EvidenceProf Blog

Editor: Colin Miller
Univ. of South Carolina School of Law

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Motion to Reopen: Musings on "The Good Wife" Finale

The final episode of "The Good Wife" aired on Sunday night. I rank the show as the best legal TV series of all time, with the Michelle and Robert King production getting a slight nod over various iterations of the "Law & Order" franchise. As with "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," the show might have ended stronger after five seasons and a climactic death (Buffy/Will Gardner). But, in both cases, there was a lot to like about their sixth and seventh season denouements (e.g., "Once More, with Feeling;" bond court).

Good Wife

Continuing this theme, Sunday night's finale was almost a coda, with Alicia scrambling to find precedent to reopen her husband's corruption trial and receiving counsel from her deceased former colleague.

In "The Good Wife," the personal always was the professional, and its finale featured Alicia achieving Pyrrhic victories in both realms. It would be easy to read the finale as a parabolic tragedy in the vein of "Infinite Jest" or "Gravity's Rainbow," with Alicia standing by her scandal-ridden husband once more, this time receiving a slap instead of giving one, the victim having become the victimizer. Indeed, according to Robert King,

"The story of Alicia is a bit of a tragedy. To be honest with the character she was moving in a direction where there wasn’t much room between who she was and who her husband was."

I actually think Alicia's arc more closely paralleled the arc of Will Gardner, with her drive to win at all costs clouding but not blinding her ethical compass. The difference is that Will's mistake was fatal while the finale leaves Alicia with a chance to recalibrate. She doesn't have a clean slate, but she now has the clarity to plant her own decision trees. Like Dorothy in "The Wizard of Oz," she might have started where she finished, but her eyes are now wide open.

There are obvious parallels between Alicia's personal life and her court case in the finale. As with much of "The Good Wife," the Kings got a good deal of the law right, but with a possible important clarification. After both sides have rested at the Peter Florrick trial, the defense tries to reopen its case, with Will reminding Alicia of the angelic precedent of United States v. Nunez, which they learned in their Criminal Procedure class at Georgetown.

Now, it's possible that the Kings picked this name out of a bag, but there actually is a significant Nunez case that speaks directly to the issue of a party reopening a case after it has rested. That case is United States v. Nunez, 432 F.3d 573 (4th Cir. 2005). In Nunez, Jenny Nunez and Carlos Nunez were convicted of various drug-related offenses. At trial,

After jury deliberations had begun in the trial, the jury sent a note to the court advising it was unable to locate the Report of Jenny's interview. Although the Report had not been introduced into evidence, it had been referred to during the testimony of Agent Negron and Jenny Nunez. Upon prompting by the district court, the government then moved to reopen the evidence to allow belated admission of the previously-excluded Report. Because “[e]xtensive use of [the Report] was made throughout the examination,” the district court noted that it “would have let it go to the jury had [the government] requested.”...Accordingly, the district court ruled that it would “re-open the evidence and let it in.”...The Report summarizing the interview of Jenny was then submitted to the jury in its original unredacted form without affording either Jenny or Carlos an opportunity to present additional testimony or argument. Both appellants objected to the belated admission of this evidence and moved for a mistrial, which was denied.

The Fourth Circuit later reversed these convictions, concluding that

1. the government...presented no “reasonable explanation” for its failure to timely seek introduction of the Report as substantive evidence during the trial, stating only that it made no effort to introduce the Report as evidence during the appellants' case or on rebuttal given that the district court had already ruled it inadmissible.

2. even if relevant and helpful to the jury in ascertaining the guilt or innocence of the Nunezes, the evidence was not “admissible” or “technically adequate” when presented.

3. the district court's decision to reopen the evidence to admit the Report after the jury had retired for deliberations and in response to the jury's request infused the evidence with distorted importance, prejudiced the appellants' case, and denied the appellants a fair opportunity to respond to the additional evidence.

In other words, in law, as in life, there are rarely second chances. And, as "The Good Wife" finale, there's no guarantee that a second chance will produce a different or better result. But, if a person has learned from their past, there's no telling what the future might bring.



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Just one small correction: The sixth season of Buffy was the best one. When Buffy came back she was no longer "invincible." She had to get a job. What does a superhero do to pay the mortgage? Seriously, watch it again. I know you'll change your mind. ;)

Posted by: Eric | May 11, 2016 8:57:48 AM

Looking for a replacement of GW!! I never watched much of law and order when it originally aired, it was on late and I was in bed. Now retired, I can binge watch it for hours! Catching has been stars and upcoming stars as killers or witnesses is part of the fun

Posted by: Linnette Garber | May 12, 2016 6:17:33 AM

I've been a Good Wife fan from the start, and it truly was an amazing show (though without Will, and later Kalinda, I felt it lost some of its punch). A very succinct analysis of the finale. At first I was disappointed with the lack of closure, but upon reflection (which the show always made you do) it was a great way to bring everything back full circle...and yet in an entirely new light. Discovered your blog via Undisclosed, and I can't wait to read more!

Posted by: Nicole | May 12, 2016 5:06:13 PM

Variety today reported that a spin-off with Christine Baranski is being considered by CBS for its All Access channel.

Posted by: R. Cruz | May 13, 2016 1:53:48 PM

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