SVU’s Season 14 Finale: “Her Negotiation”

The good news: Law & Order: SVU will be back this autumn for a 15th season. The bad news: they ended their 14th with one of the silliest episodes of the year.

Recap: A guy burns off his own fingerprints on a hot stove, then ambles to Central Park and uses his newfound anonymity to flash some pretty Scandinavian tourists. The entire SVU squad foregoes their day off to process the flasher.

At first, our detectives have a hard time ID’ing the fingerprintless guy, but he tells them the halfway house where he’s staying, and they soon have a copy of his drivers license. He’s Louis Williams, who has no prior record of sexual assaults.

Louis is released from jail and promptly goes to the home of a grandmotherly witness to the flashing. He holds a gun to Gramma’s head, ties her to the bed, and repeatedly rapes her. He heats up keys and metal hangers and brands her. He beats her up. He leaves his semen and saliva all over her and her apartment, then leaves her alive and tied to the bed. (Because the criminal mastermind who’s brilliant and committed enough to burn off his own fingerprints is going to leave his DNA all over the apartment, and the witness around to ID him. Sure.)

Gramma’s neighbor finds her and calls the police. As soon as they arrive, a bloodied Gramma exclaims from the stretcher she’s being carried out on, “It was Louis Williams! The guy from the park! He raped me!”

Olivia and Nick interrogate Louis, who gives a “hypothetical” but totally damning statement in which he lists all the intimate details only the rapist would know. “What do you want to hear?” he asks Olivia. “How I put out my cigarettes on her, how I branded her private parts with keys and hot hangers?”

He goes on and on, in a detailed monologue about raping Gramma that was so disturbing I may need years of therapy to recover from it.

In addition to his confession, the detectives learn Louis sold Gramma’s jewelry and camera to a local pawn shop, whose owner ID’s him. And that’s not all.

Turns out, Louis is a serial rapist, but his name was misspelled in his prior cases, so it never caught up with him. He’s raped four other women, getting off on technicalities and/or good luck each time. He even raped and killed his own previous defense attorney.

And his foxy new defense attorney is in love with him! And Gramma dies of a heart attack!

Still, the trial seems like a slam dunk, until his defense attorney shows that his DNA sample was tested on the same tray as the crime-scene samples. A mistrial is declared and lecherous Louis is released.

He uses his hard-won freedom to break into Olivia’s apartment and wait for her to come home. The season ends with him putting a gun to Olivia’s head in her dark, empty apartment, before the screen abruptly flashes to black.

A cliffhanger indeed. Mariska Hargitay hasn’t yet signed up for the next season of SVU, so who knows what might happen to Olivia?

Verdict: C-

What they got right:

Cases involving tourist victims, like the Scandinavians Louis flashed, can be challenging to prosecute. Sexual predators know this and often target tourists. Here in Washington D.C., museums and monuments are popular places for serial gropers to commit their crimes, because they know that victims from Kansas are less likely to show up for trial in D.C. Superior Court.

The misspelling of a suspect’s name, while simple and low-tech, can be disastrously misleading to authorities. Senator Lindsey Graham alleged that the FBI misspelled one of the Boston Marathon bombing suspect’s names – and that the agency thus failed to identify him when he flew to Russia in 2011.

Testing DNA samples on the same tray can lead to legal problems. A teenager named Austin Sigg is accused of kidnapping, killing, and dismembering a 10-year-old girl in Colorado, and also attacking a jogger. The Colorado Bureau of Investigation issued some “contamination memos,” noting that multiple DNA samples in the cases had been tested on the same tray. The defense will likely argue against the reliability of the DNA testing at Sigg’s trial this September.

What they got wrong:

There’s so much here, but the Huffington Post asks bloggers to limit their essays to 1000 words.

Let’s start with the idea that the whole SVU squad would come in from their Sunday off in order to process a flasher. Only someone who has never met a actual police officer could believe this concept.

Next: burning off fingerprints. Sure, you could try to conceal your identity that way – if you were an ineffective criminal from the 1930’s. John Dillinger tried to do it – but his fingerprints eventually grew back. Robert Phillips grafted skin from his chest to his fingers – but he was ID’d from his palm prints. And that was in the 1940’s. The fingerprint burning-off technique is pretty useless today. With DNA testing, what’s the point of burning off your fingerprints if you’re gonna leave smoked cigarettes and your semen all over the crime scene?

