from using heavy slang or cultural idioms from the island across the pond.  Lightman’s interactions with his daughter, especially, remind me of a lighter-hearted version of my fiance’s insane interactions with her own very Scottish mother, right down to extended discussions and jokes on beans on toast.

But while they may have some expert consults on the matter of presenting Tim Roth as a crude, British scientist, equal parts arrogant and cursed with his knowledge, they certainly don’t waste any time or money on making sure they understand the legal process.  Which is strange, since ostensibly, the Lightman Group’s major retainer seems to be the D.C. area police and FBI.

The most recent episode, “Saved,” revolves around a traffic accident, and the driving motivation of the episode is dedicated to the teenager involved in the accident being unfairly charged with murder-two after running a red light in his stolen car.

The DA wants this case cleared fast and hard, as the man that was slain in the accident was none other than the city’s premiere sports star; certainly the kind of headline case where everything goes by the book.  So for reasons that were never adequately explained, the Lightman Group is tapped to verify that he was driving the car.

This is all nonsense.

First off, the DA is acting fairly leniently in granting the defendant a second degree murder charge.  To understand that, let’s go over what murder is.  First degree murder is premeditated, the willful, precipitated act of ending a life with malice aforethought.  Second degree murder is made from a “depraved heart” or extreme recklessness, otherwise known as gross negligence, otherwise doing something so stupid, any reasonable person could see that it would in the serious harm or death of others.

Between the two, obviously the car thief did not intend to kill anyone, but in running a red light he was extremely reckless, so a murder-two rap does make sense.  Except it’s still more lenient than the murder-one charge he should be getting.

Gosh, Mrs. DA, I thought this was a headline case?  So why are you going easy on the guy?

Because he killed someone in the act of committing or perpetuating a felony — grand theft auto — the malice aforethought requirement for first degree murder is waived.  This is called “felony murder,” and its used to make sure criminals receive the fullest punishment possible when their criminal acts result in the death of others.

Is grand theft auto a felony, and does this law apply to it?  Great questions, invisible rhetoric person!  It is a felony, though it can be downgraded to a misdemeanor for first time offenders or in cases where it’s seen as an “isolated incident.”  Something that, in this high profile case, the state is not inclined to do.  Now, it was his neighbor’s car, and I’m sure his mother and them are good friends and swap recipes.  So what if she convinced them to not press charges?

He’d still be charged is what.  Just because an individual victim does not press charges does not mean the state must refrain from doing so on behalf of itself and society, which are understood to be victims when crimes are committed.  So the kid’s definitely got a felony grand theft auto charge, and thus has a felony murder charge.

Now, there was that weird scene where it was somehow important to identify the driver.  The kid smartly lawyered up before saying anything, but Torres, a Lightman consultant, reads the body language and facial expressions of all three teenagers to identify the driver.  Meanwhile, Loker is trying to prevent the lawyer from gaining access until she can make this judgment.

So what we have here is a minor infringement on defendant’s rights, and a violation of the 5th amendment.

First off, you have a right to a lawyer.  Police can and do try to get as much non-lawyer time with you as possible, and in light of recent rulings on the matter, anything you say, even after invoking your right to remain silent and to see an attorney, can be used against you.  So there’s nothing wrong with using a confession given after invoking these rights, since you must actively exercise them to benefit.  The police can’t actually stop your lawyer from seeing you, but as I said, this is minor.

The more major piece is in “reading” them.  Your fifth amendment rights protect you from self-incrimination, meaning your status is not harmed by refusing to testify and you can’t be compelled to testify against yourself.

So all of those times the prosecution calls, as a surprise witness, the defendant?  Would.  Never.  Happen.

This amendment, and the one-hundred plus years of precedents, also protect you from being made to confess or self-incriminate involuntary.  Voluntary confessions are defined as “the product of a rational intellect and a free will.”  So when the police put a gun to your head and you let them know they can stop looking for Tupac’s killer, you weren’t acting rationally.  And when the Lightman Group reads your microexpressions, they are doing so against your free will, since you can’t actually stop yourself from expressing yourself in this manner.

