SVU Episode # 14-12: Criminal Hatred

This was a strong episode blending serious, cutting-edge issues like gay-on-gay hate crimes with the sparkling entertainment provided by dressing up the detectives to infiltrate gay bars and strip clubs.

Recap:

A handsome young man is luring rich, closeted gay men to hotel rooms, where he ties them up, beats them, sodomizes them, and steals their valuables. The victims, all hoping to keep their secret lives secret, refuse to talk to SVU’s detectives. What are the police to do? Swathe Ice-T and Nick in their best Banana Republic and send them out as bait in a gay bar called Hotmale (what else?). This gambit doesn’t work (did anyone think it would?), but it did provide some fine eye candy.

Meanwhile, another man becomes a victim – and dies because of his weak heart. Using actual police methods like talking to witnesses and tracing stolen credit cards, our good detectives soon find the apparent murderer: a blond male stripper with the appropriately soft-core-porn name of Jeremy Jones.

They interrogate to Jones’s partner, Clark, who thinks Jones gets his money from women as gifts. When the detectives show Clark that Jones been shagging other men, Clark tells them that Jones came home the night of the murder all shaky, saying “Something bad happened.”

Bingo! But before the detectives can close the case and go to happy hour, Nia Vardalos of Big-Fat-Greek-Wedding fame busts into the interrogation room. “I’m Mr. Jones’s lawyer,” she says, “And I’m representing Mr. Clark, too.”

Nick could tell her that an attorney can’t represent both a suspect and a witness – that’s a clear conflict of interest. Instead, he says, “Clark already gave a voluntary statement.”

“You can’t use it,” says Nia, “Spouses can’t testify to what their spouse said in confidence. Clark is his husband.”

The plot thickens! Barba tries to challenge the validity of the marriage – it took place in Massachusetts, before NY recognized same-sex marriages, by a bartender ordained through the online “Church of Happy Skies.” But the judge finds the marriage valid and rules that the prosecution can’t use Clark’s statement.

Thereupon, more glittery strip clubs are visited. A few minor plot points are ascertained, but mostly, let’s admit it, this was about SVU doing a little Magic Mike. (And I loved Ice pulling Amanda from watching the chaps-shaking male strippers, and Amanda rolling her eyes as a pleather-bikini-clad female stripper sidled up to Ice and murmured, “Hi Detective Tutuola, I like your new haircut.”).

In the end, ADA Barba drops the (fairly solid) murder charge, arguing “All the jury will see is gay sex games,” and instead brings a (very dubious) hate crime charge, noting that Jones only attacked fellow gay men. Okaaaay.

At trial, Barba argues that there were Jews in the American Nazi party. Nia retorts that you shouldn’t be able to prosecute someone just for what they think.

The closeted victims all testify (while their horrified wives watch) about Jones’s pattern of seduction and attack. Then Jones himself takes the stand and is cool enough to convince at least a few jurors that he’s innocent. Except for a minor charge of false imprisonment, the jury hangs and a mistrial is declared.

But Olivia doesn’t give up. She makes Clark meet the dead man’s tearful wife – and shows him that the engraved bracelet Jones gave him on the night of the murder was actually a present the dead man intended to give his wife. Clark sobs and turns over the incriminating bracelet.

The detectives then arrest Jones, who spews anti-gay and anti-female epithets as he’s being led away in handcuffs.

“He doesn’t just hate gays,” Olivia muses. “He hates everyone.”

“No,” Barba replies. “He hates himself.”

Verdict: B+

What they got right:

This story riffed on a true gay-on-gay hate crime case. In Boston last February, three lesbians were charged with a hate crime for beating up gay man. Since then, folks have been debating whether hate-crime laws are meant to extend this far. Tonight’s episode raised similar questions.

Under Barba’s interpretation, is every rapist committing a hate crime unless he rapes both men and women? Many feminists and anti-rape groups argue that every rape – inescapably tied to the victim’s gender – is a hate crime.

People with secrets are always vulnerable to predators. Slate recently ran a fascinating story about a vicious extortion ring that preyed on gay men in the 1960′s.

The issue of whether the spousal privilege would apply in this case was an interesting one, and they got the law right. Spouses in New York cannot testify to a confidential communication from their spouse (in D.C., by contrast, the testifying spouse may decide whether or not s/he wishes to testify). The idea behind the marital privilege is that it strengthens the marital bond.

Same-sex marriage is now legal in New York, and although Jones and Clark were married in Massachusetts, NY recognizes marriages in other states. The timing was interesting – with the Massachusetts marriage happening before NY legalized it – but I think the judge decided correctly that NY would retroactively recognize the past ceremony. I thought the best shot Barba had was the online “church,” but I guess Happy Skies had all their papers in order. I also thought Barba and Olivia’s interaction on this was realistic. Although Olivia was leery of infringing of gay rights, Barba is the type of pit bull who would try any possible legal argument to nab a killer, larger policy considerations be damned.

What they got wrong:

Barba’s logic tonight was incomprehensible. The murder charge was the strongest one he had. Even if the jurors surmised the other victims were just enjoying “kinky sex games,” here was a corpse to disprove that. The hate-crime charge against an openly gay man, on the other hand, was such a big stretch. Homicide would be both easier to prove and carry a longer sentence.