The idea that Louis would go to Gramma’s house to rape and torture her was ridiculous. That’s not what criminals do to witnesses. They threaten them. They might even kill them, to ensure their silence. What a misdemeanor-level flasher doesn’t do is go to the home of his witness, rape her, torture her, and leave her alive to tell both tales. (For that matter, they don’t break into the home of their lead detective either.) I’ve never heard of a single case like this happening in real life.

More: Louis’s “hypothetical” confession was totally admissible – and combined with Gramma’s horrific injuries and statements, plenty to convict him. A lineup wasn’t necessary – Gramma knew who Louis was. And Ice-T can’t testify that the pawnshop owner identified Louis (the pawn guy himself has to do that, lest we run afoul of the Confrontation Clause and Louis’s right to confront the witnesses against him), convincing as Ice always is.

Finally, Louis’s whole character was silly. He was supposed to be some sort of criminal mastermind, so cunning he could manufacture four aliases, burn off his fingerprints, and fake a suicide attempt to prevent a lineup. And yet he left behind gallons of his DNA, confessed to everything he did to Gramma, and – what? – just hoped that this would be the unlikely case where his DNA testing would have some technical problem?

I wonder which one of him – the mastermind, or the idiot – will Olivia face in her dark apartment? We’ll have to wait til next fall to find out. Good luck, Olivia!

Okay, SVU fans, now that the show’s over for the season, what will you do over the summer? I’ll be launching my third novel, SPEAK OF THE DEVIL! It’s the best book I’ve written yet. I hope you’ll check it out!  Meanwhile, have a great summer! See you back here for Season 15 this fall.

About Allison Leotta

Comments

  1. James Pollock says:

    I thought Lewis’ “confession” was inadmissible because he’d invoked his right to an attorney, and she wasn’t there. I suppose you could argue that it was a voluntary statement, but assuming that there’s a videocamera recording the guy, and he’s sitting in an interrogation room with detectives, makes that are hard argument to bring home.

    Also, I didn’t think that he was “criminal mastermind” so much as “really lucky guy”. Given the stuff he got away with before, of course he takes insane risks. That’s real enough… people often engage in riskier and riskier behavior until they get consequences (and sometimes after).

    • “Also, I didn’t think that he was “criminal mastermind” so much as “really lucky guy”. Given the stuff he got away with before, of course he takes insane risks. ”

      I agree I think this episode wanted to show how defendants can get off due to police, forensic and the DA’s incompetence, and just went overboard with it.

      • James, I thought his confession was admissible. He hadn’t invoked his right to an attorney. Although he had an attorney for the flashing case, he wasn’t represented for the rape case — so the cops could interrogate him until he invoked.

        • James Pollock says:

          Isn’t the new rule that you only have to invoke once per custody, rather than once per charge? To prevent this type of sequence: arrest, Miranda, questioning, invocation, lawyer, custody, questioning on different charges. (I don’t remember the case (I’ve been out of law school for a while now) but if I recall, it was regarding invoking the 5th amendment right to silence rather than the sixth amendment right to counsel, which might have different application) Sure, a suspect can waive their right to silence and make statements that are admissible, but aren’t the police supposed to stop trying to interrogate them once they’ve invoked? If so, what’s he doing in the interrogation room?

          • James, you’re referring to Arizona v. Edwards (1981), which has subsequently been clarified by Maryland v. Shatzer (2010). The Supreme Court ruling is that once a suspect has invoked, he may not be re-questioned without a lawyer present for any offence until a passage of 14 days break in custody has elapsed. Therefore, I think you’re absolutely right.

  2. Kristian says:

    You’re crazy if you think the season finale was a silly episode! It was a major stressor to Mariska Hargitay fans everywhere! You’re just plain crazy.

