The latest episode of "The Good Wife" forayed into the crime drama realm with a classic "whodunnit?" storyline. The episode revolved around a quest for the DNA of an alleged killer.
Here's a legal breakdown of "The Next Week":
Episode Recap (Spoiler Alert!):
Jeffery Grant (Hunter Parrish) is stopped for speeding (which he isn't) and arrested on suspicion of DUI (again, he isn't). He calls Lockhart & Gardner. When Will arrives, he notes that Jeffery has been in custody for an hour but has yet to be given a Breathalyzer test; curiously, however, police have swabbed his cheek for DNA.
In court, Will tries to get Jeffery released and his DNA sample thrown out. While Assistant State's Attorney Geneva Pine dismisses the phony DUI charge, she rearrests Jeffery for the murder of a college student, Dani Littlejohn. Pine knows the DNA found under Littlejohn's fingernails has to belong to Jeffery (or one of his male relatives). Judge Politi gives Pine 48 hours after arrest to file charges, but tells her she has to wait to test Jeffery's DNA.
Though his DNA sample is ultimately found to be a perfect match for the crime scene evidence, Jeffrey adamantly maintains his innocence. The plot thickens!
"The Next Week" comes on the heels of a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling about warrantless DNA collection. In Maryland v. King, which was handed down in June, the Court upheld law enforcement officers' collection of a DNA sample after a man was arrested for assault. That warrantless DNA swab implicated the man in an unsolved rape case.
The phony DUI-to-murder bait-and-switch may have made for good TV drama, but it was quite unrealistic.
Jeffrey's initial DUI-related arrest seems to have been unconstitutional because the officers didn't have reasonable suspicion when they stopped him: He was neither speeding nor driving erratically.
Sure, the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Maryland v. King upheld the constitutionality of warrantless DNA swabs upon a valid arrest. But in Jeffrey's case, the DUI arrest wasn't supported by probable clause, which means the DNA was gathered illegally and should have been thrown out.
"The Next Week" (very loosely) explores the right to a speedy trial and the period between being arrested and being charged. For suspects who are in custody, speedy trial laws typically require prosecutors to file charges, if at all, within 72 hours of arrest. Some jurisdictions require prosecutors to charge a suspect even sooner. Here, Pine was given Illinois' 48-hour timeframe to file charges.
Though the tight timeframe Pine was given to charge Jeffrey was a perfect vehicle to heighten the drama, the holding period portrayed in the show was actually spot on. In large part, it was about how long Jeffrey could be held for without a charge. Such time limits apply to how long you can be held without charge, but it doesn't necessarily affect the prosecutor's ability to bring charges later on.
Writ of habeas corpus. Judge Politi issued a writ of habeas corpus -- a court order instructing the police to bring Jeffrey before the court so Politi could decide whether Jeffrey was being held lawfully.
This episode was low on legal finesse, but it was a fun topical joyride in criminal law.
What did you think of this week's episode of "The Good Wife"? Is the show guilty of making any legal mistakes? Check back here for more legal recaps of "The Good Wife," and send us a tweet at @FindLawConsumer with the hashtag #TheGoodWife.
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