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Top 5 Legal Lies From 'HTGAWM' S1 E13 ('Mama's Here Now')

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By Mark Wilson, Esq. on February 20, 2015 11:14 AM

What happened on "How To Get Away With Murder" this week? Detective Lahey is in jail, thanks to some scheming by Annalise and Frank. As Wes delves deeper into the mystery of Rudy Walters, it's becoming clear that Lila's murder isn't so clear-cut after all.

In addition, the arrival of Annalise's mother opens up some old wounds and lets us know where Annalise gets her vengeful streak.

#HTGAWM in 140 Characters: Bonnie's in the big chair this week. Rudy isn't so crazy after all. Has Rebecca been playing us this whole time? Don't mess with Mama.

1. 'Slanderous allegations' in Court.

Twice during this episode, someone brings up "slander" in relation to statements made in court, suggesting that if someone accuses someone else of a crime in court, the accuser can be liable for defamation. That's a pretty weak threat, though. Statements made during court proceedings, or in court filings, are privileged from defamation suits. This only makes sense: We want people to speak freely in court without fear that they're going to get sued for defamation later on.

2. The Hospital Wants Charges Dropped.

There's quite a bit of confusion in this episode over which party is which. Because this is a criminal proceeding, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (the state) is on one side, and the defendant (the nurse) is on the other. Despite what was depicted in the episode, the alleged victim wouldn't be present at the prosecution's table, and indeed, victims aren't really part of the criminal process, except when it comes to restitution (more on that later).

As we've pointed out before, "pressing charges" today is just an invention of television. Victims generally don't have a say in whether charges get filed unless they're really the only evidence the state has and they refuse to cooperate.

3. Rape Shield Laws Prevent Introducing the Victim's Sexual Orientation.

The show's writers are apparently confused about what a "rape shield" law is. It prevents the defense from introducing evidence of the victim's prior sexual history in order to prove that the victim consented on this occasion, with this defendant. (Remember that rape must be nonconsensual, meaning consent would negate one of the elements of the offense.) The purpose of these laws is to prevent the (often female) victim's sexual history from being put on trial. The victim's sexual orientation is irrelevant.

4. The Court Can Order $500,000 in Restitution.

That's an outrageous amount of money. "Restitution" is designed to compensate the victim of a crime for losses incurred by that crime. The court can order a defendant to pay the victim back for property losses or medical bills. A restitution fine is levied by the state.

We don't know if the victim suffered any injury; there was the bruised testicle, but $500,000 seems like a lot for that alone. And if the $500,000 was a restitution fine, that seems way out of line: A state restitution fine for a felony might be thousands of dollars, but not hundreds of thousands.

5. The Victim Lying About Being Gay Shows He's Not Credible.

This isn't so much a "legal lie" as it is "terrible strategy." Sure, if the victim lied about being gay, that would tend to impeach the victim's credibility (if he lied about one thing, he might be lying about other things).

On the other hand, if the victim were gay, wouldn't that create an even stronger inference that the sex between him and the nurse wasn't consensual? Bonnie may have won the battle, but this move would have lost her the war.

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