  3. The suspect’s lawyer said her client had invoked and he claimed to have told the detectives that they shouldn’t be speaking to him. Olivia and Nick also both stood up during the questioning, invaded his personal space and Nick made threats of violence. I fail to see how any statement he made could be admissible. I have had a police officer charged with assault for abruptly standing up, leaning over and banging the desk in front of me when I was representing a client. I would have thought that the interview in that episode would not only be inadmissible but also be grounds for a pretrial motion to exclude Olivia and Nick’s evidence on the grounds that they were unreliable witnesses, and led to Nick being charged with assault. The first thing any decent defence lawyer is going to do when her client tell her he’s been interviewed under duress is establish whether any threats were made, and ask to see all relevant custody and interview recordings.

    • I agree, Stefi, that they can’t threaten him. I didn’t notice Nick make threats (and I didn’t see him invoke his right to a lawyer at all in the rape case), but I’ll go back and watch. Certainly nothing as threatening as holding him down while Ice-T says he’ll spork out the suspect’s eyeballs, a la a few weeks ago!

      • Actually they both threaten him. Olivia leans into him whilst standing as says, “what you did to her, you’re lucky I didn’t kick your teeth in.” Nick stands up, bangs the table hard with both fist, leans over and says “hey, shut the hell up take you out right here and wipe that stupid smile off your face.” Both of them would have been charged with assault in every country I’ve worked in, and the interview would be inadmissible.

        • Carl N. Brown says:

          Who is up for starting a petition to revoke the artistic license of (some of) the L&O:SVU writers? I am half serious here. I have known two city detectives and a forensic psychiatrist over the years and have gathered enough feel for how things work to suspect L&O occurs in an alternate universe. That is why I like the “what they got right/what they got wrong” analysis of these episodes.

          • I actually agree. I think that L&O:SVU at present doesn’t represent real life SVU officers well at all. I read the other day that NYPD electronically records all sexual crime interrogations. i very much doubt they go in for this acustory and oppressive line of questioning. In reality, most lawyered up defendants give a no comment interviews, and police are expectedly to deal with it politely and indifferently. SVU cops have to deal with paedophiles like decent human beings.

          • Why, thank you very much, Carl!

          • James Pollock says:

            There have ALWAYS been dramatic shortcuts in cop shows (others, too, of course). But you don’t see things like the 8-month gap between the arrest and the start of the trial, and the stars of the show always make arrests, and if there’s a choice between a series star delivering a line and hiring an actor to deliver the line, well, the actor who’s already on the payroll is going to get it, so lots of TV cops testify to hearsay (instead of some character actor getting to play a witness testifying.)
            Plus, of course, the writers pull on the news from everywhere to find story ideas, but they’re all set in the same precinct (or they happen in Vegas, if we’re talking CSI). And you have how many stories that start with the series star off duty but just happen to be nearby when the crime starts. (It’s one thing for John McClaine to be in the building when his wife’s Christmas party gets taken hostage; quite another if it happens every week (well, 22 times a year plus reruns.)

            There are sacrifices to the dramatic medium. Guess what? It isn’t just law or police procedure they can’t manage… it’s also computers or anything else technical. Here’s why: They don’t want to be 100% real (real is boring.) They assume that if they don’t know how it would really happen, then neither do you, the viewer, so it just has to feel real. Only more dramatic. See, for example, pretty much every episode of Mythbusters ever.

          • In a world where the entire premise of Law and Order: Criminal Intent throws real life out the window (Major Case squad in New York City doesn’t investigate homicides and YET they investigate them 90% of the time), you won’t get very far with that.

    • katelyn says:

      the fact that you are finding fault in the police officers of the show is ridiculous. Anyone watching were probably hoping one of them did bang him up a little! It’s not about the cops in this episode…you shouldn’t be finding fault in them. Maybe in reality- but this is a show..it’s on TV for a reason.

  4. Random ferret says:

    he broke into Olivia’s and old lady’s apartment because he has a thing for degrading intelligent women who have power over him, that’s why he raper his other lawyer

    something about this episode that kind of disturbed me was that they set up that he was manipulating his lawyer into loving him so she’d defend him better (lucky for him she was hot). They implied that the same thing had happened with one of his former lawyers and he later raped her. I got the feeling that the episode was asking us to view the first rape and the possible future rape of his current lawyer as comeuppance for defending and falling in love with him, because she came across like such a bitch.

