SVU’s Season 12 Finale

Summary:  Our final episode of the season ended with a bang.  Several bangs, actually.  I might have to visit the ER myself just from watching it; at the very least, I must have post-traumatic stress disorder. The show started with a mother and daughter sharing a touching moment, walking down the street planning for the girl’s prom. Suddenly, a man in a hoodie runs up, grabs Mom’s purse, and shoots her between the eyes. The girl collapses and sobs at her dead mother’s side. Turns out, Mom was a rape victim two years ago. A hairdresser named Luke slipped GHB into her drink, she passed out, and he sexually assaulted her in a limo. He claimed the GHB was for bodybuilding. The rape trial was scheduled for next week. The hairdresser, we learn, hired a homeless guy to harass Mom, hoping to stop her from testifying. But the homeless guy developed his own grudge and decided to kill Mom himself. But wait, there’s more! The homeless guy was working as an informant for an ATF agent hell-bent on making a cigarette bust. The ATF agent allowed the homeless guy to escape from an ATF sting to prevent the SVU agents from arresting him. The ATF agent also gave the homeless guy a gun left over from a failed ATF operation. “There are too many guns on the street!” Elliott fumed. “And the ATF is putting them there.” (I threw a slipper at the TV at this point.) The SVU detectives soon arrested the ATF agent. With all the bad guys rounded up into one SVU cell, there was only thing that could happen, right? The girl from the first scene came back, this time armed with a gun rather than a prom dress. She shot all the men in the holding cell, and also killed an innocent bystander lady who ran the homeless shelter. Elliott was forced to shoot the girl. As she died in his arms, she said, “It was so easy to buy the gun off the street.”

Verdict: C-

What they got right: This episode was just barely about sex crimes, but the small part it covered was correct. You’ve probably heard of the date-rape drug GHB. It’s easily made from common household items, and when ingested causes blackouts. It tastes salty and slightly bitter, so it’s often slipped into salty drinks like margaritas. (Ladies, if your drink tastes funny, stop drinking it right away and get yourself somewhere safe with someone you trust.)Curiously, GHB was invented in the 90’s by bodybuilders who believed that it helped make them lean and ripped. It turned out that there was some serious crossover between bodybuilders and date rapists. No offense if you have a six pack.

I had a case in 1999 involving a bodybuilder/student at Southern Illinois University. He concocted GHB in his kitchen and used it both to get ripped and to rape at least one college girl. I was a federal prosecutor specializing in consumer protection at the time. The state of Illinois didn’t prosecute the guy for rape because there was little evidence – medical tests didn’t screen for GHB in the 90’s and the girl couldn’t remember all of what happened. At the time, GHB was a new phenomenon and wasn’t yet a scheduled drug, so mere possession wasn’t a crime. But we prosecuted him for misbranding and mislabeling the GHB, under the Food Drug and Cosmetic Act. He was convicted, and at sentencing, we got an enhancement for his sexual assault (sentencing enhancements can be proved by a lower standard than facts at trial). GHB is now a scheduled drug, which means it’s a crime just to make it. So, kids, don’t try this one at home. Seriously. 

The other thing this episode got right is that police have incredibly dangerous jobs.  Whenever they pull someone over or go to a house in response to a 911 call, they don’t know what they’re walking into.  And the danger doesn’t stop at the police station door.  Crazy people with a grudge do sometimes come in and target the police working there.  That happened in a Detroit police station just this January: a man walked into a police station and started shooting at the cops.  Their security camera caught the entire shootout on tape.  Check out the chilling footage: 

We don’t pay our police officers enough.

What they got wrong: The ATF plotline was such blatant propaganda against the ATF, I wondered if the NRA wrote the episode. Yes, guns are a huge problem on our streets. I see gruesome crimes every day that would be mere fistfights if we lived in a country where guns weren’t worshiped like false gods. You know the only federal agency that systematically tries to keep guns out of the hands of the bad guys? The ATF. Sure, they’ve had their share of controversy. But blaming the ATF for the guns on American streets is kind of like blaming a veterinarian for your dog’s death after a Mack truck ran it over.

“I want my phone call,” the homeless killer giggled in the middle of an interrogation. The detectives immediately stopped questioning him and brought him to a pay phone. Brace yourself now. There is no constitutional right to a phone call. Some police stations might have a policy allowing you to make a call, but that’s just a courtesy, not a guarantee. An experienced detective like Elliott isn’t going to start shaking in his boots and stop in the middle of questioning because you uttered the words “phone call.” You have a right to a lawyer. You have a right to remain silent. But a right to a phone call? Nope. Sorry.

The views expressed on this blog are mine alone and do not necessarily represent the views of the U.S. Department of Justice.


  1. TokoBali says

    Just did a quick google search and stumbled upon this little thing: .

    On another note, why the hell do bodybuilders use GHB. I was once in a room with three guys who where doing GHB (don’t worry, I don’t touch that crap) and none of them looked as though they were able to lift up their own bodies, let alone some dumbbells.

    My advice to the youngsters: you should do GHB as often as you should do meth, heroine, and cocaine. Which is never.

  2. Paulien says

    Thanks so much for your reviews of the SVU episodes! so glad to read that you intend to continue next season!

    Your C- seems exactly right, cigarettes and guns: what a great SVU case 🙁

  3. says

    Too funny – I just did a post on last night’s SVU episode too, except from the perspective of a former cop (I used to work special victims in NYC too).

    Anyway, I enjoyed reading your critique.

    Incidentally, I’m not sure if you’ve heard about this, but the ATF subplot was one of those “ripped from the headlines” things – there actually was a case where the ATF let hundreds of guns walk so they could trace them across the border. It blew up when a Border Patrol agent ended up murdered and a couple of those tracked guns were found at the scene:

    I assumed this is what the show was referring to – I didn’t really take it so much as a general slam on the ATF.

  4. says

    On the phone call question: it’s actually much more borderline than you’re suggesting, and this could be one of those rare moments where Elliot actually errs on the safe side of not violating someone’s constitutional rights.

    The most on point case I can find without spending a lot of time on it is pretty old, but still good law as far as I can tell.

    People v. Reome, 101 A.D.2d 632, 633; 475 N.Y.S.2d 530, 532 (N.Y. Super. Ct. App. Div. 1984):

    “Additionally, defendant frequently inquired of her first interrogator if she could call her sister. She wanted to call her sister after she was arrested since her sister “knew more about legal matters than I did”. Her requests were refused by the police, even during the 15-minute hiatus between the two interrogations at the police barracks. Thus, the police intentionally cut off the avenue by which she was most likely to obtain counsel and this illegality reaches forward to taint her final confession (cf. People v. Talamo, 55 A.D.2d 506, 508, 391 N.Y.S.2d 474; see, also, People v. Bevilacqua, 45 N.Y.2d 508, 514, 410 N.Y.S.2d 549, 382 N.E.2d 1326). It was, therefore, error for the trial court to admit into evidence her final confession (see People v. Chapple, supra ).”

    Arguably, under the misguided Berghuis opinion, the request for a phone call isn’t unambiguous enough to count as an invocation of the right to counsel, but state courts are, of course, free to interpret those protections more strictly than the federal courts do.

  5. Allison Leotta says

    Hi Andrew. Interesting point, and thanks for the case citation. When the phone call request is intertwined with the request for counsel, the analysis changes to the constitutional right to a lawyyer. Good research. 🙂

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