I’m glad the SVU writers aren’t defense attorneys. In tonight’s harrowing episode, they took an open-and-shut criminal case and convincingly turned it into a squeaker, where the jury could have plausibly exonerated the monster who kidnapped and tortured our long-suffering heroine. I tip my hat to the excellent writing – and acting – that made this a great episode.
Sporting a new limp, hypnotic facial scars, and a conspicuous hearing aid, monstrous Louis is brought to trial for all the horrific things he did to Olivia in the season premiere. He promptly fires his attorney, opts to represent himself, and uses the trial to traumatize Olivia even more. He argues that Olivia wanted to be with him during those four fateful days in September. They drank and got high together! She was sexually obsessed with him! They tied each other up to play out her fantasies! Olivia only beat him within an inch of his life because of her bad sportsmanship. Also, her SVU colleagues planted evidence to frame him. Louis is so smooth, articulate, and convincing, he’s better than any defense attorneys he could hire. You get why the jurors nod as he spins out his police conspiracy story. That, and the fact that he blatantly flirts with the forewoman.
Over the course of the trial, Olivia understandably consumes an impressive quantity of wine. She struggles with whether to come clean about the fact that she beat Louis up after she’d escaped and handcuffed him to the bed. In the end, she decides it’s more important that he go to jail.
And the jury comes through. Although the flirty forewoman expresses “serious concerns about Detective Benson’s conduct,” the jury convicts Louis of kidnapping and assaulting a police officer. Barba assures Olivia that Louis will likely get the maximum sentence of 25 years to life.
What they got right:
A defendant may choose to represent himself. But going “pro se” is rarely a good idea. The old saying goes: “A man who represents himself has a fool for a client.” Pro se defendants are often terrible advocates, and their trials are slow and painful to watch. Real judges often keeps a certified attorney at counsel table to advise the defendant. Louis did better than any pro se defendant I’ve seen in real life – but tonight’s show was, all in all, a refreshingly accurate depiction of the leeway a judge would accord a pro se defendant, and the appellate concerns that would haunt a case like this.
Barba came off as a stickler, but he was right to break up the dinner where Olivia was eating out with the other detectives. Witnesses are often instructed not to talk to each other, and in a case like this, where the defense theory was a government conspiracy, they shouldn’t even be texting, much less noshing on pasta and wine across the street from the courthouse.
What they got wrong:
I have to put most of Barba’s wardrobe in this category — although I can’t decide which was more objectionable: that purple and red striped shirt, or the one that was the color of orange sherbet.
Worst prosecution choice of the night: Barba didn’t call to the stand Mrs. Mayer, the woman whom Louis raped, and whose husband he murdered, while he had Olivia tied up. That’s like telling the story of the Titanic and not mentioning the iceberg. Mrs. Mayer would have described the most shocking part of Louis’s crime spree and corroborated Olivia’s story that she was tied up by Louis the whole time. Sure, Mrs. Mayer might be a reluctant witness. But in a case like this, Barba and the police would have done everything in their power to get Mrs. Mayer on the stand. Maybe if Barba had spent a little more time enforcing his subpoenas and a little less time at H&M picking out his shirts…
While cross-examining Olivia, Louis asked the judge for “Permission to treat the witness as hostile!” I always think this is a funny line in crime shows. It sounds so ominous, like the lawyer is about the punch the witness in the face. In reality, it just means that the lawyer can ask leading, as opposed to open-ended, questions. And Louis could already do that, since leading questions are routinely permitted during cross-examination.
What do you think, SVU fans? Why was this episode called “Psycho Therapist”? Olivia’s therapist was perfectly lovely. Should Olivia have told the truth about beating the crap out of Louis? And is a sherbet-colored shirt ever okay in court? Leave your comments!