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Unpublished Paper
The Film Law Abiding Citizen: How Popular Culture is Poisoning People's Perception of Pleas
ExpressO (2011)
  • Victoria S. Salzmann, Phoenix School of Law

What would you do if a ruthless killer broke into your home and killed your family right before your eyes, then bargained with the prosecutor to receive only three years punishment in exchange for testifying against his innocent accomplice? Would you accept this chain of events as a just system of punishment, or would you “go rouge” and mete out your own justice, killing the defendants and even the members of the criminal system who encouraged the practice? This scenario is the plot of the blockbuster movie, Law Abiding Citizen, which stars Gerard Butler as the hero/vigilante avenging his family’s heinous murder and Jamie Foxx as the repentant prosecutor who eventually secures justice and enlightenment through Butler’s actions.

The film, though shocking in its violence, serves two purposes for legal analysis. First, the movie may be a case of art imitating life, in which the plot is a hyperbole that reflects how society already views the criminal justice system. In contrast, popular-culture legal-realists may argue the opposite and see the film as one piece of the popular-culture machine that is shaping society’s view of the law. In short, perhaps this film is the art that life will eventually imitate. This Article explores those two theories as they relate to the movie’s primary plot—dissatisfaction with the criminal justice plea system and argue how such portrayals influence public perceptions of plea agreements.

  • popular cultur,
  • pleas,
  • criminal law,
  • entertainment,
  • film
Publication Date
April 1, 2011
Citation Information
Victoria S. Salzmann. "The Film Law Abiding Citizen: How Popular Culture is Poisoning People's Perception of Pleas" ExpressO (2011)
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