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Law & Order (TV Series 1990–2010) Poster

(1990–2010)

Goofs

Audio/visual unsynchronised 

In several episodes, Curtis draws his weapon (a Glock semiautomatic) and we hear the hammer being cocked. This type of gun does not have an external hammer and can only be fired in double action.
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Character error 

In more than one episode, characters refer to the District Attorneys of various New Jersey counties. New Jersey has County Prosecutors, not District Attorneys. However, this error is very common.
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Continuity 

The earliest episodes use many different numbers for the precinct occupied by the main police characters, before eventually settling on the 27th Precinct (or the "two-seven" as it is usually called) for the rest of the series.
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Factual errors 

In a few episodes of the series the senior detective (usually Lenny Briscoe) will approach a drug dealer whom he knows will have information valuable to the case, but the dealer will usually play dumb so the detective and his partner will frisk the dealer and find drugs, the cuffs come out and the dealer will spill his guts. This action is called the squeeze and the way it's done is illegal. The proper procedure is that after finding the drugs the police are meant to arrest the dealer and bring him to the D.A.'s office for a plea-for-information deal. As only the D.A.s have the authority to put the squeeze on as they will need proof of evidence in case the dealer's testimony is needed in a court of law.
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Throughout the series, the detectives (or the Crime Scene Unit Forensic Technicians) are able to ID a bullet caliber from the wound size. In reality this is impossible. A 9mm, .38, .40 and even a .45 all make wounds that are indistinguishable from each other on a body. The police also often look at a bullet and ID the pistol from it. While possible, this requires forensic analysis and is generally not very conclusive because the bullet is too deformed. The conformation of a particular bullet coming from a particular gun using "ballistic fingerprinting" has never resulted in a conviction.
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Throughout the series members of the New York Supreme Court (which is a trial court) are referred to as "Judge" when in reality they are referred to as "Justice". Only members of the New York Court of Appeals (the state's highest court) are called "Judge".
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In several episodes in the first season, Sgt. Greevey shows his credentials to identify himself. However, the badge in the wallet is a NYPD detective's shield which is different from a sergeant's shield.
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Number of times "ballistic fingerprinting" has been used to ID a murder weapon in New York = 0.
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In one episode of Law & Order, Judge William Wright says that he's entering a not-guilty verdict after the jury foreman reads "guilty". While he can do this using "Judgement Notwithstanding", the procedure is that the defendant's defense attorney must file a JNOV after the trial and in a set time frame.
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The detectives sometimes pick up a weapon with a handkerchief or by inserting a pencil in the barrel. In real life, the handkerchief might contaminate possible DNA evidence, and the pencil would destroy microscopic markings inside the barrel, making it difficult to match the weapon to slugs retrieved from a victim's body or a crime scene. Instead, one expert recommends holding a weapon in place with gloved fingertips and sliding a thin, stiff sheet of plastic beneath it.
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When the detectives are interviewing someone or working a crime scene, they are never seen taking notes. Real detectives are constantly taking notes. The notes are so important that they are occasionally booked into evidence to ensure the originals will be available for review before trial.
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The time-lines of trials seem to be rushed and take place within days of the crime. Most of the cases on this series are homicides, with a few rapes and kidnappings thrown in. These cases, if not plea bargained, are seldom heard in less than a year after the event.
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When witness or suspects are brought to the station and interrogated sometimes it's pretty clear they didn't want to come. If there is no probable cause for an arrest or an active arrest warrant, the police can't make you go anywhere against your will. Once in a while, a wealthy or educated person will assert this, but mostly the cops just walk up to people, put the cuffs on them, and place them in the car.
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In real life the same group of police officers working with the same group of prosecutors in one year is highly unlikely. Also the same could be said of the police and prosecutors getting through 22-24 cases per year.
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When the detectives want to "bring in" or "pick up" suspects witnesses for questioning, they are usually located instantly. That might work if they had a consistent schedule they followed faithfully every day, but few people do that. Even with the invention and advancements of GPS and smartphones in later seasons that would make it easier to locate suspects, it should not be as simple as is shown in the series. Especially as many of the people they are looking for are homeless or otherwise itinerant, and even they don't know where they will be tomorrow.
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When the Police need to arrest a medical professional, they are frequently shown barging into his/her office, exam room, or even the operating room. This would never happen in real life and is strictly forbidden, as it is a gross violation of the patient's privacy, and in the case of the OR, could contaminate the sterile environment, thereby jeopardizing patient safety as well.
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We see the detectives arrest wealthy people going about their business and when taken down to the precinct where they actually cooperate with the authorities rather than allowing their attorneys to speak on their behalf. In real life this wouldn't happen as wealthy people who aren't flight risks are allowed to surrender rather than be arrested in public and will let their attorneys do all the talking.
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The series makes it seem like the prosecutors and defense attorneys are evenly matched, which is way off. Lots of defendants can't afford a lawyer and are assigned public defenders. Public defenders can be tasked with 500 cases in a year. (And that's a conservative estimate.)
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95% of pre- or in-trial fact-finding and in-person interviews would be done by the District Attorney Investigation Unit, not the lawyers from the District Attorney's office themselves.
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In-trial pleas or deals would be extremely rare. Once the trial starts, the state would have little incentive not to go for the maximum penalty; the time and resources for the trial have already been allocated.
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On more than one occasion, a suspect has invoked his/her right to counsel and yet the officers continue to talk with them. If the suspect goes to court this will usually come back to haunt the detectives as the defendant's lawyer will throw out any statements made by their clients. However if the suspect is innocent then the police will usually get away with talking to them without a lawyer present.
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The judges are shown making procedural and legal errors that would result in any conviction being overturned on appeal. While this happens, it doesn't happen as often as it does on the show.
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We sometimes see the police go undercover during the course of an investigation, despite the fact they would have appeared in the media for other cases they have been assigned too.
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Some of the suspected criminals are shown fleeing or attempting to flee from the Police (or even during the trial itself) in a way which which will ensure that they will be caught as they try to leave on buses from The Port Authority when there are several dozen areas around the city where a bus or train can be caught that will take you out of New York City.
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Incorrectly regarded as goofs 

Though it's more common for detectives to have many cases open and working at a time, and may devote a few minutes or hours to several over the course of a single day, having them give 100% of their time and attention to a single case every week is a storytelling practicality; given the show's two-part format, a compression of time is necessary in order to fit everything into 45 minutes.
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Revealing mistakes 

During a number of episodes which portray trials which extend over a multi-day time periods, the jury is often shown wearing the same clothing as during the beginning of those trials.
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Trivia | Crazy Credits | Quotes | Alternate Versions | Connections | Soundtracks

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