"Judge Hiller assigns Lindsay the repugnant task of defending nun-killer Michael Kingston. Lindsay discovers the police search that found the body was unconstitutional, and against all her morals, moves that Kingston be released. Helen delivers an impassioned argument, stating that the Constitution was designed to protect the innocent, a category that doesn't include Kingston. In the end, Judge Hiller has no choice but to strike the body from evidence, and dismiss the charges." What's this? Episode 53 of ABC's "The Practice," as synopsized on, is what it is, first broadcast on March 28, 1999, and recently repeated. "The Practice," about a law firm, is produced by David Kelley, formerly a writer out of the Steve Bochco stable. The show is regarded as a cultural provender of rare quality, basking in the soft glow of liberal approval. Awards enhance the producer's office wall, including an Emmy for "Outstanding Drama Series." The ABC web site purrs complacently that "this series brings a freshness to the courtroom drama franchise (!) by focusing on the complexity and moral ambiguity of our legal system."

Let's take a closer look at the complexity and moral ambiguity of episode 53. A nun is hacked to pieces by a depraved killer, but the cop who found her body allegedly violated the Fourth Amendment's protections against unreasonable searches and seizures. The attorney representing the heinous killer argues that the corpse must be suppressed as evidence. The prosecutor argues that the search was constitutionally permissible, and that the exclusionary rule is nonsense in any event.

The judge duly gives a big speech to the effect that the Fourth Amendment has been perverted. She says it's awful to be forced to exclude evidence. Then, she rules that the illegally observed evidence must indeed be suppressed. The killer is turned loose, while the nuns in the audience gasp. The prosecutor and defense counsel (who is her best friend) embrace each other, and sob over what's happened. Across the nation, fans of "The Practice" wag their heads in dour agreement that the Bill of Rights and kindred protections should be shoved in the trash can.

Jim Fahey, a criminal-defense attorney in Eureka, Calif., with the rare distinction of having gotten three homicide convictions reversed in the last five years, tells me there isn't a judge in the country who would have ruled in the defense's favor in the circumstances portrayed in episode 53. Linda Fullerton, a criminal-defense attorney in the East Bay who got the Ruth Young Award last year from the Bay Area's Women Defenders, agrees: "The only time you ever win those kinds of motions is on something like a case involving one rock of crack. A dead nun? No judge would ever suppress that. Anyway, when was the last time the Fourth Amendment counted? It's very, very rare that any major piece of evidence is excluded based on violation of the Fourth Amendment. If the writers of "The Practice" had been serious and knowledgeable, they would have had the judge find an exception to the Fourth Amendment, and let the evidence in."

So, here we have a "quality" show designed to make viewers suspicious of constitutional protections, and of the morals of criminal-defense attorneys. Other shows habituate viewers to the idea that cops can be effective guardians of the peace only if they trample on such protections. It was not always so. If one watches reruns of "Perry Mason" and "The Fugitive," one finds that police were often portrayed unsympathetically on the former, and usually on the latter. But for years now, we've been subjected to a Niagara of pro-police propaganda on TV shows, 11 o' clock news reports and in the newspapers, such material providing the mulch for our present police culture.

Yet, while these shows portray defense lawyers as sleazeballs, constitutional protections as obstructions to true justice, and prosecutors as imbued with virtue, the credentials of law enforcement and the justice system are coming under increasing and well-deserved scrutiny. So far as the police are concerned, scarcely a day goes by without one coming across some fresh outrage, like the case of Patrick Dorismond, first the object of attempted entrapment, then, of lethal assault by undercover cops in Rudolph Giuliani's New York (his killer turned out to have at least one dog-shooting in his past, along with charges of domestic abuse, later withdrawn, against his wife).

Police perjury is epidemic. Cops themselves jovially call it "testilying." Racism is endemic, too. Remember the police-radio broadcasts after the King beating, showing cop after cop, over an extended period of time, making straight-up racist remarks about "towel-head Indians" and "gorillas in the mist"? Not so long ago, Los Angeles had a police chief, Daryl Gates, who said blacks had a problem with chokeholds because their blood vessels are different.

Whenever people speak out about our burgeoning police state, they get whacked by defenders of the blue knights, who claim that the majority of cops are good guys. Remember how many times we all heard the word "aberration" after the King beating? A lot of these apologists are, like the producers of "The Practice," boomers who once professed to being "anti-establishment" but who have spent their mature years in atonement.

Our prisons are crammed with non-violent offenders, many of them serving excessively long sentences, in barbaric conditions, often convicted on the word of snitches, victims of the vastly inflated public hysteria about crime, fanned by Hollywood, TV news and the press. Smart people produce "The Practice," and other series in the same genre. They should catch up with reality, and deal with the genuine crises in the justice system, which have nothing to do with exclusionary rules getting nun-killers off the hook.

To find out more about Alexander Cockburn and read features by other columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at COPYRIGHT 2000 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.