My Cousin Vinny vs. Real Criminal Justice

My Cousin Vinny is perhaps the movie that can be closely compared to reality in the criminal justice system. The story revolves around a lawyer named Vinny and how he overcomes his incompetence as a lawyer to win a case and save his cousin and friend for being indicted for murder. Many people with legal backgrounds have come to love the art of lawyering that is being reflected in the movie because the comedy comes with a knowledge of what a lawyer must do and must not do in court. There are indeed many scenes in the film that are worth watching, but no matter how good a film is, it will never be the same as the real criminal justice system. It cannot be denied that the film mirrors pieces of actual criminal procedures being conducted during trial, but one cannot deny that no matter how realistic the courtroom drama is, the fact still remains that it is a drama and as such, there are many scenes from the movie that are different from the procedures in the real criminal justice system.

The story begins with two Italian-American boys, Bill Gambini and Stanley Rothenstein from New York University starting their journey to UCLA. They have just received their scholarships and they are on their way to the campus. They decide to take the south route and make a stop in a local store in Alabama named Sack of Suds to pick up a few snacks. Shortly after they left the store, they are arrested. They thought that they were arrested for shoplifting because one of them forgot to pay for a small can of tuna, but little do they know that they are falsely accused of murder in a small town in Alabama. They are now facing execution and the only hope they have of getting out of this mess is to hire an attorney. The problem lies in the fact that Bill and Stan do not have enough money to hire one, but the good news is that Bills cousin, Vincent Laguardia Gambini, a.k.a. Vinny, is a lawyer. However, the bad news is that Vinny is an inexperienced lawyer who passed the bar after trying for six times. He has never tried a case and he has only been practicing law for six weeks. Joe Pesci plays the role of Vincent Gambini and his fianc Mona Lisa Vito is played by Marissa Tomei. Even though Vinny and his fianc annoy the judge because of the way they dress and speak, they destroy the evidence of the prosecution and win the case.

Most movies do not get into the extremities of the trial, but this movie does. Even ten years after its release, this movie is still being presented as a guide at the conference of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers in order to teach new lawyers the finer points of what to do and what not to during the cross examinations, evidence, and trial techniques. The world famous Harvard Law professor named Arthur Miller tells his students to watch the film because this movie gets into the details of the procedures of the case unlike any other court room drama. The great thing about My Cousin Vinny is that it successfully dramatizes any scene and brings a mixture of fun and laughter into the reality inside the court room in such a way that a law school is never illustrated. The movie provides the law students and new lawyers about good and bad trial methods in a lighter atmosphere. One of the similarities that this movie has in real life is illustrated when the judge holds Vinny in contempt during the arraignment. Vinny appeared wearing a leather jacket and is held in contempt for failing to enter a proper plea for his client. The judge tells him to rise and speak in a clear and legible manner when talking to a judge (Lockwood, 2006). In reality, this same manner would also put a counsel in contempt of court. Lawyers must dress themselves in a manner that upholds the integrity of the court. Furthermore, the movie also shows that the state of Alabama has a procedure and arraignment is one of them. It only involves entering of a plea of guilty and not guilty without any commentary, argument, or opinion.

The criminal justice system is adversarial and as such, it imposes a difficult burden on the criminal defense lawyers. Lawyers have a duty to the court as well as to the clients. They have a duty to be prepared and to conduct themselves in a respectable manner before the court. They also have a duty to do everything in their capacity to try the case for their clients (American Bar Association ABA, n.d.).

The movie gives the viewers a glimpse of how tedious and complicated a trial is. Before the trial, Vinny interviews the key witnesses in order to try visualizing how they saw the crime. The three witnesses of the prosecution are one who witnessed the crime by looking through his grime-filled window a witness whose ability to estimate time is skewered by the research of Gambini on cooking grits and lastly, an old lady whose eyes have gotten more out of whack lately. The cross examination of Gambini of the several witnesses shows how one can create a confusion between the jury and the eyewitness.

The movie also illustrates the importance of preparedness during a trial. A counsel must never ask questions during cross-examinations if he does not know what the answer might be. Though funny and witty, the script gives a false notion that being a trial lawyer is indeed as easy as how Joe Pesci portrayed the character. The reactions of the judge, the jury, and the other people in the film are scripted, but in real life, these might not be the reactions that a lawyer would get. In the film, the author is always in control which is in contrast to what is happening in real life. The fate of the accused lies in the hands of the jury.

The climax of the movie comes with the destruction of the testimony of the tire expert by the expert testimony given by Vinnys girlfriend (Lynn, 1992). In the real criminal justice system, an expert witness is identified as a person who is allowed to give his or her opinion regarding these matters through special training and experience because of his or her knowledge about a technical subject matter (The Lectric Law Library, 2005). In the same way, the Alabama Rules of Evidence provides in Rule 705 that an expert may testify about his opinion or inference and give reasons even in the absence of testifying to the underlying facts unless the court requires (Alabama Rules of Evidence, 1996). In the movie My Cousin Vinny, the testimony of Giambinis fianc, Lisa Vitom, was admitted in the stand as a testimony of an expert witness, but in real life, such testimony may not be admitted by the court. The qualifications of Lisa Vito are not enough to consider her as an expert witness.

One of the most striking contrasts between reality and fiction presented here deal with the fact that the two youths were interrogated without a counsel, and in the absence of anyone telling them what their rights are. This act amounts to a grave violation of a Constitutional right of an accused as provided for in the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The law provides that in all criminal prosecutions, the accused has the right to a public and a speedy trial and an impartial jury who will hear and try the case. The law also provides that the accused has the right to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation against him (America.gov, 2008).

During the probable cause of hearing in the movie, Vinny should have objected to the admissibility of the confession on the ground that it is a fruit of the poisonous tree. Furthermore, in movies, the filmmakers are inclined to focus more on the problem of the competence or incompetence of a counsel in relation to the perception of the public. They want to highlight the fact that the defense lawyers will not be at ease in representing a guilty client rather than focusing on whether or not the client is actually guilty. This makes sense because filmmakers want to make movies based on the general acceptance of the public, and they are willing to put anything on the film as long as the public loves it. For instance, in My Cousin Vinny, the faith of the two accused teenagers was not strengthened because of their realization of their own innocence, but they are rather faced with the concept of being convicted for a heinous crime for which they are not guilty at all. Every critical part of the movie depends on the ability of Vinny to win the case. In real life, winning a case does not only depend on the competency of the counsel, but it relies on the strength of evidence presented by both sides and more importantly, the verdict lies in the hands of the jury.

Films mirror and influence the society. There are many movies and series created about court room drama and as good and commendable as the plot and characters are, they will never be the same as the real criminal justice system. The predictability and script in the movies may give the audience a glimpse of what it is like to stand in front of a judge and convince the jury about the guilt or innocence of a client, but this will never represent the realities inside the four corners of the court.

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