My Cousin Vinny is a hilarious rendition of the American criminal justice system. It taps into various elements of the system as a whole. Most people probably never realize the formality that goes into actually being convicted of a crime. My Cousin Vinny explores many of the steps such as pretrial stages, key actors in the court process, and the criminal trial. There are some difference and similarities between what the movie portrayed and the actual criminal justice process which will be explored.
In the movie, My Cousin Vinny, when Bill and Stan went to Alabama, they thought they were getting pulled over because Bill stole some tuna fish. The county Sherriff pulled them over with his gun drawn. Now to me, the fact the Sheriff had his weapon pointed at the suspects stood out to me. So, at best, Bill and Stan could have been pulled over and approached with no weapons drawn and then properly searched. However the sheriff felt as though he had probable cause to pull them over. This is exactly what would be done in a typical situation if a felony or misdemeanor is believed to have been committed.
Unbeknownst to the pair, they were being pulled over for a felony, which according to our text, is “a relatively serious offense punishable by death, a fine, or confinement in a state or federal prison for more than a year. ” (Bohm and Haley, p. 35) Now, I am unsure of the proper procedures for pulling someone over when it is a felony verses something less minor like a misdemeanor. Then Bill and Stan were arrested. Now, we all know that an arrest by no means equals a conviction of a crime. The arrest appeared to be normal for most jurisdictions. Again the sheriff had probable cause to make the arrest.
However, the booking process was a bit different from the actual process. “Booking is the process in which suspects’ names, the charges for which they were arrested, and perhaps their fingerprints or photographs are entered on the police blotter. ” (Bohm and Haley, p. 285) In the movie there were no steps that were shown in the booking process. Bill and Stan went straight from a line-up to being questioned by a sheriff deputy. Typically following a booking the prosecutor would review all information to determine whether there’s enough evidence to charge the suspects with an actually crime. Bohm and Haley, p285) The booking is something that was not clearly revealed in the movie. But they were transported and went straight into questioning which is also appropriate. Bill and Stan went to a state correction facility, where according to our text, they were detained under preventative detention. The boys were allowed a phone call. Bill called his mom and explained what happened but never did he mention anything about posting bail. This is what leads me to believe they were held in prison because they were charged with murder and considered to be a threat to the community if released.
However, in Vinny’s first courtroom appearance, the arraignment took place. As our text states there is no certain order to the pretrial stages. So, based on that information the movie proved to be pretty accurate with going from the arraignment, to stating the amount of the bail, and then the preliminary hearing. To get a little more specific, the arraignment process in the movie was a bit flawed. The judge stated to the defense attorney that his clients were charged with first degree murder and asked how his clients plea.
In my understanding, the information, which outlines the formal charge or charges (Bohm and Haley, p. 13) presented by the prosecutor. I mentioned earlier about the bail being set, Vinny, the defense attorney never asked that Bill and Stan be released or to lower the bail amount which is something that would take place in a normal court proceeding. Now, let’s talk about the preliminary hearing. This hearing is when the judge determines if there’s enough probable cause to support the charge or charges imposed by the prosecutor. Preliminary hearings are used only in felony cases. Bohm and Haley, p 289) Since Bill and Stan were both charged with murder and/or accessory to murder then the preliminary trial was an accurate account of what would take place in an actual case. The judge, in the movie, actually listened to the prosecutor’s witnesses and decided there was enough probable cause to move forward to a trial. Many judges are often too busy to examine the facts of the case before making a probable cause determination as stated in our text. I have tapped slightly into some of the similarities and differences in the arrest, booking, bail, arraignment and preliminary trial.
Now, let’s take a look at the key actors in the court process. The prosecutor, the most important person in a case. The prosecutor has so much power in a criminal trial. The movie failed to portray the many roles, importance and significance of the prosecutor. According to our text, the prosecutor essentially makes the case and sets many other things into motion. The prosecutor can decide whether to charge a person with a crime and whether to prosecute the case. (Bohm and Haley, p 267) I, honestly, never realized prior to this movie and paper how much ontrol the prosecutor actually has. The prosecutor decides which cases to plea bargain. Prosecutors in many jurisdictions also have the authority, power, or responsibility of recommending the amount of bail. As I stated earlier the movie did not portray the amount of power or clout the prosecutor has when it comes to prosecuting a case, charging a person with a crime, which cases to plea bargain, and setting the amount of bail. However, the movie did bring to the forefront, what they called disclosure but our book refers to as refers to as rules of discovery. Rules of discovery mandate that a prosecutor provide defense counsel with any exculpatory evidence in the prosecutor’s possession. Exculpatory evidence is evidence that is favorable to the accused that has an effect on guilt or punishment. ” (Bohm and Haley, p 270) Again, something that prior to watching this movies and doing this paper, I was unaware that prosecutors had to provide such information. Another key actor in the court process is the defense attorney. The movie had the defense attorney, Vinny, come into play just prior to the arraignment.
