SVU Episode #21: Reparations


             This was an interesting exploration of what can grow from seeds of hate sown decades ago. A young white woman is raped in her bedroom. At first she says it was her black neighbor – but her ID is shaky, and the evidence quickly proves the neighbor innocent. Then she remembers that another black man, who delivers vegetables to the school where she’s a teacher, cursed at her a few weeks earlier. Liquid on male shoeprints left in her room is from a cleaning solution used only in NY’s public schools. Armed with this information, Elliot and Ice-T arrest the veggie guy, in one of the flimsiest arrests in the history of TV crime drama.

                    DA Casey Novak is back, after having her law license revoked for three years. She’s now in a probationary period at work and desperate to win this case. Representing the defendant is hunky Terrence Howard, taking a break from being a DA on Law & Order: LA to defend his cousin the veggie guy.

                   At trial, Terrence eviscerates this victim, calling her a racist and arguing she’d accuse any black guy who crossed her path. The trial breaks down when the victim’s grandfather yells at veggie guy’s mother. Turns out, Grampa was a Klan member who raped Mom 45 years ago, to impede her work as a civil-rights activist. She told the police but no one believed her. Novak subpoenas Mom to testify, to prove veggie guy’s motive for raping the girl. To save Mom from this indignity, veggie guy admits he broke into the girl’s house and pulled her clothes off, as revenge for what her grandfather did to his mother. But he couldn’t go through with the rape. The girl made that last part up at Grampa’s urging. Veggie guy goes away for 15 years, the girl is arrested for perjury, and the two lawyers give each other a respectful nod.

Verdict:  B-

What they got wrong: 

                      The detectives had more probable cause to arrest the cilantro in veggie’s guy’s basket than veggie guy himself. What was their evidence? (1) Veggie guy once cursed at the victim, and (2) a liquid from the public schools (where thousands of people go every day) was in the shoeprint in her bedroom. Basically, it came down to him dropping the F bomb – which would make most D.C. residents eligible for immediate arrest. Not only do I think his case wouldn’t make it past a preliminary hearing, I think veggie guy would have a decent lawsuit against NYPD for wrongful arrest. (Until he confessed.)
                   The DA’s decision to force veggie guy’s mom to testify about her long-ago rape was wrong – not only because it was heartless, but because it was legally insupportable. Criminal trials are about the crime charged. Evidence of a 40-year-old rape would be irrelevant, and therefore inadmissible, unless the DA could prove that the defendant knew about it. Then she might arguably have evidence of motive. But she didn’t have that here.

                      And, crime shows love to depict how worried prosecutors are about their win-loss record. “Want to know how good I am? Look at my conviction record,” Terrence huffed. “If I lose this case, I’m done,” Novak sobbed. That’s not how it works in real life. No one in my office ever asks about win-loss stats. It’s not important. Doing the right thing is. Being a prosecutor gives you the duty (and the luxury) of always trying to do justice. That’s what I love about the job. If you think a guy is innocent, you don’t keep hammering away to get another “W” in your column —  you dismiss the charges. A prosecutor’s job is to search for the truth and then do the right thing based on what she finds. Statistic-crazy TV prosecutors give me the willies.

What they got right: 

                        Ladies, lock your windows! In this case, the assailant climbed in through the girl’s unlocked fire escape window. In reality, predators do look for weak links like this. The real-life East Coast Rapist would scope out apartment buildings, checking every unit until he found one with an unlocked window or open door. That’s the woman he’d rape.

                   Yes, a prosecutor from L.A. can act as a defense attorney for his cousin in New York. I’ve had to look this one up myself, when friends have asked if I could write a will for them or help them fight a traffic ticket. Generally, I can’t. I work for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, and the United States can be my only client. There’s an exception, however, for immediate family members involved in a case where the U.S. isn’t a party. I could theoretically get approval to defend my sisters if they were prosecuted by the city of New York. My sisters are pretty good citizens, though, and I hope I won’t have to take advantage of this rule.

 Neither right nor wrong, but interesting:

              These days, the majority of sexual assaults are intra-racial, that is, the victim and the perpetrator have the same racial background.  

                    For a provocative exploration of some of the themes in tonight’s show, check out my friend Chris Kuzneski’s novel, “The Plantation,” about “an army of militant black men who kidnap the white descendants of slave owners and transport them to a secret island compound. There, the women are raped and the men tortured before being shipped to Africa to serve as slaves to black families.” This novel won Chris a devoted following and catapulted him into international bestsellerdom.

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