One of Claire Kincaid's duties when she, a rookie prosecutor a year out of law school, was assigned to Executive Assistant DA Ben Stone in the Homicide division at the New York County District Attorney's office, was reviewing search warrant applications before they went to a judge for approval. It wasn't that the judge wouldn't sign the things -- you could convince a judge to sign almost anything - but rather, she had to review them for legal sufficiency in the likely event that a judge did sign them, and a defense lawyer challenged them later on in proceedings. She thought if one judge signed a warrant, other judges should just go along with it, but several times she'd seen them say, "I don't care what Judge so-and-so said. This was an illegal search," and so it would go. But if a warrant was perfectly legal, judges couldn't do that, no matter how much they enjoyed overturning each other's rulings. In any case, Ben Stone liked his search warrants flawless, the same way he liked everything else (once, while she was waiting in a courtroom for the judge to call her case, another experienced prosecutor in the office, a fiery lawyer named Jack McCoy, had brusquely expressed incredulity about Stone's choice of profession -- "how the hell did he get involved in the criminal justice business?").
After Claire deemed a warrant legally sufficient, and a judge approved it, she then had to stay near a phone, or at least near a pager, so she would be available to law enforcement when they executed the warrant in case they stumbled into any legal issues she would have to untangle. Which rarely happened. All the difficult cases seemed to fall into Stone's mailbox. At the moment, as she read through several flawless search warrants, she rather thought somebody, either Stone or the DA himself, purposefully gave her this position in this division precisely because most of the warrants she read, written by two very experienced detectives, Lennie Briscoe and Mike Logan out of the Twenty-seventh precinct, were solid as rock. It annoyed her to no end, since she had graduated more or less alive from Harvard Law, and felt she should be given something challenging to do. Reading Briscoe's and Logan's search warrant applications was like explaining why Miranda v. Arizona was significant. Briscoe and Logan knew probable cause when they saw it, and knew when there wasn't any. In the case of the latter, they didn't waste their time with a warrant application unless they knew they could get one. Now and then, she heard through the justice system grapevine that there were Fourth Amendment problems with some case or other they'd worked on, but she never saw them. They certainly never told her about them.
After she finished reviewing her warrants for the day, February 14th, and began to read through a case file, one of Stone's murder cases that he was finally letting her second chair, her phone rang. She was mildly surprised to hear the deep baritone voice of Detective Lennie Briscoe. Briscoe was a cynical old bastard, and he knew what he was doing and knew search and seizure law as well as any third year law student, if not better, since third year law students learn it via abstract case law and never read actual search warrant affidavits or watch searches executed until they become criminal lawyers. What had her surprised was that he was calling her from the scene of a search; in other words, he had some urgent concern, something so complex and pressing that he and his partner needed her legal expertise right now.
"We've got a little problem down here," he told her, calm and laconic, the way men who spent their lives averting the tide of legal disaster often were.
Claire smiled. Here was a chance for her to show off the knowledge she'd spent three years slaving away at Harvard striving to obtain.
"Well, what's the problem, Detective?" she asked, certain that he was about to explain a convoluted Fourth Amendment issue, and that she was about to dazzle him with her scholarly grasp of complex search and seizure law. Or had he and his partner made some monumental mistake and needed her legal analytical skills to resolve it? Maybe they'd entered the wrong apartment, or maybe they'd found some piece of damning evidence that wasn't specified in the warrant, and the plain sight issues were hazy. Something like that.
But it was nothing like that. It was nothing she expected, and when she reflected upon it later, it probably wasn't something the most experienced prosecutors in the office would have expected either.
Briscoe explained that there were three "perps" (cop talk, Claire had quickly learned, for perpetrators) in the apartment. One of them had been snorting up cocaine, and his two buddies had been bagging and sorting it. Needless to say, all three had promptly been arrested.
"So?" said Claire, still waiting for the esoteric legal issue that this case had triggered to come up. Otherwise, why would Briscoe phone her from the scene of the search itself? If it were something that could be addressed tomorrow, he would have addressed it tomorrow, or the next day. "So, what's the problem, Detective?" she repeated, eager to show off her knowledge to this veteran police officer.