  5. Random ferret says:

    why did they all have a day off at the same time, I thought they were the only detectives who work sex crime for Manhattan?

    • James Pollock says:

      If you watch more carefully, there are lots of other detectives (and officers) in the unit. You probably didn’t notice them because they never say anything, because the pay rate for being on the screen and saying something is way higher than the pay rate for just being on the screen. This is also why you find our heroes testifying in court about what someone told them… which is hearsay… the show’s producers don’t want to hire an actor to say the lines when they can just use an actor who’s already being paid.

  6. The circumstances of this case were absurd, but rape is more common than murdering witnesses as a form of witness tampering in Europe. I very surprised if it’s not used in America. It’s a very effective strategy because it’s unlikely to be reported to the police, unlike killing a prosecution witness.

    • “Olivia leans into him whilst standing as says, “what you did to her, you’re lucky I didn’t kick your teeth in.” Nick stands up, bangs the table hard with both fist, leans over and says “hey, shut the hell up take you out right here and wipe that stupid smile off your face.” Both of them would have been charged with assault in every country I’ve worked in, and the interview would be inadmissible.”

      Maybe I’m not a soft guy, BUT where in there did they do anything that can be considered “assault”? Make threatening remarks, banging the table, yelling in someones face. Where in any of this is assault? That’s called intimidation, and that’s WAY different than assault.. If those countries you worked in REALLY consider THAT assault, than I’ve lost faith in mankind.

      • Whether or not your a tough guy or soft guy is irrelevant. In New York Nick and Olivia could be charged with menace, in nearly all other US states the same offence is known as common assault, as it is in England.

        In English law, the definition of Common Assault, contrary to section 39 Criminal Justice Act 1988, is as follows:

        An ASSAULT is committed when a person intentionally or recklessly causes another to apprehend the immediate infliction of unlawful force.

        A BATTERY is committed when a person intentionally and recklessly applies unlawful force to another.

        The actus reus (criminal action) of an assault doesn’t require any physical force and the mens rea (criminal intent) does not require an intention to use physical force. It is simply enough to cause someone to fear that unlawful force may be used against them.

        That is exactly what Nick and Olivia did during that interview; their words and actions would certainly give Louis cause to believe that he would be physically assaulted, and since all police interrogations involving sex crimes are electronically recorded in New York, they could hardly deny it.

        And yes they REALLY would be charged with assault (or an equivalent offence) in every jurisdiction in the EU, as well as in England. A police officer was charged and convicted of section 39 assault for standing up abruptly, banging the table with his fist and shouting at me when I was representing a client during an interrogation. No verbal threat was made but his actions gave me cause to fear that I would be physically assaulted.

        • “The actus reus (criminal action) of an assault doesn’t require any physical force and the mens rea (criminal intent) does not require an intention to use physical force. It is simply enough to cause someone to fear that unlawful force may be used against them.”

          I understand confessions being inadmissible and thrown out over actions like that. But the interviewer being arrested? I stand by my statement. Justice has gone soft.

          “And yes they REALLY would be charged with assault (or an equivalent offence) in every jurisdiction in the EU, as well as in England. A police officer was charged and convicted of section 39 assault for standing up abruptly, banging the table with his fist and shouting at me when I was representing a client during an interrogation. No verbal threat was made but his actions gave me cause to fear that I would be physically assaulted.”

          Maybe it’s because I wasn’t there and don’t know the details, but the way you describe it makes it sound like this was an extremely weak claim that didn’t suffice an officer being arrested.

          • Josh,

            “the way you describe it makes it sound like this was an extremely weak claim that didn’t suffice an officer being arrested.”

            I’m a 5′ 3″, 48kg, female lawyer sitting at a table during an interrogation representing her client. A big burly police man who is angered by my perfectly reasonable representations on behalf of my client, stands up abruptly, shouts at me and raises his hand and then brings it down forcible striking the table in front of me. At this point he has committed a S39 assault because rather obviously his striking the table frightened me and caused me both before he struck the table and after to think that he was going to strike me. Hence he intentionally or recklessly caused me to apprehend the immediate infliction of unlawful force, ergo he committed a S39 assault. What is it that you fail to understand?

