SVU Episode #15-9: Psycho Therapist

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.

Recap:

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.

Verdict: A-

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!

Comments

  1. I was actually really impressed by this episode. When I saw the promo and it looked like the guy had some chance of getting off, I actually immediately thought “this is going to be one of the really implausible ones that annoy Allison Leotta, isn’t it?” But they sold it surprisingly well – I was tense the entire time.

    On twitter, the showrunner said that they chose Psycho Therapist as a name because “therapist” can be split into “the rapist,” and I guess Olivia’s having some therapy setbacks too, what with all the hallucinations. Probably more relevantly, they do this thing where their episode titles have the same number of letters as the season they’re in. It’s a very cool idea, in my opinion, but it does lead to weird titles sometimes.

    • Thanks, Jennifer! I had not heard that about using the same number of letters as the season they’re in. That’s very cool (and sounds pretty challenging). And it makes me smile that you thought of me being annoyed when you saw the promo. When I saw the promo, I was annoyed too. :) But the show itself won me over.

  2. GreenLuthor says:

    I had a few… well, HUGE problems with the episode (is Louis supposed to be a master schemer or not? In the premiere, they said he acts impulsively on opportunities, but clearly that’s not what they were going for here (or in most of the premiere, actually)), but my biggest was probably Louis’ offer to plead guilty to raping Benson. Barba tries to get Benson to agree to it, and Benson later suggests that Barba accept the offer. But, if he didn’t rape her, and both Barba and Benson know that, wouldn’t his allocution be perjury, and wouldn’t they both then be guilty of suborning perjury as a result?

    • Louis is like the joker I think. He has the patience and intelligence to do things that require a lot of planning, but he has no grand aim in life apart from fun in the immediate moment (not even his own survival) and what’s fun for him is being cruel.
      He represented himself because he wanted to be able cross examine Benson. He tried to get her to say he raped her because he wanted to humiliate her. He didn’t plead guilty because he thought it would annoy everyone in SVU if he got off, not because he actually cared if had his freedom or not.

      • Thil, good point about Louis’s character.

        GreenLuthor, I hear ya. Olivia couldn’t let him plea to this — it would be suborning perjury. But Barba could. He doesn’t know what happened in that room. Which is exactly why Olivia is so opposed to the idea.

  3. The thing about Louis is he’s a masochist. He represented himself and tried to get Benson to say he raped her, because he cared more about humiliating her than going free. Non of the characters acknowledged the fact that there was pretty much nothing they could do to him to make him suffer (in the mental sense) so they couldn’t really win. He reminds of the Dark Knight version of the joker

  4. I think technically Louis did have to ask permission to treat Benson as a hostile witness because his questioning was on direct — remember that he declined to cross-examine her but “reserved” the right to question her later. In a civil case, I’m confident no judge would ever allow that — this person is on the stand, take your shot now. Maybe more leeway in a criminal trial, but I suspect just a piece of artistic fiction.

    Maybe I missed it, but I didn’t get the strategy of the defense asking to sever the trials at the beginning but then not objecting to Olivia’s testimony about the shooting of the Suffolk officer. It would seem to be the only reason to seek to sever is to keep evidence of multiple crimes compartmentalized, but if you don’t object, you’re just giving the prosecution multiple chances to tell the same story to convict you.

    • how could he object if the trials weren’t severed?

      also I think it’s a mistake to assume Louis cared about walking free and/or had some over arching plan

    • James Pollock says:

      “In a civil case, I’m confident no judge would ever allow that — this person is on the stand, take your shot now. Maybe more leeway in a criminal trial, but I suspect just a piece of artistic fiction.”

      Except that you have to have a foundation in evidence for the things you ask a witness about. When it is your turn to call witnesses, you call them so that their testimony builds on the evidence already given. When it isn’t your turn to call witnesses, you can’t ask the current witness about statements your other witnesses haven’t given yet. That’s why it’s possible to recall witnesses.

    • Good points, NG. I think you may be right — Louis recalled her, so technically she was his witness. However, I’d have to nitpick that too. If he is recalling her, he has to ask her about NEW subject matter – -something she hadn’t talked about on direct. Otherwise, he needs to address it on cross-x.

      And great point about the severance. I’m not sure why they did that — maybe just to infuriate us at the idea of Louis keeping evidence out. But the way it played out, it was definitely to the government’s benefit. They got in all the relevant evidence, and also the chance to try him in all 3 jurisdictions.

