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"Poison"
SVU, Episode 5.24
Production number: E4428
First aired: 11 May 2004
  th of 476 produced in SVU  
th of 476 released in SVU
  th of 1229 released in all  
Oliver Taft
Written By
Michele Fazekas & Tara Butters

Directed By
David Platt

Summary

Novak tries to get a biased judge off the bench.

Plot

When four-year-old Alexis Campbell is taken to the hospital after collapsing in her home, it soon discovered that the girl had ingested a huge amount of detergent and her adopted mother Karen Campbell is responsible for poisoning her after Alexis' adoptive sister Katie says that her mother forced Alexis to drink the detergent. When Karen is put on trial, she is soon acquitted by Judge Oliver Taft, who, during the trial, disallows Katie's testimony and physical evidence that would have convicted Karen, and has Detective Stabler locked up for contempt for challenging his authority.

Novak believes Taft acquitted Karen based on his own personal class bias and discovers his bias in another case led to the wrongful conviction of a woman, Rosalin Silvo, a single mother of two who was accused of poisoning her oldest infant daughter with antifreeze. As revealed by Rosalin's former defense attorney, he had discovered evidence that her daughter likely died of a very rare genetic disorder called MMA and even got an expert to agree to collaborate his finding in court. However, they weren't able to present any of this in court or even perform the only specialized test at the time that could have detected it because Taft had disallowed the evidence from being used, ostensibly because of his bias. The attorney also reveals that when he attempted to challenge Taft's ruling on this, the judge held him in contempt and later blackballed him throughout the courts in retaliation; as a result, the attorney was forced to leave criminal law to salvage his career.

After learning that a test for MMA in the present day would definitely detect it, Novak gets permission from the mother to exhume the body, and Warner's test proves the girl definitely had the disease. Warner also determines she didn't die of it and that it doesn't explain the crystals found in her brain, but believes the drugs used to treat antifreeze poisoning, which would've been the right treatment to use if it had been antifreeze poisoning but was the wrong thing to use for MMA, caused the crystals to form and thus killed her. Novak brings this new evidence to Judge Mary Clark, who had previously refused to believe her about Taft, and Clark herself takes up the role of Rosalin's defense attorney in a joint motion with Novak to vacate her conviction. After learning the prosecution agrees with the motion and reviewing the evidence, another judge throws the conviction out and Rosalin is set free after ten years of wrongful imprisonment.

Shortly thereafter, Novak receives a call from Stabler, revealing Karen killed Alexis by smothering her after her husband had her released from the hospital against the advice of medical professionals. At the station, Karen claims she smothered Alexis to death because Taft told her to in a brief exchange at the courthouse during her original trial. Taft is soon arrested and charged, but soon after, the charges are dismissed due to a lack of physical evidence. Novak later subpoenas Taft to testify in Karen's murder trial, in which he is forced to admit to his ex parte communication and his bias in Karen's first trial. Novak shames him on the stand for letting a guilty woman walk and causing an innocent child's death by letting his bias cloud his better judgment. In the end, Karen is convicted of Alexis' murder and Taft's career is severely damaged: while allowed to stay on the bench for the time being, he is reassigned to Civil Court, and his decisions are investigated to determine whether or not he made biased decisions on other cases.

Cast

Main cast

Recurring cast

Guest cast

References

  • Rittenhouse v. North Hempstead
  • LA plant v. Atias
  • People v. Williams

Quotes

[Novak has shown Judge Clark evidence that Judge Taft falsely convicted and sentenced Rosalin Silvo]
Judge Clark: That son of a bitch.
Novak: Seems to be the preferred way to describe this guy.


[after Rosalin Silvo's conviction overturn and a small verbal scuff with Judge Taft]
Judge Clark: Well, almost makes me miss all this.
Novak: I don't know. I think you'd miss your expense account more.


Capt. Cragen: [after Karen claims that Judge Taft told her to kill Alexis] Did I hear her right? That nutcase thinks the judge told her to murder her daughter.
Benson: Or she thinks it's a good way to get off a murder charge.
Stabler: What the hell was Taft doing, talking to a defendant alone during a trial anyway?
Novak: Hanging himself. We got the bastard now.
Benson: Doesn't that nullify her acquittal?
Novak: Sure does, not that it matters. We got her on homicide.


[Judge Taft is hosting a black-and-white tie event when Benson and Stabler arrive to arrest him]
Judge Taft: Detectives, if you wanted an invite, all you had to do was ask.
Elliot Stabler: [grabs an appetizer from a passing tray] Well, we thought we'd class the place up a bit.


Judge Taft: This is absurd.
Stabler: Your Honor, you know the law says we can't arrest you in your own home, so, if you want we could make a big scene.
Judge Taft: You all are going to be very sorry for this.
Stabler: And you're gonna look so pretty for your mug shot.


Judge Clark: [to Novak after the charges against Taft are dismissed due to lack of evidence] Well, I'll say this for you, you've got balls.

Background information and notes

Trivia

  • A similar story to Rosalin Silvo's was depicted in a made-for-TV movie: "Without A Kiss Goodbye" starring Lisa Hartman-Black, Chris Meloni, Cloris Leachman and David Ogden Stiers. This was based on the true story of a young mother of two boys who both developed the rare genetic disorder Methylmalonic Acidemia (MMA). One of her sons died from poly-glycol poisoning, and as a result she was convicted of murder. Her conviction was overturned after research probed deeper into MMA.
  • The exchange between Cragen and Novak is illogical. Judicial immunity does not protect sitting judges from facing any criminal charges. It only protects them from facing civil suits for any acts of liability they performed pursuant to their judicial function. Therefore, it would pose no threat to their ability to arrest Judge Taft and put him on trial.
  • For some reason, possibly an error, when the information of this episode's plot is explained on television, Alexis, the little girl that is poisoned, is referred to as a son that is poisoned.

Episode scene cards

1 2 3

Special Victims Unit
Children's Interview Room
Tuesday, March 9

Hudy Hearing
Part 33
Thursday, March 11

Trial Part 33
Monday, April 19

4 5 6

Trial Part 33
Tuesday, April 20

Hudson University
Department of Genetics
Wednesday, April 21

Office of
The Medical Examiner
Friday, April 23

7 8 9

Motion Hearing
Part 22
Monday, April 26

Arraignment
Part 18
Tuesday, April 27

Trial Part 38
Monday, May 10


Previous episode:
"Bound"
"Poison"
Law & Order: Special Victims Unit
Season 5
Next episode:
"Head"
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