A Small Rant About Criminal Minds and the Problem of Plea Bargains

The person I’ve wanted to be since I was 15, although not in the particular scenario he’s in in this episode.

I’ve reverted back to my 15-year-old self. Okay actually, it’s more like my 26-year-old self. But the nostalgia stems from my former self. That is, I’m back to watching Criminal Minds, my OG show on CBS. Criminal Minds is one of the first “adult” shows (besides pro wrestling) I can recall watching when it debuted in 2005 and following for nearly the next 15 years thereafter. I did fall out of it the last few seasons, which is why I’m playing catch-up now, starting with Season 12.

The show is not perfect, I get that. Perhaps the most gaping hole is that the FBI would send in its highly-specialized, prized behavioral analysis members into dangerous situations instead of letting the SWAT team or other members do it.

But it’s just a lot of fun. I like getting into the twisted world of killers and sociopaths and how the characters, all of whom I’ve grown attached to over the years, despite a few cast changes, catch those killers and sociopaths. And the network catch-the-killer-by-the-end formula works for a reason: It creates fun tension and a hot climax to see how they do it.

And one of the big reasons I latched on to Criminal Minds from the beginning besides trying to figure out the whodunit is that they bookend each episode with a quote that becomes the theme of the episode. I love that! I’m big into quotes.

However, I didn’t come here to do an overall review of the series yet. Instead, I came to rant about the latest few episodes in Season 12.

So, Dr. Spencer Reid (played by Matthew Gray Gubler), who is the “boy genius” of the group, is dealing with a mother who is both experiencing dementia and schizophrenia and in a bid to get her life-saving drugs, Reid goes to Mexico. He doesn’t tell the team about his plan. That’s where everything goes wrong.

Scratch, who is one of the serial killers who escaped in Season 11, has been targeting the Behavioral Analysis Unit. Here, he targets Reid specifically. He ends up killing the woman Reid was going to meet with and framing Reid for the murder. In fact, Episode 13, “Spencer,” opens with a shocking moment where Reid is pulled over by Mexican authorities, fleeing from them and with heroin and cocaine found in his trunk.

Later, the police connect his fingerprints and blood to the murder weapon. It doesn’t look good for Reid, particularly because he’s having trouble remembering what happened because Scratch drugged him.

But what really frustrated me were the actions of Emily Prentiss (played by Paget Brewster), who is the head of the BAU, and Fiona Duncan (played by Jeananne Goossen) Reid’s lawyer. The State gave Reid a plea bargain: If he pleads guilty to manslaughter, he only gets five years in prison. The alternative would be 25 years to life, if convicted on murder. Once the State found the murder weapon, the plea bargain was 10 years.

For some reason, Duncan seemed to be hinting that Reid should take the plea bargain and Prentiss was doing more than hinting, she was outright suggesting that Reid take the bargain. Why?! Would would someone who is innocent admit to being guilty to take a plea? Unfortunately, that happens frequently in our criminal justice system precisely because people are afraid to actually exercise their Constitutional right to a jury trial of their peers. That is, it’s safer to take the so-called “good deal” rather than risk getting a longer prison sentence by going to trial. The State leverages the power of the plea bargain to avoid lengthy, costly trials all of the time.

The vast majority of cases in our system are pleaded out for that reason. If everyone actually exercised their Constitutional right to a jury of their peers, our system would logistically collapse.

But Reid isn’t just anyone. He’s an FBI agent! The “boy genius!” Why would a fellow FBI agent suggest he plead guilty, particularly when she knows a serial killer is framing him?! So peculiar.

Anyhow, rant over. I love Criminal Minds despite its flaws. It’s fun. And I have no shame about enjoying a network show. Gimme that yummy formula. But seriously, if you’ve never looked into the issues with our plea bargaining system, I highly recommend you go down that Google rabbit hole.

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