Discuss as:

Important legal lessons learned from crime-time TV

David Giesbrecht / NBC

Det. Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay) questions Capt. Don Cragen (Dann Florek) as her boss finds himself on the wrong side of the law in the season premiere of "SVU."

We all hope we'll never be involved in the sort of crimes the fine folks from the various incarnations of "Law & Order" have found themselves in time and time again over the years. But in the off chance we do end up sitting at a police precinct desperately trying to remember our alibies (or desperately trying to pry the truth from the perp du jour -- depending on which side of the thin blue line we find ourselves on), there's a lot we can learn from the TV legal system.

And with "Special Victims Unit" kicking off its 14th season on Sept. 26, what better time than now to review the lessons we've learned from the popular procedural and others like it?

Lessons for regular folks:

  • Never trust your landlord.
    Your landlord isn't just the person collecting your rent each month and ignoring your complaints about the air conditioning. He's also the guy who's going to completely sell you out once the cops stop by. In the land of the "Law & Order" franchises, landlords are only too happy to reveal every relevant and irrelevant tale about your life. And in more than a couple episodes, they were the ones who took their tenants' lives.
  • Drink nothing! Eat nothing!
    Once you're at the precinct, if detectives offers you a stick of gum, then dollars to doughnuts, they're going to dig through the trash can later (or scrape it from the underside of the table you stick it to) and send that gooey sample to the lab for some DNA-retrieving magic. Just tough out the hunger pangs for a few more hours. But if you must drink, take that aluminum can or paper cup with you! (Watch out if they offer you a beverage in a mug. It might be tough to walk out of the precinct, mug in hand, without getting slapped with a theft charge on top of whatever it is you're already facing.)
  • Don't touch the detective.
    Maybe you're feeling particularly punchy. Maybe you think, "I could take that detective in a fair fight." No, just no. No matter how frustrated (or even overly friendly) you may be, it's never OK to lay a hand on the officer standing before you. It only leads to regret and arrest.
  • Keep your mouth shut.
    Yes, the police can be intimidating and mean (Hellooooo, dearly missed Det. Stabler!), but remember you have the right to remain silent no matter how much they badger you.  (Side note: Remember whether the arresting officer read you your Miranda rights. It may come in handy if they don't.) Keep those lips sealed beyond asking for legal representation. Anything you say can and will be used against you later in the episode ...  er, in the court of law.
  • Listen to your lawyer.
    If you were clever enough to ask for a lawyer in the first place, then listen to said lawyer -- even if the lawyer's advice seems like little more than the aforementioned "keep your mouth shut." Nothing doomed more suspects on any prime-time police procedural that the words they uttered after their lawyers said, "Don't answer that."

Lessons for law enforcement:

  • Respect the crime scene!
    Didn't they teach this in police academy or day one on the force? Crime scenes are special places chock-full of prints, hair, fibers and tiny, random deposits of DNA, so it's best to tread lightly and not add your own DNA to the mix. We've lost count of the number of times detectives have put their ungloved hands all over evidence. 
  • They're called partners for a reason.
    Bad things happen to good partners when they hit the pavement solo, so don't let them do it. Oh, sure, it's fine if they want to do a little research or visit the lab. But if they're actually meeting up with perps or faithfully following killers' footsteps, follow the advice ever kindergartener already knows -- stick close to your buddy.
  • If you want a suspect to talk, get up close and personal.
    Yes, thanks to the intimate interrogations stylings of "Law & Order: SVU's" Det. Stabler and "L & O: Criminal Intent's" Det. Goren, it's clear that when someone doesn't want to spill the murderous beans, all you have to do is get your face near the suspect's face. Criminals have no defense for that classic maneuver.

  • But don't get too personal.
    This is one of those lessons best learned by watching what not to do. Whenever a good cop gets a little too involved with a sympathetic victim, things go bad fast. When a case hits too close to home, procedure flies out the window, and rookie mistakes are the order of the day.

"Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" returns with back-to-back episodes on Wednesday at 9 p.m. on NBC.

What's the best lesson you've ever learned from procedural crime dramas? Tell us on our Facebook page.


Related content: