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Top 5 Legal Lies from 'HTGAWM' S1 E12 ('She's a Murderer')

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By Mark Wilson, Esq. on February 13, 2015 10:55 AM

Well, that didn't take long: Sam's body turned up in the landfill, and now Hannah is on a quest to get everyone to think Annalise killed him (which they do). The investigation puts everyone a little on edge.

In the meantime, the gang has to defend a client who's accused of hiding drugs in a shipping container. Let's just say you shouldn't learn your Fourth Amendment law from this episode.

#HTGAWM Recap in 140 Characters: Everyone's getting a search warrant. And having a breakdown. (What happened to Rudy?) You can always frame Lahey! Annalise needs her mama.

1. It's a conflict of interest for Annalise to represent herself at a search warrant hearing.

Putting aside the other legal lie that applications for search warrants are hearings held in open court (they're not), Annalise can completely represent herself. It's not a "conflict of interest" for a lawyer to represent herself; it's just generally not a good idea. A lawyer who represents herself can't be as objective about the situation as another lawyer, which is why even lawyers who are accused of crimes hire their own lawyers.

2. The search of the shipping container is somehow illegal because the police used a confidential informant.

We're not really sure what the big deal is about using a confidential informant (CI). Police use them all the time, and the U.S. Supreme Court has affirmed multiple times that police can rely on the observations of ordinary citizens -- even criminals -- in formulating probable cause for searches and arrests, so long as police corroborate what they say first.

3. The feds need a really good reason to search the shipping container.

Thanks to the statement of the CI, police and the feds know to search a particular shipping container for drugs. This upsets Annalise and the gang, but it really shouldn't. Information from CIs can be used to formulate probable cause for a search. Plus, there's no reasonable expectation of privacy in shipping containers while they're at port. It's been the law since the 18th century that customs officials can search ships and their containers for any reason, so long as they have reason to believe the ships contain goods subject to an import tax.

4. It's "entrapment" because police didn't weigh the container before they searched it.

"Entrapment" is only mentioned once, but it's worth discussing, because entrapment is almost never a viable argument, even though it comes up in lawyer shows all the time. A defendant claiming entrapment would have to argue that the police made him do something he wouldn't otherwise do. Contrary to popular belief, police do not have to tell you they're police, and pretending to, for example, be a drug dealer in order to facilitate a drug deal is not entrapment. It's not a magic phrase. It just isn't.

5. It's illegal for the DA to promise the witness a green card.

It turns out that the District Attorney promised the CI a green card in exchange for his testimony. This revelation is the show's climax, and appears to be very scandalous and possibly illegal, but in reality, it's completely legal and totally common.

A special kind of visa -- called an "S" visa -- is available for aliens who assist law enforcement as a witness or informant. It's not correct for the DA to promise a green card, as such, but he could certainly request an S visa for the informant, which would then lead to a green card. The more confusing legal lie here: Why is a state district attorney prosecuting a federal case? The state attorney doesn't have the authority to prosecute violations of federal law.

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