Finally, I had laugh at the undercover work. SVU is always sending its detectives out as bait. A couple seasons ago, there was a hair-cutting fetishist loose in the city – so SVU sent Olivia to sit flipping her hair on a park bench, and the barber showed up a few minutes later, shears in hand. Last season, there was a rapist targeting blond women – so they sent golden-haired Amanda running through the park, where the rapist immediately popped out from behind a bush and attempted to rape her. Tonight’s strategy – of sending Nick and Ice-T into the gay bars hoping the bad guy would strike up a conversation  - was just silly. Not that they wouldn’t get propositioned. They’d do great at Hotmale. But crime is far to random and sporadic to make this method feasible. That said . . . it did make for some fun TV.

What do you think SVU fans? Should gay defendants ever be charged under hate-crime laws? Is Barba smoking pot? And how plausible was Ice-T in his gay undercover mode? Leave your comments!

About Allison Leotta

Comments

  1. I have to throw a flag at you saying barba had a solid murder case. maybe I missed something, but was there anything besides the husbands statement that linked him to the murder? The best they had was the stolen bracelet with his blood. But they didn’t get that from the husband til after the mistrial. Also, barbas gay sex games statement was about the men that were still alive. Not the deceased.

  2. Carl N. Brown says:

    Speaking from lay opinion (IANAL but I have been called to jury duty ;) ), “hate crime” should be based on hatred or prejudice as a motivation and should not be based on majority/minority status of perpetrator/victim — and should be available as a sentence enhancement (like premeditation) that goes to motive. Like premeditation, motivation of hate or prejudice is a predictor of recidivism: the likelihood that the criminal will reoffend in the future. Anger is a flash-in-the-pan emotion, but wrath is a personality trait.

    Nick and Ice-T as bait. I thought the victim profile appeared to have been rich white closeted gay male passing as straight. Nick and Ice T match straight male. Maybe they could impersonate closeted gay, badly, but based on their salary could NYPD detectives have the experience to successfully impersonate NYC rich?

    “Spouses can’t testify to what their spouse said in confidence.” I thought the privilege was spouses cannot be compelled to testify to what their spouses say in confidence. Nice to learn automatic exclusion is a New York law, which may be different from viewers’ jurisdictions’ laws. This is something that viewers of the “Law and Order” franchise need to keep in mind: the laws, the police and court procedures are very New York City TVland alternate universe specific.

    Spouse-to-spouse confidential information aint all it’s cracked up to be anyway: anyone with real world experience knows that what a spouse tells a spouse in confidence is more likely to be half-truth, white lie or black lie than a forensic fact.

    BTW the setting the SVU crew work out of reminds me of the Main Force Patrol office in “Mad Max I” or at best the 1973 precinct station in the mini-series “Life on Mars”. But try to imagine L&O:SVU in a stainless steel and glass office, with a mid-21st century CSI lab with snazzy background music.

    (We watched this in the morning (dvr) and this comment file has been growing and getting pruned all day.)

  3. James Pollock says:

    1) the murder case.
    They had no evidence that the suspect had ever been in the same room as the victim, much less that he’d been the killer. Secondly, even if they did, the defense had a good chance of making “it was accidental” stick, particularly if the other victims had declined to testify. However, get him convicted for assaulting and raping men, and you have a good chance to come back and hit him on felony murder even if it WAS accidental.

    Seeking a “hHate crime” enhancement against a gay man actually shows that the enhancement is applied fairly whenever the conditions justify/require it, and not just against people who happen to have “politically incorrect” opinions. However, I agree that it was shaky in this case, not because the suspect was himself gay, but because there is an intent element that didn’t appear to be present. A “hate crime” isn’t a hate crime because the suspect hates the victim, nor even because the suspect hates what the victim is. A “hate crime” is a “hate crime” because the suspect(s) intended to intimidate other members of the victim’s class. This is why burning a cross on someone’s lawn isn’t just a case of petty vandalism, and it’s why rapes aren’t generally “hate crimes”.

    As for the ridiculousness of trotting out undercover cops in hopes that the unknown assailant will strike, this IS a common trope on TV cop shows, which after all have to show the case being solved by the end of the hour, but in this case, I don’t think we have that. What we DO have is a whole class of potential witnesses who would probably not speak to police if they made themselves known as police.

    • “A “hate crime” is a “hate crime” because the suspect(s) intended to intimidate other members of the victim’s class.”

      The Law doesn’t make that distinction. At least not according to fbi.gov, which defines a hate crime as, “criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, ethnic origin or sexual orientation.” Nowhere in there is the criminal’s intent to intimidate an issue.

      However it doesn’t mention ANYTHING on targeting a subset of a certain group. So far, I haven’t been able to find one so far at least.

      Even if there was, I think Barba’s case falls apart BECAUSE it relies on the “he said, she said”‘s of the victims testimonies. The same victims who admittedly lied to their wives about being gay and hiding it for years. Who’s to say that just because his sexual orientation comes out of the closet, that the truth about everything else does? When you take THAT into consideration along with it being a “gay hating gay” crime, good luck getting a jury to agree on a “guilty” verdict.

      For a guy earlier in the season who said “I’m a lawyer, not a magician”; it sure seemed like he was trying to out due David Copperfield’s act of making the statue of liberty disappear.

  4. I was wondering about the rights of the victims in this episode. It seemed like they were being bullied by the detectives and ADA quite a bit. Olivia told one of the victims (Murphy?) that “This is going to make the news and your name will come out”. Aren’t rape victims names supposed to be protected somehow? Can’t they simply refuse to cooperate and testify?

    • James Pollock says:

      News organizations will usually, but not always, conceal the name of rape victims in their reporting. However, details about them will get out, and people who know the victim can often put two and two together. Non-professional reporting (bloggers, etc.) may not be so accommodating. The first amendment allows anyone to discuss details of the case, if they want.

Speak Your Mind

*