"The problem," Briscoe said, as if this sort of thing happened every day, "is that we don't know where to send the perps."
"All right, sweetheart," the detective gave a long-suffering sigh. "It's like this. Each of these three guys was originally a male, but they're now all at different stages of a sex change operation. So do we send 'em to Spotford or Rikers?"
"What?" she said, at a total loss, and not even sure she was hearing him right.
The old homicide detective apparently had little patience for clueless young lawyers. She heard him place his hand over the receiver and say something to his partner, a caustic observation over what he took to be her inability to understand plain simple English. Cops could be like that with inexperienced prosecutors.
In any event, Briscoe explained what he meant.
According to Briscoe, two of the arrested perps had well-developed breasts (he said this in his own way). They also had well-developed penises (Claire considered asking him how he knew that, but decided against it). The third perp's penis had been removed, and ("get this," Briscoe said) an artificial vagina had been surgically installed (again, he phrased it a little differently).
Disappointed and baffled, Claire sigh. So much for esoteric Fourth Amendment questions. So much for law school, and so much for shows like LA Law and The Practice. This was more like Monty Python than it was like anything she expected to encounter in the justice system.
"So, Counselor," the old detective concluded, "What are we supposed to do down here?"
She flipped through her mental catalogue of everything she'd learned in law school, and of course came up with zero. Law school, she thought, didn't come close to preparing you for the realities of legal practice in the real world. With this in mind, she used something they decidedly don't teach in law school, common sense.
"Okay... um... Lennie," she began, "here's what you do. Send the two guys with breasts to Spotford. Send the guy with the vagina to Rikers." Briscoe seemed satisfied and hung up.
As she was giving the detective her best legal advice, Ben Stone, the most straightlaced of straightlaced Catholics, walked into her office. The look he gave her she couldn't describe, except to say he'd never looked at her that way before or since.
The following day, the suspects were arraigned on charges of criminal possession in the second, third and fifth degrees. The homicide investigation -- all three were suspects in that -- was still pending, but Stone thought if he could pin the defendants down on these drug charges, he could give himself some leverage for the murder charges. He told Claire to process their arraignments, so she found herself in crowded arraignment court the morning of February 15th. Prosecutors and some defense lawyers generally waited for their cases in the front pews of the courtroom, behind counsel tables, and gossiped amongst themselves - who was doing something good, who was doing something bad, who was doing something funny, who was doing something illegal. Claire usually tried to remain aloof, but since she was young and attractive, they included her in the conversation anyway.
Since Valentine's Day had been yesterday, a group of them were, of course, sniggering about who was sleeping with who in the DA's office, all unfounded rumor to be sure, but Claire thought Jack McCoy's name came up a lot. Apparently he'd slept with every young attractive female prosecutor he'd ever worked with, and she caught several assiduous glances in her direction. She glared back. Jack McCoy was most assuredly not sleeping with her (she wasn't even working with him). Then Ben Stone's name came up, and the gossipy ADAs had a good laugh at the mere thought of him screwing anybody, since he galloped along on some moral high horse, and everyone else was way the hell below it. So was sex.
The bailiff called Claire's case number, and she regally rose to her feet and stood at her podium, and the three defendants and their lawyers lined up neatly at the defense table. All three plead guilty. Easy case (wait for the murder charges to be filed). They would be held over for sentencing. The judge banged his gavel and barked, "next!"
But as each defendant had said "guilty" to the arraignment judge, Claire had looked into their faces. The one with the vagina who'd spent the night at Spotford looked like most criminal defendants who'd been processed through the system before, bored and unconcerned. But the other two, the ones with the breasts, were a different story. On their faces she could clearly see that they'd spent a night of bliss. They were beaming like college kids in love. They kept glancing in Claire's direction. She knew they probably had no idea what role she had played in obtaining their accommodations last night, but she thought she could see looks of gratitude and appreciation in their starry eyes nonetheless. Happy Valentine's Day, she thought wryly.