A recent storyline on the Shotime series ‘Shameless‘ has focused on the show’s protagonist being charged with a crime for the first time. Fiona Gallagher, Shameless’ lead played brilliantly by Emmy Rossum, is charged with narcotic possession and child endangerment when a child in her care accidentally ingests drugs at her home. In my opinion, the portrayal of the indignities she suffers and choices she is faced with are for the most part realistic depictions of a first time offender’s interaction with the criminal justice system. I think this storyline is laudable, because it is an aspect of the law often overlooked in popular culture (TV shows and movies tend to focus on corporate legal proceedings and capital crimes it seems).
When Fiona is arrested, she is brought to jail awaiting her arraignment. Shameless unflinchingly outlines the discomfort and invasion of privacy one endures in jail. Something I hear almost every day in my office is ‘One night was enough, I will never go back.’ The arraignment is shown next, accurately so as well. Fiona is unable to retain counsel so her bond ends up being set high. Bond, for those who don’t know is an insurance policy that you will return to court for future dates. I’ve found that people who retain counsel have a better shot at getting a reasonable bond, even where they are charged with a felony.
Fiona then struggles with her public defender. While the public defender seems very well versed in nuances of Fiona’s charge, she’s spread thin. This can certainly happen in real life. Public defenders can get very large caseloads that they have to stay competent on and split their time between. There are a lot of capable public defenders, much like Fiona’s, but access to them can be a real issue as shown in Shameless.