The movie failed to have the defense attorney offered during the line-up or questioning, which as our text states; “defendants have the right to counsel during custodial interrogations, preliminary hearings, and police line-ups. ” (Bohm and Haley, p272) Though, during questing the sheriff did ask Bill if he was aware of his right and if he was willing to waive them. I think that he should have restated them to ensure the suspect was one hundred percent certain what he was agreeing to. I used to think that judges were the most important people when dealing with cases.
I now know this is an untrue statement. Judges do play a very vital role in court process. The movie showed the judge ensured that the visiting defense attorney would be appropriately prepared for court in Alabama by providing him with a book. The judge also did some background investigation on the defense attorney to validate criteria. He also did an excellent job maintain order in his courtroom. According to our text the judge was shown in a true depiction of an actual trial. “Black-robed judges have a variety of responsibilities in the criminal justice process.
Among their non trial duties are determining probable cause, signing warrants, informing suspects of their rights, setting and revoking bail, arraigning defendants, and accepting guilty pleas. ” (Bohm and Haley, p. 278-79) I can’t recall the judge in this movie ever informing anyone of their rights. Overall, the movie did a great job on the role of a judge. Not, to mention, the followed the characteristics of the judge to the “T”. A judge is typically a white male over the age of fifty as our book states and the movie showed. We have yet another portion of the criminal justice process to discuss that was enacted in the movie My Cousin Vinny.
Let’s start be looking into the role of the jury. The movie did have a brief moment of a jury pool or venire which is also something that actually takes place in the trial process. The movie did not get into all the specifics of who and what makes up a jury pool. The movie also had a pretty funny “voir dire, a process in which persons who might be biased or unable to render a fair verdict are screened out. During the voir dire the defense, prosecution, and judge questions the jurors about their background and knowledge of the case and defendant. ” (Bohm and Haley, p. 95) Now, in the movie there was a question that was asked but not to “weed” out the potentially unfair jurors, in my opinion. Okay, in the movie, the type of trial was a trial by jury and not a bench trial, a trial held without a jury. (Bohm and Haley, p. 293) Now, in an actual case a defendant may have either a bench trial or a trial by jury. This reminds me of another key point. A person becomes a defendant after charges are filed; a person against whom a legal action is brought, a warrant is issued, or an indictment is found. (Bohm and Haley, p. 2) A person is a suspect prior to actually having charges filed against them. A suspect is someone you believe to have committed a crime. Okay, we have the jury, the defendant and we are moving into the criminal trial. According to our text the adversaries in a criminal trial are the state, represented by the prosecutor and the defendant, represented normally by the defense counsel. (Bohm and Haley, p. 293) This was accurately displayed in the movie. Overall, the movie did a good job with its depiction of the criminal trial and a fair representation of the voir dire.
I have attempted to show the differences and similarities in the criminal justice process by examining key components. I have compared some pretrial stages to include: arrest, booking, arraignment, bail, and preliminary hearings. I then looked at the key actors in the criminal justice process to compare and/or contrast their role in the movie to the actual role in our society. The key actors are the prosecutor, the most important person, the defense attorney, and the finally the judge who keep order through the whole process both on the movie and in our justice system.
Finally, I tackled the criminal trial, to include the jury and the actual adversaries during a trial. All in all, I feel the movie did a good job depicting the criminal justice process. This paper and the movie opened my eyes to things that I was misinformed on. Bibliography Page Bohm-Haley. Introduction to Criminal Justice. McGraw-Hill. dictionary. com. (2010, January 27). Retrieved January 27, 2010, from dictionary. com: http://dictionary. reference. com/browse/media Lynn, J. (Director). (1992). My Cousin Vinny [Motion Picture].