Season Finale of ABC’s Legal Drama Includes Pennsylvania Criminal Law and Family Law

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If you’ve been a fan of ABC’s newest legal drama, “How To Get Away With Murder” then you were as shocked as we were with the way this season came to an end. The finale had lot of plot twists and turns and for you non-lawyers we want to take the time to break down some of the Pennsylvania Criminal Law jargon you heard on last week’s Season 1 Finale. (Warning: Spoilers! Don’t keep reading if you haven’t watched the episode.)

The episode starts off with the main character, Pennsylvania Criminal Defense Lawyer Annalise Keating defending a priest, Father Andrew, who was accused of murdering another member of the clergy. And starting at this point is where the writers and producers of the show don’t portray the law completely clearly so we want to provide you with a little more background on a few issues addressed in the episode.

The first area that we want to clarify for you is changing of a plea. Once a defendant enters a guilty plea it means that the court has already determined that he is guilty. Under Pennsylvania criminal law, the only way he would be able to change his plea to not guilty would be if his original guilty plea was not “knowing and voluntary.” In this case Annalise stated that she pressured him to enter a guilty plea, so this fact would likely be enough for the court to allow him to change his plea.

The next issue we want to address is the often confusing rules of privilege. You may be familiar with attorney-client privilege and doctor-patient privilege, but until this episode you may not have known about the priest-penitent privilege. And yes, this privilege is a privilege that is recognized in many states including Pennsylvania. This means that a priest, reverend, rabbi or other holy person can refuse to testify to what the members of the parish tell them in their capacity as a member of the clergy. That is of course unless the person who confessed waives the privilege. So in this case Father Andrew could have testified to what Father Bernard told him during confession unless the personal representative of Father Bernand’s estate asserted the priest-penitent privilege.

Not only did the finale have its fair share of Pennsylvania criminal law, as expected, it also included one of the most complex and unclear areas of Pennsylvania family law: the engagement ring. It addressed, though only briefly, a question we get time and time again, who gets to keep the engagement ring if the couple breaks up prior to the marriage.

Michaela is confident (or at least pretends to be confident because she does not want to return the ring since at that moment she only had a fake) about the fact that she gets to keep the engagement ring despite the fact that she isn’t going to be marrying Aiden. Despite her confidence, however, she isn’t totally right. There is no answer to that question and states disagree on whether the ring is a gift, meaning the bride-to-be would get to keep it regardless, or if it’s a gift conditional on marriage, meaning she would only keep it if the couple actually tied the knot.

We’re hoping that this blog answered some questions that you may, or may not, have had while watching the season finale. If you’re anything like us you can’t wait to see what next season has in store for us. Until then, if you ever find yourself in need of a real Pennsylvania Criminal Defense Lawyer or Allegheny County Family Lawyer, contact our team at Lisa Marie Vari & Associates.