So at this point, the police don’t “know” who the driver is.  Not that it really matters, but they don’t.

It also does not matter that the Lightman Group is not part of the police or government for two reasons: the law doesn’t state who it considers when it speaks against coercion — looking at you, Batman — and the Lightman Group is part of the police as they’ve been hired and retained by the police for the express purpose in assisting with investigations.

You didn’t think the police could bypass all of your constitutional rights by hiring someone that wasn’t as expressly forbade as they were, did you?

As a lesser matter, we have issues of timing.  Much of the conversation made it sound like the kid was already convicted, or their trial had already happened.  Given that it was, if anything, days after the accident, the kid would still be in jail while the police proceeded with their investigation.  He probably wouldn’t have even been arraigned, which is where his charges would have formally been read to him, trial date decided, bail amount set and so forth.  He wouldn’t have been in an orange jumpsuit in prison quite so fast.

As far as spoilers are concerned, it turns out the kid didn’t run the red light, as a psychotic ambulance mechanic had rigged a controller to manipulate the lights.  Honestly, this is where the case would have gotten interesting, and I’m not totally convinced the kid would have had his charges reduced.  But then, his lawyer could have made a big stink, and the city probably doesn’t want a huge, public case made about how a kid is rotting in jail because it can’t keep tabs on its emergency personnel.

Oh, and as a closing note, both the EMT and her brother would both be getting murder-one, because the brother, with malice aforethought, took actions which could and did result in the death of others.  You’ll note the law doesn’t say you actually have to know the person you’re killing.  And the sister receives this punishment as well as she’s his accomplice, having harbored, aided and abetted him for the past ten years.

  1. Leaving legal angles out for a bit I had been meanign to speak to you about “Lie To Me.” I know when I was visiting we had discussed how it had become ‘not good’ but with these latest three episodes I really think it’s pulled a nice turn around.

    There was no monkey walking, and Cal seemed very much back in character and less ‘House, but rude.’ I also liked Loker in the mental hospital episode. Seriously, I liked Loker.

    As for the legality aspects, can’t speak on them much, Not being a lawyer and all that. But I will say that the driving motivation of the episode wasn’t really a kid killing a baseball star in a hit and run. The driving force was Cal seeing guilt in a hero. I point this out because while I enjoyed this episode more than most of the season it still felt uneven and I think that is a result of them attempting to make it overly complex.

    The premise is simple and good. A woman is recorded doing a very good thing, but she is showing signs of not being happy about it. Slap a B plot on it and you’re good to go. Unfortunately they decided to have the whole group work on this one case and then had the case come to him via the nebulous reason that it’s high profile. Basically an interesting idea wasted due to neccesity.

    • Also the show outright lied about how traffic lights work, which was a basis for the plot and thus a much more terrible lie than any legal infractions.

  2. I forgot to mention that even their reason for being consulted was moot, as all of the kids in the car were accomplices, and as such will each be tried to the fullest extent for each of the crimes committed by all.

    And it had also occurred to me that the thing with the traffic lights is impossible, as you point out, they don’t work like that, and as I point out, if they did, they still wouldn’t work like that.

    Lie To Me has really been bolstered in these episodes after the break, and I think they’ve found a good mix, where the team seems to strike a good combination of scientists and detectives, rather than magical lie detectors fueled by plot. And none of these plots even had to begin with some kind of ridiculous disaster or terrorist plot right outside their door. I mean, the last episode before the break involved Cal detecting someone at the bank? While he was in line? That wanted to shoot the place up? Ugh.

    They also dropped the ridiculous subplot where Foster and Lightman were somehow antagonistic to each other because their business is in dire straits.

    And way to go Loker, who is still treated as the whipping boy for the show but has been worming his way into my good graces for a while now.

  3. I also want more of the deaf girl. She is awesome. I mean, she hasn’t done much here, but she was on this other show and was awesome so we need way more of her. Plus I’m interested in how the science works when you have to rely solely on visual clues. It’s a neat tweak on a neat concept.

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