A couple of weeks ago I was watching TV with my wife when she recommended that we watch a reality show on MTV called Teen Mom. Now, I am not above reality television but am also not one to tune into a show that appears aimed at a different demographic than mine, aka teenagers. Further, it has been quite some time since I have watched anything on MTV – sorry to say, that I figured I was just too old for their programming…at least since they stopped showing Van Halen and ZZ Top videos (and I’m talking old Van Halen, none of that Sammy Hagar crap – though he does make damn good tequila). While that may date me, I can’t hide from the truth – I am just not an MTV guy anymore.
Having said that (thank you Jerry Seinfeld), I may have lightly protested watching this show, but not longer after it began. I was taken in by it. Unfortunately, this is not because this show is a thing of beauty – its more akin to rubber necking that accident on the freeway. (And, if you have been in an accident, I know a really good personal injury attorney who can help you.) But, lets be honest, isn’t that what reality television is all about? Its voyerism on crack.
So, now having watched a few episodes of this show, I am not only still taken by it and its characters (as is much of the nation), but there have been some surprising legal issues or circumstances that led me to want to discuss them here, in our forum.
First, in episode 1, it was amazing to see MTV show a terribly unfortunate and very serious incident involding Farrah and her mother in which the mother assaulted her teen. While the show did not make this completely clear, it appeared that at least at some point, a knife was involved. This is a serious situation that is unfortunate for all those involved. While, as a criminal defense attorney, I never advocate to get the police involved because it rarely ends up good for anyone, this certainly seemed like the appropriate time to call them.
The interesting part is the relationship that appeared to continue between Farrah and the prosecutor after Farrah’s mom eventually pleaded guilty to whatever she was charged with, presumably a felony. The show certainly didn’t seem to address this and I don’t blame MTV for glossing over it as it really is not an important part of the show, but again, as a criminal defense attorney, I could not help but notice that on multiple occasions, Farrah referred to the prosecuting attorney as “her attorney.”
Again, defense lawyers (and prosecutors) know that a prosecutor is NOT the alleged victim’s attorney. S/he works for the “people” as a collective – not anyone specifically. And I don’t know how things work in the jurisdiction where Farrah resides, but that is certainly not the case here in Portland, Oregon. What became even more interesting is that as this storyline continued in future episodes, Farrah kept visiting “her attorney” aka, the prosecutor. And, it wasn’t only to discuss Farrah’s ongoing issues with her mother and the mother’s compliance with her probationary terms, like treatment and counseling. They also discussed obtaining social security for Farrah’s baby. What the audience eventually learns is that the baby-daddy perished in a drunk driving accident sometime in the past – we’re not sure when, just that it was after conception.
I do not have a problem with Farrah rightfully applying for these benefits for her child – the system exists, she deserves to access it. And, this is not the place where I would argue the point of our country providing those benefits. What sparked my interest, as an attorney here in Portland, is that when Farrah needed advice on applying for these benefits (and then going through the process itself), MTV certainly made it appear that the prosecutor was the lawyer who helped her get these benefits. Again, from my experience as a criminal defense attorney, this is not the job of a prosecutor. Certainly, here in Multnomah County or other areas of Oregon and Washington that I am familiar with, that would not occur.
District Attorneys or prosecutors work for the state or the “people.” They are supposed to investigate and prosecute alleged criminals. They are not supposed to spend the people’s money (by spending their time while on the job) to help an individual obtain social security benefits. It was just interesting and not sure if MTV just edited the footage to appear that way or if that was how it actually happened. The prosecutor’s job is not to do this – and, s/he definitely shouldn’t get paid to do it. That would be the job of a civil lawyer retained to obtain those benefits on behalf of the child. Further, even if he did it pro bono, i.e., for free, he still isn’t supposed to be spending his time working for any one individual. However, I only bring this up as a lawyer as it is of interest – things could either be different where they live, or MTV may have performed some creative editing for the sake of time savings or plot arcs. I guess that is their prerogative.
The second intersting event from this criminal defense lawyer’s perspective is what appeared to be more criminal activity that appeared on television. Again, this comes from someone who did nothing more than watch the show – I have no idea what happened behind the scenes. But, in episode 10, another teen mom named Amber clearly assaults her boyfriend/fiance, Gary by punching him in the face. Then, as Gary is leaving, she kicks him in the back as he is walking down the stairs – something that really could have injured him had he fallen. Amber and Gary clearly have a volatile relationship, and I’m sure an audience member doesn’t see the whole story – one never does in reality television, right? Having said that (thanks again, Jerry), from the perspective of a lawyer, was this an event that was prosecuted?
There is no getting around the event took place – see the video here. And, not only did Amber punch Gary squarley in the face, she did it in front of their young daughter which here in Oregon would be considered a felony. I bring this up for a few reasons. Again, was Amber prosecuted? Even an experienced criminal defense attorney would have a tough time defending these actions caught clearly on video – something that is rare in the world of criminal justice. If not, why not? Did MTV get some deal ahead of time from the local prosecutor’s office that if they aired this footage Amber would not be prosecuted? Was she but MTV buried it? Its not something that was hidden from the audience as Amber and Gary even discussed it again in its on-line wrap up shows.
And, if she wasn’t prosecuted and it wasn’t because of some deal that MTV obtained, why wasn’t she? Is it because she is a girl and the alleged victim was a boy? In my experience here in Multnomah County, that would not be the case. I have handled domestic violence cases where the female was alleged to have assaulted the male (and even won a jury trial obtaining an acquittal for my female client, thank you very much). But, in other jurisdictions (as explained in a previous post), maybe those cases aren’t prosecuted because the district attorney has prosecutorial discretion to charge or not charge any case or incident of which they learn. Is that fair? Would the DA simply turn a blind eye simply because the events occurred on MTV?
Just food for thought – do any attorneys, criminal or otherwise, have an opinion or inside information about this? Should girls get a free pass when they beat on their boyfriends? Does it matter who is bigger or how badly the other person is hurt if at all? (FYI, getting “hurt” or what “physical injury” means becomes a legal issue when one gets charged with assault in Oregon.) What about any laypeople out there whether you watch this show or not – do you have an opinion? Give us a shout out and let us know….