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Top 5 Legal Lies From 'HTGAWM' S1 E6 ('Freakin' Whack-a-Mole')

By Brett Snider, Esq. on October 31, 2014 11:46 AM

"How To Get Away With Murder" keeps ramping up the intensity, but is it losing touch with that other thing... you know... the law? We'll run down the top five flat-out legal lies in Episode 6, "Freakin' Whack-a-Mole," but first: a tweetable recap for anyone who missed the latest installment.

#HTGAWM in 140 Characters: Wes extorts Annalise to help drug girl. Death penalty habeas appeal. Asher gets trophy by selling out judge dad and sleeps w/ frosty Bonnie.

And while Viola Davis really can't be wrong in her dramatic scenelets, here are some of the legal loose ends:

1. He Was Convicted With Only Circumstantial Evidence.

Ah circumstantial evidence, the go-to for just about any TV criminal defense attorney worth his or her salt. Compared to direct evidence, circumstantial evidence refers to evidence which more indirectly tends to prove an issue of fact, drawing from the circumstances or events surrounding the crime. Circumstantial evidence is still evidence, and juries do not have to weigh it any less than other evidence.

2. After a Habeas Petition, It's a Race Against the Clock.

Since this episode was centered around a petition for habeas corpus, it was a bit dishonest for Annalise to tell the Keating Five that they only had two weeks to win the case. Not only does a death row inmate get a chance to pursue a habeas appeal in both state and federal courts, but once the petition is submitted, the court typically allows more than a month for each party to prepare their arguments.

3. The Client Is Present for Appeal.

Defendants have a right to be present for their trial, but rarely are they present for their appeals. Courts may allow it, but clients are not entitled to it, so Annalise must have pulled some strings.

4. An Appeal Is Like a Trial.

Criminal appeals, even ones for habeas relief, are not like trials. Witnesses are typically not examined, objections don't go flying, and the courtroom doesn't turn into an episode of "Matlock." It's generally just attorneys presenting legal arguments based on past caselaw, on paper and then in oral arguments. Boring, but true.

5. A 'Win' in an Appeal Means Your Client Is Set Free.

The court's ruling at the end of this "HTGAWM" episode was short and confusing. Yes, it was great to see an innocent man go to an Annalise-sponsored freedom dinner, but the court really just would have remanded the case for a retrial -- which would still be a "win" for the defense.

Check back here next week as we take on more of the legal fibbery in "HTGAWM" Episode 7, "He Deserved to Die."

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