Crime, Legitimacy, Our Criminal Network, and the Wire

16 Pages Posted: 22 Oct 2010

Date Written: October 21, 2010


It perhaps comes as no surprise that, at a gathering of four criminal law professors over drinks and dinner, the subject would turn to the HBO series The Wire. The four of us - Susan Bandes, Jeff Fagan, David Alan Sklansky, and myself - were part of a larger group of about twenty or so criminal professors invited to participate in the University of Chicago’s Criminal Justice Roundtable, and after a full day of discussing each other’s scholarship, we were eager to discuss something else. So we raved about The Wire. Then we lamented the fact that, to our knowledge, there had never been a law conference devoted to The Wire, or even a symposium issue in a law journal. The series certainly raises enough criminal law and criminal procedure questions to warrant such a project. But even more importantly, The Wire does something else. I once argued that “law and order” shows can have a type of "de-shadowing" effect. There is the justice administered by the courts. And there is the justice that the courts imagine they are regulating. Law and order shows, especially the ones that give the illusion of being police procedurals, are uniquely positioned to critique this justice. Law and order shows, at their best, bring out of the shadows the justice that actually exists. No show does this better than The Wire.

That night, drinks in hand, the four of us agreed to put together a panel proposal to discuss The Wire at a Law and Society Conference. The four of us became five with the addition of my colleague Alafair Burke. And Burke, as a professor and a prolific mystery writer with connections we could only dream about, in turn brought in her friend David Simon, the creator of The Wire. What followed was one of the most well-attended panels at Law and Society this past year. What followed too was a mini-symposium in the Ohio State Journal of Criminal Law, and this Essay, which examines The Wire to explore issues of perceptual legitimacy and crime rates, how the Rules of Evidence often frustrate police brutality cases, and the challenge of being a criminal law and procedure professor after watching The Wire.

Keywords: criminal law, criminal procedure, policing, criminology, legitimacy, Rule 609, network theory, The Wire, law and literature, television

JEL Classification: K10, K14, K42

Suggested Citation

Capers, I. Bennett, Crime, Legitimacy, Our Criminal Network, and the Wire (October 21, 2010). Ohio State Journal of Criminal Law, Vol. 8, 2011, Hofstra Univ. Legal Studies Research Paper No. 10-34, Available at SSRN:

I. Bennett Capers (Contact Author)

Fordham University School of Law ( email )

140 West 62nd Street
New York, NY 10023
United States

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