Criminal Justice (TV Movie 1990) - Plot Summary Poster

(1990 TV Movie)


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  • Denise Moore is robbed and her face is slashed as she is leaving a crack house. At the police station she picks Jessie Williams mug shot and ID's him at a line up. Jessie Williams says he didn't do it. From that point on, everyone is pushing him to make a deal, and plea to a lesser crime, to avoid a possible long term sentence.


The synopsis below may give away important plot points.


  • A prostitute is leaving a car, and a male client complains of the cold. She is Denise Moore (Rosie Pérez), and immediately, with the money in her bag, goes to buy rock. She cannot even wait to leave the building of the dealer (Ramier Sellers) to start smoking it, even though there are rules which forbid her to do that, and PJ reminds her of them. She leaves the building into the cold dark night and she is attacked. She is left with a scar in her face because she tried to hold onto her money. Two men appear to see what all the screaming is about, but they don't really make anything to help her.

    18th November 1989 at the 85th Precinct Brooklyn

    At the police station, she can't find the photograph of the criminal who attacked her among all the snapshots. The police officers Detective Riley (Tony Todd) and Lane (Joe Lisi) tell her to keep on seeing snapshots until somebody appears. Some days have gone by and she keeps on watching photos. Finally, he recognises Jessie Williams (Forest Whitaker). She doesn't want to see that man, but the detectives need a lineup and a positive recognition to be able to send him to prison for 25 years.

    Whitaker walks nonchalantly. Riley says that it's optional and accompanies Williams home. He goes to his flat to leave the diapers he had bought for his son (Jacquay L. McCall); obviously, his mother is worried. He says that all his criminal record is a thing of the past, when he was young and stupid; however, they finally convince him of accepting a lineup, as it would be a fast way of closing the matter.

    Denise is not convinced of attending the lineup either; she is scared and her assailant threatened to kill her, but Lane tells her that after testifying in front of the Grand Jury he will plead guilty to get a minor sentence and the matter would be over. There are five men, and number 4 is Williams. Williams leaves the lineup feeling positive and cocky, thinking that everything is over, but right there he's arrested.

    He asks for a lawyer and is sent to Central Booking in Brooklyn. There are people there who know him, and he shakes hands with one of them. He phones his mother, who now is in charge of taking care of his son. He has to wait for two days until his case is called.

    Finally, he speaks with David Ringel (Anthony LaPaglia), his legal-aid lawyer. He says that he didn't do it, and that she's probably a crackhead because everybody is like that in the area where everything happened, 229 Kingland. That night he was at home with his son and mother, eating Chinese food and watching a Charles Branson movie on TV. The mother is in prison. He says he was pushed into the lineup. The officers paid five dollars to other four guys from the homeless shelter who didn't look anything like Williams.

    Jessie doesn't want to discuss his past crimes - he sustains his innocence. His bail is going to be high, Ringle says. Ringel corrects Jessie's way of saying his surname several times. His attorney thinks that he will be asked for around 2,500, but Jessie doesn't have that kind of money. Ringle gives him his card.

    Criminal Court Arraignments Part

    Loretta Charles (Saundra McClain) says that he was with her all the time that night. Jessie is put behind an bullet-proof glass. There is a case before his, A.D.A. Croslie (Charles Sanders) about a newly-wed man whose surname is Santiago (Uncredited) who hit his wife. The case is over really quickly.

    Jessie Williams is wearing the same clothes when a court officer (Larry John Meyers) reads the accusation. The ADA mentions the 63 stitches Moore had to receive. Ringle says that his mother has spent two days verifying all information about Jessie, including the fact that he's about to begin a new job at a service station. Ringle mentions that Jessie has always attended court. The judge asks Jessie if it is true that he cooperated with the police and went to the station voluntarily. Ringle doesn't let Jessie speak - it's him who says that everything is right. Finally, judge Whitney (Chuck Cooper) orders 2,500 dollars in bonds. They have four days to organize a grand jury or let Jessie go. Ringle is being called to defend another case, and he gives Jessie's mother his card.

    4th December 1989 - State Supreme Court

    Elizabeth "Liz" Carter (Jennifer Grey) speaks to Riley, who tells her that Denise Moore is scared to death. Liz tells Riley that, if she doesn't show up to give evidence, Jessie Williams will be released without charges. A colleague wants to give him one of his cases in spite of his already heavy workload as a favour.

    Ringle phones Carter. Ringle expected that Moore would disappear. As he already has convictions, the sentence for robbery would be 3 to 6 years, and for assault, 7 years. Williams insists that he's innocent. If Denise doesn't show up, Jessie won't be indicted; he will be free to go home, but in any case the ADA has six months to accuse them of something. Jessie wants to go to the Gran Jury. Ringle doesn't like the Gran Jury, as he can't cross-examine Moore, and the jury will only have her words to make an impression. His alibi may not hold, because his mother won't be believed. He advises him that the Grand Jury won't believe his alibi.

    Denise and Liz meet. Liz can't avoid feeling repulsed by the big scar. She tells her that between them both they are going to put that guy into prison for a very long time.

    Grand Jury

    She was at 229 Kingland St in Kings County. She was leaving the building after trying to visit somebody who wasn't home. She stresses the 63 stitches. She also recognised number 4 at the lineup, the person who slashed her face. She is allowed to go.

