Hollywood has never been afraid to sacrifice realism for the sake of an entertaining story. And since pretty much every movie or TV show features the police in some way, we as an audience get fed a lot of total horseshit about how the law works and how cops operate in the USA.
But as most of us are on the outside of the judicial system (for the moment) we usually don't even realize that what we're being told is incorrect. So we just accept things like...
7Forensic Science is Magic
As Seen On:
The various CSI shows, Bones
There has been a murder. While the regular cops are all wasting time talking about "witnesses," "motives" and "evidence," the CSI team walks in and gets shit done. Within seconds they find a single hair, scan it with a green laser and discover the identity of the killer, saving countless lives with their ingenious magical science. Hell, the CSI team will even pack up their guns and go arrest the guy!
His one mistake was having hair.
Why it's Bullshit:
First, do you have any idea how much random DNA you are carrying on the soles of your shoes this very instant? A hair from that bank clerk across town, gum from a Pakistani cab driver and semen from an undetermined source are all probably crawling around down there, ready to be tracked through a crime scene.
Also, certain laboratory tests such as DNA samples, toxicology and blood reports can take weeks or even months to process, and when they do finally arrive, they are about as clear cut as the plot to The Phantom Menace.
"Wait, they're racing now?"
Also, while DNA criminal databases do exist, less than 1/10th of all criminals are a part of it. Having a bit of DNA doesn't mean shit unless they have something to compare it to.
That means the CSI stuff is less about finding the killer and more about making sure they have enough evidence to convict the guy they've already pinpointed as a suspect through old-fashioned police work.
CSI is really just another victim of bad Hollywood science, kind of an extension of their "computers are magic" philosophy. It's appealing to think that any problem--even crime--can be stopped cold by nothing but the power of science and human intellect. Add a few dead hookers and an exploding car to the mix and you have the recipe for television success, baby.
6The Insanity Defense Lets You Get Away With Murder
As Seen On:
Law and Order, Primal Fear, A Time to Kill
So things aren't looking so great: The cops caught you stabbing a priest, which you have found out is illegal in your city. Fortunately, your lawyer is Richard Gere, and the two of you combine to convince the jury that you are insane, and that the crime was carried out by one of your multiple personalities.
The man who defends himself has a fool for a lawyer. The man who hires Richard Gere has a sentient nose for a lawyer.
You get off, innocent by reason of insanity! Congratulations, a couple of months at the mental hospital and you'll be back on the streets!
Why it's Bullshit:
Obviously if the legal system had this kind of Get Out of Jail Free loophole, the prisons would be empty. In reality, the Insanity Defense is attempted in less than one percent of all legal cases, which essentially means that more people have tried to pin their crimes on aliens or their evil twin rather than their own basket case, shoelace-eating lunacy.
"No no, it was my brother, Larry Busey!"
Of that tiny fraction where the lawyer was even willing to try it, the defense is successful less than 25 percent of the time. Three states in the US don't even allow insanity as a defense.
Then, in that tiny, tiny fraction of cases where the guy "got off" because he convinced the court he was insane, he doesn't get to just go home. You get sent to a mental institution where you don't have a set sentence at all--they keep you as long as they see fit, which may be forever. You're there until "deemed safe to return to society", which according to the American Psychiatric Association is usually twice as long as the jail sentence would have been.
Hope you like white gowns and staph infections!
This has always been one of those situations where people simply want to believe the system is worse than it is. We can't escape the idea that the courts are too soft on the bad guys and that guilty people are running free left and right. Besides, what is insanity, anyway? Can't you say that anyone who willingly kills another human being is "insane"? Won't giving these guys a free pass based on a little craziness bring the whole system down?
Yes, it would. Which is why the courts don't do it.