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Law and Popular Culture

A Course Book (2nd Edition)


Michael Asimow and Shannon Mader

Both law and popular culture pervade our lives. Popular culture constructs our perceptions of law and changes the way that players in the legal system behave. Now in its second edition, Law and Popular Culture: A Course Book explores the interface between two subjects of enormous importance to everyone – law and popular culture.
Each chapter takes a particular legally themed film or television show, such as Philadelphia, Dead Man Walking, or Law and Order, treating it as both a cultural text and a legal text.
The new edition has been updated with new photos and includes greater emphasis on television than in the first edition because there are so many DVDs of older TV shows now available.
Law and Popular Culture is written in an accessible and engaging style, without theoretical jargon, and can serve as a basic text for undergraduates or graduate courses and be taught by anyone who enjoys pop culture and is interested in law. An instructor’s manual is available on request from the publisher and author.
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8. The Criminal Justice System: Assigned Television Show: Law & Order (Season 5, episodes 1–4)


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The Criminal Justice System

Assigned Television Show: Law & Order (Season 5, episodes 1–4)1

8.01 The U.S. criminal justice process2

This section provides explanatory material on the criminal justice process. (Law students who are already familiar with criminal procedure may wish to skip this part.)

8.01.1 Goals of the criminal process

The criminal process embodies three conflicting goals. First, the government has a monopoly on the legal use of force. We don’t want the victims of crime to engage in personal vendettas. Instead, we want the police to catch criminals and prosecutors to convict them. Second, we want to protect individuals from being convicted of crimes they did not commit. Third, we want these two goals to be realized within a framework of limited government power.

This last point is particularly important. Most of the limits on the power of police and prosecutors are contained in constitutional amendments called the Bill of Rights (see ¶9.04). Others are contained in state constitutions, federal and state statutes and rules of criminal procedure, and judicial decisions. For example, the police could uncover evidence of law-breaking if they randomly searched one home on every block, but they are not allowed to do it because of the Fourth ← 153 | 154 → Amendment’s prohibition on unreasonable search and seizure. As a society, we prefer that crime go undetected than to allow the government such arbitrary power.

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