The Verdict: An attorney reviews ‘How to Get Away with Murder’ (Ep. 7 – 8)

Celebrity, Crime, Murder, News

We’re onto episode 7 of my coverage and legal analysis of ABC’s “How to Get Away with Murder.” As always, I’ll give a brief synopsis of each episode and explore the accuracy of the show from my perspective as a law school graduate.

SPOILER ALERT! If you are interested in watching the show, I suggest you watch it before reading the following blog posts, as I reveal endings and surprises that occur in each episode.

Episode 7 recap

This week’s episode starts with a flash-forward segment. Wes is cleaning blood off of Rebecca. We still don’t know for sure if it was Rebecca who killed Sam, Annalise’s husband, but it’s looking like it.

This week focuses on Lila’s murder case. At a gag order hearing, Griffin’s attorney asks to have Lila’s body exhumed to examine possible fingernail marks on her neck. The prosecution and Annalise, who is defending Rebecca in the trial, do not want this to take place. The prosecutor later comes to Annalise’s house with information that will discredit Griffin’s expert witness. Annalise uses it the following day in court and schemes with her team to have Lila’s mother take the stand to discourage the exhumation of Lila’s body. It looks like Annalise has won her argument and Rebecca will be cleared of charges until the prosecutor pulls a fast one and says her expert thinks the marks on Lila’s neck are nail marks from a female.

Annalise and the team are stunned. After a little digging, the team figures out that prosecutor and Griffin have made a deal. It’s now Annalise and Rebecca against the prosecutor and Griffin. Annalise has to find a way to get the prosecutor to drop the deal.

Despite there being a gag order in place, Annalise has Rebecca talk to a reporter and state that Griffin raped her. The prosecutor has no choice but to drop the deal; however, despite all of Annalise’s wheeling and dealing, the judge orders the body to be exhumed.

At the end of the episode, there is a knock on Annalise’s door. It’s Bonnie, and the autopsy results are in. The fingernail marks weren’t, in fact, fingernail marks but bug bites, just like Annalise’s expert testified. But Bonnie has more news: Lila was six weeks pregnant!

Attorney analysis of the law in HTGAWM

There was actually quite a bit of law in this episode. Annalise’s lesson for her class this week is on expert witnesses. She correctly states that law firms can pay expert witnesses, though she exaggerates a bit regarding their ability to direct – and even script – the expert’s testimony. Witnesses still have rules and conduct codes that they must follow, but when you hire expert witnesses, they are going to agree with your defense or refute whatever the other party is alleging.

These experts aren’t just random people off the street. Something they didn’t show in the episode is that when experts take the stand, the attorney must establish them as experts. The attorney asks them questions about their education and background in the field they are testifying about. The opposing party can object to their expertise, but that rarely happens because expert witnesses are typically established and knowledgeable in their fields. The opposing side can always try to discredit the witness, and Annalise was able to do this. Overall, the portrayal of expert witnesses’ role in trial was fairly accurate.

The law nerd in me came out when Annalise introduced records of Griffin’s expert witness’ work in a previous case. Both the prosecutor and Griffin’s attorney object, stating that it is hearsay. They are right: It is hearsay! But Annalise bats that objection down with a hearsay exception: the business records exception.

Hearsay occurs when something was said out of court and someone tries to bring it up as proof in court. You aren’t allowed to do this unless it fits an exception to the rule. There are actually quite a few exceptions, including the business records exception which allows records kept in the ordinary course of business to be introduced in court.

Another nerd moment of mine during this episode was when Annalise says she has to work on a motion in limine. A motion in limine is a request made to the judge to exclude certain evidence before the trial starts. Annalise doesn’t say what evidence she was going to exclude, but I have a feeling she is going to try to get the confession by Rebecca excluded because it was coerced. We shall see!

Episode 8 Recap

There is only one more episode before the midseason hiatus, and it’s really starting to get good.

It turns out Lila, the murdered student, isn’t much of a goody two-shoes after all. In the previous episode, they kept mentioning how Griffin was very religious and forced Lila into an abstinence pact. This week’s episode starts with Lila doing lines of coke with Rebecca and gushing about “Mr. Darcy.” We also see the moment she receives the now-infamous penis picture. Flash-forward to where last week’s episode left off with Annalise finding out that Lila was pregnant. She immediately asks Sam if he knew about this, which he denies.

This week’s case is a good one. Annalise is defending a super mom accused of murdering her nanny while sleepwalking. The mom supposedly loved the nanny and, according to the family members, would never hurt her. While the son is on the stand, he drops a bomb: He was sleeping with the nanny! Annalise is ticked she didn’t know this before trial and takes out her anger on Connor and Bonnie.

We also find out that the nanny gave the son a sexually transmitted disease. Michaela uses her pre-med background to figure out that a few months before the murder, the dad was also prescribed an antibiotic for the same STD. The dad was also having sex with the nanny! Annalise puts the father on the stand, where he admits to murdering the nanny in a fit of rage. Case dismissed! Michaela, believing she won the Lady Justice trophy, steals it from Connor’s house.

We begin finding out a lot more about Lila and Sam’s affair. Bonnie approaches Sam and mentions that Lila stopped by the house in tears one night and demanded to see Annalise. Bonnie wouldn’t let her. Sam thanks Bonnie and kisses her. When Bonnie relays this story to Annalise, the kissing and all, Annalise fires Bonnie. Later, Sam walks in, and Annalise tells him that she has suggested that all males in Lila’s life have their DNA tested in order to figure out who the father of her unborn child was, including teachers. Dun, dun, dun…

Attorney analysis of the law in HTGAWM

This episode was full of more plot development than real law, likely in preparation for this week’s mid-season finale.

We do see the students trying to balance their work for Annalise’s trials with their upcoming finals as they get outlines and old tests from each other. This is typical of law school and especially first year. There never seems to be enough time.

One legal aspect of this episode that I found interesting revolved around Michaela refusing to sign the prenuptial agreement her future mother-in-law wanted her to sign. I couldn’t help but shake my head while watching the scary mother-in-law bully Michaela around. Even if Michaela does sign this prenup, it would be the easiest prenup to get out of.

Michaela is a first-year student and likely doesn’t know much about contract law and family dissolution law (aka divorce law). What she doesn’t yet know is that, when presented with a prenup, she needs to have the option to take the prenup to independent council to review. From what we can tell, she is not given this option.

She’s also being threatened to sign, or else. I distinctly remember a case in law school involving a wealthy husband who, mere days before the ceremony, threatened to call off the wedding unless his wife signed the prenup he had prepared. The prenup was thrown out in that case because it was found to be unfair. It’s my opinion that if Michaela signs after that scene with her mother-in-law and later divorces, the courts could disregard the prenup, and she would not be bound by the agreement.

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