            This interrogation was also recorded. There are two copies one for the police and one for the defence, so he could hardly deny it. There were three eye-witnesses, including the other police officer, who would have been charged with attempting to pervert the course of justice (a more serious offence) if he lied about what happened. He had no choice but to give evidence against his colleague and I had a legal obligation to my client to make a complaint.

            However the decision to prosecute was not mine, it was made by the CPS. Although S39 assaults can be disposed of by way of a caution the circumstances were deemed too serious. What you see, to fail to realise is that a lawyer properly representing her client can’t be subject to assault or intimidation by a police officer. Firstly, I’m entitled to be able to work free from intimidation and violence, and secondly, an assault on me contravenes my client’s right to legal representation under article 6 of the ECHR and PACE. Therefore it was in the public interest to prosecute and he was convicted and fined.

          • Because for all I know your statements could be taken out of context. For example how do I know that your client wasn’t being uncooperative towards the detective after asking him questions reasonably all that time and it was just frustrating him, and that you and your client were being the unreasonable ones?

            Now the fact that you weren’t the one pressing charges, I believe that.

            However I’ll end with this; I don’t care how the law interprets it, intimidation and assault are two different things.

          • James Pollock says:

            Yes, intimidation and assault are different. For one thing, assault has to do with being put in fear of being physically touched, while intimidation is a much broader term. Secondly, assault is both criminal and tortious, while intimidation may or may not be actionable.

    • A rape victim can talk, a dead body can’t. Not hard to grasp why they go to THAT extreme than the other.

      • James Pollock says:

        An intimdated witness can be made to recant previous testimony. A dead person’s testimony is admissible in some circumstances, and there’s no way to cross-examine it if it IS admissible.

        • That’s IF testimony is an issue. Again it all depends on the circumstances; but if the witness has not even been identified as one by the public; than testimony isn’t exactly an issue.

  7. Overall I found this season be uneven at best. I think the actors have all done well and especially appreciate the work the actors playing the new characters having done coming in to fill the shoes of the missing Elliot Stabler. For me its been the writing this year. There’s been some really outstanding episodes this year with great, well told stories but most have been same old, same old you see everywhere on TV, or retreads of old episodes or stories that just didn’t go deep enough.

    I’m hoping for a better written season next year. And on that note, I’ve just learned Mariska has confirmed she will return for season 15. For that fact alone I am now looking forward to next year. Have a great summer everyone.

    • Thanks for the update, David! Wonderful to hear that Mariska will be back next season!

      And thanks for your comments, everyone! Hope you have a wonderful summer! Stop by the blog for updates, commentary and fun stuff over June, July, and August.

  8. Carl N. Brown says:

    I am increasingly bugged by the mastermind label (unless it was meant sarcasticly): burning off your fingerprints, like being caught driving a car with altered tag, or owning a gun with obliterated serial number, screams “Pay especial attention to me!” Newfound anonymity? It would make him stick out like a sore thumb.

  9. Gary Downunder says:

    I agree it unlikely that the other detectives would be hauled in on a Sunday for an apprehended perp, but the main problem with this episode was it was too predictable:
    1. When Gramma was sent home after being raped and tortured, I predicted the next scene would have her dead. Why was she not given any police protection?
    2. After it was announced the suspect was bailed, I predicted he would show up in the next scene, at Olivia’s apartment. (How DO the bad guys get the addresses, and access, so easily!?)

    Well, I predict ( and hope) Olivia talks her way around the bad guy and ends up shooting him….and then has to deal with the ramifications of that.
    But the writers might surprise me – hopefully not in an unsatisfactory way.

  10. @ Josh

    Of course my client wasn’t cooperating, I would hardly be doing my job if he was. Note I never said he answered any questions. They are not obliged to answer but if they don’t they won’t get anything in return. Whilst in your mind my doing my job might justify or mitigate the police officer actions, in the real world, police officer are not allowed to assault suspects’ lawyers and if they do they face they face greater criminal sanctions than anyone else does, because the abuse of authority is an aggravating factor. He wasn’t gaoled but he was convicted instead of cautioned.

  11. mariso valdez says:

    hi im a mexican teacher, that i like to talk with someone what write about anyting or svu i hope you want, sorry by my bad english im learning.God blessing you.

Speak Your Mind

*