Let me begin by saying that I am not a lawyer. I am, in fact, the very worst kind of nonlawyer: I watch a lot of crime procedurals, like The Good Fight and the Trump presidency, and therefore I consider myself to have a pretty good idea of how the legal system is supposed to work. For example: I am really very certain that when you hire a lawyer to defend you in a criminal case, they are supposed to, you know, try to defend you. Get you off the hook! Get your sentence reduced! And so on.
So I have been a loyal follower of Criminal, Netflix’s two-season anthology about, yes, criminals, or at least suspected ones. And here is my main conclusion: Every single lawyer on the show should be fired and possibly barred from the profession for life.
Criminal takes a case-of-the-week approach, with each episode centered around an interrogation—generally of a suspect or witness—at a police station in London. (The series is actually international: Technically, the English-language version is Criminal: UK, which was released in conjunction with Criminal: France, Criminal: Spain, and Criminal: Germany. All share the same format as well as the same set, and while I can vouch only for the U.K. edition, I doubt the abogados do much better in Madrid.) The entirety of the show takes place within the confines of that station—specifically, the station’s interview room, an observation area that looks into the interview room through a two-way mirror, and the lobby and hallway that lead to those rooms. It’s a tight setup, with everything we know about a given case emerging from the police interrogation. The monster-of-the-week construct also means that each crime is wrapped up by the episode’s end—which, more often than not, means that the person being interrogated will end up confessing to the whole damn thing.
The United Kingdom’s criminal justice system is not the same as the United States’, but it shares the same fundamentals. In most episodes, the progressively guilty-seeming interrogatee eventually summons a defense attorney—that is, a solicitor. As is the case here in the ex-colonies, there is a presumption of innocence pending a trial with a jury, and it is a solicitor’s job to help their client hew to the innocence part of it all.
This is not what happens on Criminal.
Many of the solicitors begin well, gamely insisting on their clients’ rights (to breaks, to having a solicitor in the first place), reminding the clients that they’re under no obligation to speak, and badgering detectives for attempting to spook their clients into a confession. When one detective tells a suspect accused of murder—played by no less than David Tennant, one of Criminal’s many great guest criminals—that the jury he is bound to face will judge him by his lack of cooperation, his solicitor fires back that the detective is bluffing. “They say they don’t bluff, but that’s just part of the bluff,” she snaps. They rebuff, they parry, they cast doubt on their clients having been brought in for questioning in the first place:
One episode follows the wife (Sophie Okonedo) of a recently convicted murderer, who is brought in to corroborate her husband’s shaky alibi around a second possible case. In an initial conversation, she manages, inevitably, to turn herself into the primary suspect for both murders. When she returns for a second conversation, she has a solicitor by her side.
Said solicitor starts off strong, pointing out that whatever self-incrimination may have taken place the day before might not be admissible. “You must be certain you know what you’re doing here, positive that what was said yesterday can be used in court and that it doesn’t undermine what gets said in here today,” she says, “because if it does, you watch me—I’ll take it and I’ll use it to make this whole thing go away.”
Then the interrogation continues. Things are looking good for the suspicious wife: The evidence is shifty, and that initial self-incrimination is highly suspect. But then comes the moment that happens in nearly every episode of Criminal: The suspect takes a deep breath and launches into what is doubtless going to be a full confession. And as happens in virtually every episode, her solicitor chooses this moment to pipe down and sigh.
This is the way criminal defense works on Criminal. The solicitor is there. Perhaps the solicitor even makes a show of defending their client. But then the client, who would almost certainly walk away from it all if they remained silent, decides to confess, and their solicitor just sits there like, Damn, that’s crazy.
Damn, that’s crazy:
Damn, that’s crazy:
Damn! This will be crazy!
In the end, justice tends to prevail: Those wily detectives get their guy or gal. But as for all those criminals—well, they might want to consider new representation once they make it to court.