THE FILM LAW ABIDING CITIZEN: HOW POPULAR CULTURE IS POISONING PEOPLE’S PERCEPTIONS OF PLEAS

Topics: Television, Popular culture, Culture Pages: 47 (12842 words) Published: February 18, 2014
3.SALZMANN.MACRO.10.10.2011 (DO NOT DELETE)

1/12/2012 9:14 PM

THE FILM LAW ABIDING CITIZEN: HOW
POPULAR CULTURE IS POISONING
PEOPLE’S PERCEPTIONS OF PLEAS
Victoria S. Salzmann*
TABLE OF CONTENTS
I.INTRODUCTION .......................................................................................... 119 II.THE REALITIES OF PLEAS ........................................................................... 122 A. Positive Aspects of Plea Systems ................................................... 122 B. Perceived Problems with Pleas ..................................................... 124 C. Lay-person Perspective of the Justice System ................................. 124 III.HOW POPULAR CULTURE CHANGES PERCEPTION ........................................ 126 IV.THE FILM ................................................................................................ 137 V.WHY LAWYERS SHOULD SEE LAW ABIDING CITIZEN ..................................... 141 VI.HOW THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM SHOULD RESPOND ............................ 145

I.

INTRODUCTION

What would you do if a ruthless killer broke into your home and killed your family right before your eyes, then bargained with the prosecutor to receive only three years punishment in exchange for testifying against his innocent accomplice? Would you accept this chain of events as a just system of punishment, or would you “go rogue” and mete out your own justice, killing the defendants and even the members of the criminal system who encouraged the practice? This scenario is the plot of the blockbuster movie, Law Abiding Citizen, which stars Gerard Butler as the hero/vigilante avenging his family’s heinous murder and Jamie Foxx as the repentant *Professor and Dean of Teaching and Learning, Phoenix School of Law. J.D., Baylor University School of Law, 1999; M.S. in Environmental Biology, Baylor University, 1996; B.S. in Biology/Environmental Studies, Baylor University, 1994. The author would like to thank her research assistant, Alejandro Perez, for his time and energy. She would also like to thank her husband, Dennis, for his never-ending support and encouragement.

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S OU TH WE S TE R N LA W R E V I E W

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prosecutor who eventually secures justice and enlightenment through Butler’s actions. 1 The film, though shocking in its violence, serves two purposes for legal analysis. First, the movie may be a case of art imitating life, in which the plot is a hyperbole that reflects how society already views the criminal justice system. In contrast, popular-culture legal-realists may argue the opposite and see the film as one piece of the popular-culture machine that is shaping society’s view of the law. In short, perhaps this film is the art that life will eventually imitate. This Article will explore those two theories as they relate to the movie’s primary plot— dissatisfaction with the criminal justice plea system and argue how such portrayals influence public perceptions of plea agreements.

Popular portrayals of attorneys, such as those in films like To Kill a Mockingbird 2 or The Devil’s Advocate, 3 or in television shows like Law & Order 4 or The Practice, 5 are not a new entertainment genre. But the “popular culture legal realists movement”—a body of scholarship examining the symbiotic relationship between popular culture and the law—recognizes that popular culture portrayals of the legal system are more than mere entertainment.6 They reflect actual perceptions about what the legal system is and, in turn, influence those perceptions: Those who write in this field believe that the public learns most of what it thinks about law, lawyers and the legal system from the works of popular legal culture. They believe that information or misinformation gleaned from popular culture has a significant impact on “law” in the legal realist sense: what judges, jurors, attorneys,...
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