10 Controversial Law & Order Cases Won By A Smart Closing Argument

Law & Order featured a few controversial episodes that were solved by both great detective work as well as impressive closing arguments.

Law & Order has remained a genre-defining police and legal procedural drama for almost 25 years. However, it has attracted just as much controversy as it has praise in that time, usually due to the often gruesome details of the cases featured. However, many of the cases are also inspired by real-life events, so Law & Order has had to learn to toe the line.

10“Fluency” Sees Jack McCoy Take A Stand For Society

Law & Order, Season 15, Episode 14

In “Fluency,” attorney Jack McCoy faces off against fraudulent businessman Elliot Peters, who has killed over a dozen people by selling them fake flu shots. Drawing on the classic crime film The Third Man, McCoy is able to convince the jury to convict on all charges. However, his true success comes from how he persuades the judge during sentencing.

Each of the 16 convictions of manslaughter carries a 15-year prison sentence, which McCoy doesn’t feel is enough. He argues for consecutive sentencing for a total of 240 years in prison. While the defense argues that all the sales were part of the same scheme, McCoy convinces the judge that each sale was a distinct event worthy of punishment, who agrees that only 15 years would be letting Peters off easy.

9Erotic Fantasy Becomes A Dark Reality In “Twenty-Five Acts”

Law & Order: SVU, Season 14, Episode 3

Jocelyn Paley, riding high on the success of her 50 Shades of Grey-esque erotic novel, accuses famous talk show host Adam Cain of sexual assault. Her reputation is weaponized against her, with Cain claiming she had wanted and enjoyed his violent behavior. While this is untrue, the SVU discovers that Paley is lying about something else: she didn’t actually write her book.

The fact that her entire public life is a lie isn’t exactly endearing to a jury, and so ADA Rafael Barba in his debut appearance provokes Cain into demonstrating just how violent he is while cross-examining him. Challenging him to demonstrate how someone could enjoy the level of pain Cain inflicted on Paley, Cain chokes Barba with his belt, showing his violent tendencies, and that he enjoyed doling out pain. Thanks to Barba tearing down Cain’s facade, the jury found him guilty, and Paley was free to live her true life.

8“Transgender Bridge” Remains Tragically Poignant After Nearly A Decade

Law & Order: SVU, Season 17, Episode 3

Law & Order: SVU often deals with serious subjects, especially pertaining to women. These episodes, directed by women, are some of the best.

When a group of high-school bullies is caught on video harassing 15-year-old Avery Parker, a transgender woman, they cause her to accidentally fall off a bridge. The DA seeks to prosecute Darius, the one who instigated the event, as an adult. They intend to set an example that will stem the growing tide of hate crimes against trans children in New York.

The SVU squad is sympathetic to both, especially after it is revealed Darius didn’t want to actually hurt her, and that he was motivated by peer pressure. In the end, the ADA’s arguments outweigh Darius’s testimony, and he is found guilty of manslaughter. In a way, Darius is also a victim himself. Victim to a combination of omnipresent homophobia and transphobia in American society and an underdeveloped mind acting on those false ideas; a situation that has led to the assault and deaths of more and more trans children across the world.

7A Dangerous Precedent Is Prevented In “Deadlock”

Law & Order, Season 17, Episode 9

This Season 14 episode of Law & Order: SVU shows viewers why the stories that SVU has been telling for nearly 25 years continue to matter so much.

This episode initially appears to be about the escape and subsequent killing spree of prisoner Leon Vorgitch, but it quickly becomes a referendum on the death penalty. Though outlawed in New York, Vorgitch claims the state has no leverage on him, and nothing will stop him from escaping and killing again. While Jack McCoy initially seeks a workaround to sentence Vorgitch to death, the case is complicated when the father of one of his victims kills Vorgitch outside the court.

McCoy realizes that a senator, and the killer’s lawyer, is campaigning on reinstating the death penalty and that she let Vorgitch die to force the issue and generate press. Though the father pleads temporary insanity and argues that Vorgitch himself planned to escape again, McCoy convinces the jury that if the state doesn’t have the right to end a life, the father doesn’t either. He is convicted but cooperates with McCoy to help indict the corrupt senator.

6The Truth Is Called Into Question In “Repression”

Law & Order: SVU, Season 3, Episode 1

While sometimes controversial, these episodes also feature some of the best detective work and legal arguments in the series. The complex morality and potential ramifications of the outcome of their cases push the cast of Law & Order beyond their comfort zones, leading them to grow as characters as well as shine in the courtroom.

