My colleague Allison’s “top five” post on what crime dramas get wrong inspired me to pen something similar, namely the top five things that just plain annoy me when I see my life as prosecutor depicted by Hollywood. In no particular order, here they are:
1. The Grand-Central-Station-sized apartments and offices. Yes, the one with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the major city in which the show is set. Believe me, if I knew the office that paid this well, I’d be camped out offering to sweep up at night. Between crippling law school loans and starting salaries not too much higher than the age of the young ADA herself, the crib isn’t going to look like this unless she’s independently wealthy. Likewise, office space for ADA’s is seldom mahogany-paneled and cavernous. If we just have our own door to shut behind us, we’re grateful.
2. The thirty-year-old superstar. Before I’m justifiably accused of just being jealous, I’ll point out that there are places in the U.S. where very young ADA’s do get seriously major cases. But those places are usually far, far away from the glittering lights those huge apartments look out over on TV. Major city ADA’s in particular usually wait years for the big cases, even when demonstrably gifted and hard working. Similarly, the savvy, street-wise homicide dick is normally not a cocksure, 25-year-old with perfect hair and expertly tailored suits.
3. Sex, sex, sex. Okay so maybe I AM just really jealous. But seriously- I’ve prosecuted in three jurisdictions, taught in dozens more, and I’ve yet to find the free-love bacchanal environment depicted in the typical crime show. Without a doubt, a bigger DA’s office can and will have it’s share of incestuous hooking up, and young female prosecutors in particular are sometimes chided for “going cop” by jealous male counterparts. But the way I’ve seen it depicted – judges and lawyers, lawyers and lawyers, judges and perps, lawyers and cops and bailiffs and the Fed Ex guy (and much of this occurring between court calls), I don’t see how any of them could stay awake long enough to try a case.
4. The effortless bon mot. I know, it’s TV; that’s why no one has offered to watch my actual life, which involves repetitive, profanity-laced preparation for anything I have more than hour to get ready for. But it’s not just that everything on TV looks unrehearsed. Equally annoying is the lengthy quote from the long-dead Supreme Court justice flawlessly evoked at the perfect moment. Or the pincer-like line of questioning that flows effortlessly, based on a surprise revelation that popped up on a bathroom break.
5. The ever-grateful victim (and everyone else). Domestic violence is an area of prosecution that often yields little more than contempt for the ADA involved. There is often a point reached where literally everyone in the courtroom seems to hate you; the judge, the victim, the perpetrator, the cops involved, the court reporter, etc. It’s often tragic and not to be made light of, but the idea that all victims of crime are thrilled with the system’s involvement in their lives is misleading at best. No, they don’t all gaze at you dewey-eyed like Ingrid Bergman at the end of Casablanca and whisper “God Bless You” when it’s all over. There are times when doing the right thing has to be its own reward. Otherwise, there’s alcohol. And that, TV does sometimes get right. Except most of us don’t drink in the office from crystal decanters.
Roger Canaff was a prosecutor specializing in sex crimes and domestic violence in Virginia and New York for over ten years. He has been employed as a Highly Qualified Expert for the Army’s Judge Advocate General (JAG), where he trained and advised military prosecutors about sex crimes and other special victims’ cases. Currently he serves as president of End Violence Against Women International. Read more at www.rogercanaff.com.