  5. I have to say this episode annoyed me. First, we’ve seen the defendant as attorney for the purpose of tormenting the victim before so there was nothing new there. And while I liked that Olivia had to struggle with her conscious over perjuring herself or letting the perp go, for me there really was no compelling reason for her to not keep up the lie. Finally, I thought the antics of the perp were way over the top of what a judge would allow (though Allison you and the other lawyers who visit here would know better) I thought they let him bully and badger Liv way too much to feel realistic. And finally, I thought all of the perp’s story of what occurred over the weekend as consensual could have too easily been shot down simply by showing Liv’s injuries/condition coming out of that beach house. Surely there would be photos and lab work done to document how badly she’d been treated.

    BTW Happy New Year everyone.

    • Happy new year, David! Yeah, her injuries would be compelling, but they weren’t terribly serious. it could be consistent with Louis’s theory of consensual rough sex. I did think the defendant’s antics, while annoying, could be plausibly tolerated by a judge. Pro se defendants get a lot of leeway.

  6. I thought they said they had Mrs. Mayer agreeing to testify but she backed out when she heard Louis was representing himself. As in she was okay being in court with him but not being interrogated. Or did I mix victims up?

    • Yes, Mrs. Mayer wanted to back out when she heard Louis would represent himself. But it wasn’t her choice. The government could still call her as a witness. They would serve her with a subpoena and she would be required to testify — if she didn’t testify, the prosecutor could have her arrested and brought to court in handcuffs (not something a prosecutor ever wants to do, but it’s technically a possibility). In this case, where there is a violent, crazed serial rapist who has kidnapped a police officer, there is no chance Mrs. Mayer could “choose” to stay off the stand. Any DA would make sure she was there.

  7. Allison, I couldn’t disagree more, any defense counsel worth her salt would have won that case before trial. Leaving aside that Olivia would have to undergo a psychiatric evaluation before being allowed to testify and Nick’s claim that Lewis’ fingerprints were on Olivia’s firearm (burned finger tips!) the case would crack pretrial because:

    1) Olivia told the grand jury that she hit Lewis with a steel bed rail because he freed himself of his restraints, stood up and lunged towards her. However, Lewis’s blood was all over the handcuffs and the bed rail he was handcuffed too and he was still handcuffed to the bed when the police arrived thus proving he hadn’t slipped his restraints.

    2) Olivia initial version of events didn’t include leaving the bedroom. However when confronted with the existence of the maid and her daughter, Olivia substantially changed her version of events and acknowledged she left the room with the firearm, told the witnesses to leave, then returned to the bedroom before beating Lewis with the steel pipe.

    3) She pistol whipped Lewis before leaving the room, when she returned she put the blood stained semi auto on the Chester draws before picking up the steel bed rail, which is evidence of a premeditated attack.

    There was sufficient evidence for Olivia to be charged with attempted murder, felony unlawful imprisonment with respects to Lewis, perjury in respect to her testimony before the grand jury; and of obstruction of justice for wilfully withholding material evidence from both the police and prosecution by concealing the existence of two independent witnesses.

    • James Pollock says:

      Which of these things are evidence that Det. Benson wasn’t kidnapped?

      I think you’ve confused the totally unrelated questions of whether Lewis can be convicted of kidnapping and various batteries, and whether or not Benson ALSO could be convicted of battery. These are not mutually exclusive.

      • @ James

        I’m not in the least confused about that, my point is that because there was sufficient evidence for Benson to be charged with attempted murder, felony unlawful imprisonment, perjury and obstruction of justice, she couldn’t be called as a witness. Barba would be guilty of subornation of perjury. He can’t possibly argue that he has no knowledge of her intent to commit perjury because there is already a prima facie case of perjury against her. Without her evidence the case has no realistic prospect of conviction.

  8. James Pollock says:

    I think my complaint with this episode is the fact that they really changed the characterization of the bad guy. In his first appearance, he was a guy who was dumb but lucky. Now he’s smart enough to go pro se in a felony trial?

    • I agree, James! I didn’t mention it in this recap, because the storyline began so long ago. But I wondered after the Season 14 finale whether Louis was supposed to be a lucky idiot or an evil mastermind. I guess they went with the latter. For anyone who watched all the episodes he was in, though, it was annoying. He’s the guy who got off four times because his name was luckily misspelled in a police database. Not many evil geniuses can rely on that.

  9. Is there anything you can do if a defendant, “blatantly flirts with the forewoman”?

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