When a young girl comes to the SVU claiming her father sexually assaulted her, repressed memories of abuse uncovered in therapy become crucial pieces of evidence. The squad discovers the web of lies and resentment that pervades the girl’s family, especially her wealthy parents. Things become even more complicated when evidence begins to suggest the father is being framed, and he later turns up dead.

Thanks to the squad’s diligent work, however, the truth eventually comes out on the stand. The father’s death was an accident and he shot himself during a confrontation with his children. Furthermore, they realize that the therapist has been using faulty methods to create memories of abuse, not to uncover them.

5“Virtue” Brings The Rich And Powerful To Heel

Law & Order, Season 5, Episode 14

One of the best episodes in one of the best seasons of Law & Order, “Virtue” focuses on a member of the city council accused of sexually assaulting one of his workers, exposing his history of predatory behavior. McCoy decides to prosecute on an earlier case, back when councilman Talbert was still working in a law firm and discovers that he had coerced one of his coworkers into sex by threatening to end her career.

McCoy uses his position as ADA as an example to the jury of how easy it can be for someone in power to manipulate and take advantage of others. He argues that the position itself doesn’t matter as much as the power does. The jury is convinced and finds Talbert guilty.

4“Sunday In The Park With Jorge” Demonstrates Just How Complicated Justice Can Be

Law & Order, Season 11, Episode 11

Jack McCoy and Ed Green on the scene with a hispanic witness

When a woman is found murdered in the aftermath of a riot that broke out during a Puerto Rican Pride celebration, the police are under intense pressure to find the killer, and fast. Though this might seem like a racial profiling incident waiting to happen, the evidence seems to point to Seth, the vice president of a wealthy company. He murdered the girl to prevent the company’s value from being devastated by her divorce from the CEO.

However, the mayor’s office gets its wish of persecuting the mob granted when it is revealed that Seth left the area before the woman’s death, and the killer is actual Brazilian man Nestor Salazar. Though Salazar does confess to the crime, he claimed his actions were incited by peer pressure, and that he never wanted to kill her, just to be intimidating. However, thanks to McCoy, he is still charged with manslaughter and convicted by the jury.

3Stabler Overcomes Both The Burdens Of Proof And His Own Bias In “Ridicule”

Law & Order: SVU, Season 3, Episode 10

Melinda Warner demonstrates on Elliot Stabler how the victim might have been strangled

This episode touches on the stigma that many male victims of sexual assault face. When a male stripper claims he was sexually assaulted by a group of women, at first Stabler doesn’t believe him. However, with assistance from the resident genius Dr. Melinda Warner, Stabler and Benson are able to piece the truth together.

It is revealed that one of the women murdered her friend and tried to make it look like an accident when she found out she was going to confess. ADA Cabot is able to get the women convicted of assault by putting them on the stand While the jury acquits them of some of the charges, Stabler’s evidence allows for an immediate arrest on the murder charges which convinces the women to be more forthcoming.

2“Forty-One Witnesses” Is Evocative Of An Infamously Chilling Case

Law & Order: SVU, Season 17, Episode 13

Inspired by the real-life case of Kitty Genovese, this episode sees the SVU squad trying to prosecute on behalf of a woman who was assaulted in her apartment’s courtyard. Despite dozens of her neighbors hearing or seeing something, no one called the police, and none could identify the suspects and clearly saw what happened except for Doug Nelson, who was drunk at the time.

Fan-favorite ADA Rafael Barba shines in this episode when Counselor Henderson calls the credibility of Nelson’s testimony into question. Barba sways the jury when Nelson reveals he got drunk out of shame for not helping the victim and demonstrates that his memory is flawless, even when drunk in the courtroom. This results in a conviction for all the attackers.

1Jack McCoy Fights For More Than Just Justice In “Hate”

Law & Order, Season 9, Episode 10

A still image of Jack McCoy from Law & Order as he prepares to prosecute a hate crime

One of the most important cases of free speech in American history is tested to the limit in this episode, a perfect example of what makes Law & Order one of the best TV dramas of all time. After teenager Christina Osborne is murdered, McCoy seeks to prosecute not just the teens who murdered her, but the adult white supremacists whose hateful speech inspired their violent actions and beliefs.

Although McCoy acknowledges that the First Amendment protects all speech, even bigoted speech, the one major exception is hate speech that incites imminent lawless actions. McCoy convinces both the judge and the jury that the racist speech was inciting, not persuasive, and thus not protected by freedom of speech.

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