L&O v. Reality

Let’s face it: you’re in law school, which means that it’s almost certain that you’ve seen Law and Order. You may have even heard your pet howl at the sound of the theme song. And you’re aware by now that, while great TV, L&O may not accurately represent every aspect of the legal system. But you lack cold, hard data to back that up.

Well, now you have some. Back in May, the website Overthinking It asked its readers to complete a short survey every time they watched an episode of Law & Order. In February, it was announced that they had information on every episode from the first ten seasons. If you compare that with information from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, like Felony Sentences in State Courts, you can see some of the differences. In real life, 94% of felony cases end in a guilty plea; on Law & Order, only 36.7% end in a plea bargain.

The data compiled by Overthinking It is limited to the outcome of the trial and doesn’t include, for example, the percentage of trials before a jury (in real life, only 4% of felony cases are tried before a jury), or information on sentencing. If you want to compile that information for yourself, or check any of Overthinking It’s data, check out our Leisure Collection – we have nine seasons of Law & Order on DVD (i.e., all of the seasons currently released on DVD).

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