Movie Murder Defenses That Don't Really Work

By Brett Snider, Esq. on June 21, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

With the summer movie season upon us, chances are you'll see some dramatic legal plots unfolding on the big screen. But when it comes to the law, what you see in the movies often doesn't work in real life.

Whether it's "A Few Good Men" or "Liar Liar," we love movies about legal defenses and tactics that seem to pull the rug out from under the antagonist just at the right moment.

The problem is, these legal coups de grace are rarely pulled off in actual court. Unlike the following examples, you can rarely get off with murder on a legal technicality.

1. "Double Jeopardy."

This taut thriller features a young Ashley Judd who has an idyllic life with her son and husband, but is then suddenly framed for his murder and thrown in prison.

After been imprisoned for her husband's murder, Judd's prison inmate pal, played by definitely Italian-sounding Roma Maffia, gives her shaky legal advice that she can kill her husband and never be charged due to double jeopardy.


Actually, you can be charged with murder of the same person twice, even if you're acquitted the first time, if the murder charges are based on separate incidents, like in "Double Jeopardy."

2. "Chicago."

The musical-turned-movie "Chicago" features Renee Zellweger on trial for the murder of the lover who scorned her.

"They both reached for the gun" is a pretty good start to an affirmative defense to murder, self-defense.

However, under Illinois law, the person who started the fight (in this case, Zellweger's character) is unable to claim self-defense for murder unless she withdrew or exhausted other means of escape.

It doesn't help that Zellweger's defense also centers around her lying about being pregnant.

3. "The Fugitive."

Another drag-out thriller involving a frame-up for murder, Dr. Richard Kimble (played by Harrison Ford) is convicted and then by chance busts loose to catch the real killer.

Even though Ford's character was falsely accused, you won't exonerate yourself by finding a one-armed man. That's what appeals and wrongful conviction suits are for.

Plus, running off all half-cocked into the woods to escape after your prison transport crashed is a felony in Illinois.

Do-gooders attempting to help or hide a dashing fugitive like Ford may also unwittingly be charged as accessories after the fact.

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