    Carter asks the jurors if there is anything else they would like to ask Denise when she comes back. The Grand Jury Foreman (Joe Marmo) reminds her that she is still under oath. Carter asks Moore the jurors' questions. "Did you smoke crack that night?" She looks outraged at this and denies it. Jurors raise their hands to accept the charges, though not all of them do so.

    25th January 1990 - at the state Supreme Court

    Mrs Charles speaks to Ringle. He is going to speak to the judge about Williams pleading guilty for a minor sentence.

    At the conference with Judge Mulino (Don Brockett) Carter offers 3 to 6. The judge thinks that with 63 stitches, it's not a bad deal and wants to speak with him when Ringle tells him that Williams sustains his innocence. He tells Williams himself that, if he is innocent, he should reject the offer, but if there is any possibility of him being guilty, the case after being sentenced will get him a much tougher sentence. He remarks that he's only offering this because of his heavy workload - that very same day, he has 50 cases. Williams decides to go to trial. The judge won't offer 3 to 6 again.

    Ringle will try to push the case out of trial, but he needs to be prepared if his dismissal is refused. Mrs Charles tells him that she and Jessie were watching a Charles Bronson movie. Ringle says that he checked the TV guide and there was not such movie that night. She says that maybe it was Rambo and she thought it was Charles Bronson. She went to sleep at 11:00 or 11:30. Jessie couldn't have left the apartment in the middle of the night because she is a light sleeper and she would have heard him.

    She loves him, and Ringle asks her if she would lie for him. She hesitates. Ringle tells her that the prosecutor will ask her questions like that, and she shouldn't hesitate.

    23rd February 1990 - at court

    Ringle arrives late. Riley and Carter go to 229 Kingland St, a derelict area. Riley directs Carter to the crackspot. Carter notices that there is a light, so she saw his face clearly. Riley advises her to make a deal, because Denise Moore is so scared that she won't hold under cross-examination.

    18th April 1990

    Judge Ratner's clerk (Bill Dalzell) arrives and adjourns the court, as Judge Ratner (Stephen Pearlman) is attending a funeral.

    Liz tells Denise that at 229 Kingsland there never was anybody called Anthony. It is also a crackspot, but Denise says that there are crackspots everywhere. Liz asks if there are any convictions in Denise's past. Denise denies so. Liz is trying to prepare her for the stand, as she was sentenced for shoplifting. Denise denies it was her even though she plead guilty at that time. She also was convicted for prostitution and drug possession. Denise says that she wasn't buying drugs that night, but Liz thinks that all crime is related to drugs one way or another. Denise is furious to have to testify when everybody told her that she wouldn't have to. She says four or five "fuck you"'s and leaves in anger.

    17th May 1990

    Ringle passes on an offer of 2 to 4 years. As Williams has already been in jail for 6 months, it would mean than in 18 months he could leave on parole. Ringle advises him that, if he is innocent, take the plead now, because if not, he will not leave prison before his son graduates. He tells him that his alibi is shit, and the prosecutor will say that his mother is lying for him. Ringle also advises him not to testify. Ringle tells him that Moore is going to look very sympathetic with that scar on his face. Williams says he needs to think.

    The judge explains in detail what it means if he pleads guilty. Williams says he understands while playing with a pencil. The judge says that he hopes he is declared innocent, because if he isn't, they will meet again on sentencing, and he thinks that the crime of which he is accused of is worth more than 2 to 4, so that Williams won't like that meeting. That offer is history.

    18th May 1990 - Selection of jury.

    Ratner's Law Secretary (Marc Field) gives him a list of the cases actually judged by others.

    Begins the juror selection.

    Miss Gibson (Etta Cox) says that she will listen to what Denise Moore has to say in spite of Moore's previous convictions. Mr Hughs (Ellsworth Gearinger) says that the judgement must take into account what Williams says as well. Almost all jurors have been victims of crime. Ringle explains to Evans (Lonzo Green) that if there is only one reasonable doubt that the prosecutor has not proved against, they have no other option than to let Williams go free. Evans had hesitated.

    Riley calls Carter: Moore has a bad look. Carter tells him to pick her up and clean her off, because without her as a witness, the case will disappear. Denise feels like shit. Riley tells her that she's only 19, she can still get her life on track.

    Mrs Charles goes to speak with Jessie Junior, her grandson. The cute boy says he misses his father. Denise is eating her nails. Denise has a meltdown and shouts to Liz so that she leaves. Williams never thought that Denise Moore would appear. Williams is outraged at the scar. Immediately, Williams wants to take the plead of 2 to 4. Ratner leaves the decision on Carter's hands and she offers three and a half to seven.

    He says that he picked a knife up, robbed her and cut her in the face. He hugs his mother. Mrs Charles leaves crying. Ratner dismisses the jury.

    Denise tells Liz that she wanted to testify. Liz says that the defending lawyer was going to be vicious. Denise says that Liz was her lawyer, she should defend and believe her; Liz says that she represents the people of New York, but that incidentally, she believed her story. Denise cries that she got a scar for life, not for 7 years only. She cries and shouts that nobody cares about her. Liz offers to ask for police protection for her. She says that she'll never be OK. Denise says "You still don't get it, do you?" and runs away.

    Mrs Charles faces Ringle, but he says that it was Williams' decision, not his.

    Carter and Ringle meet at the corridor.

    Ringle moves onto his next case.

    Raymond Alvarez (Yancey Arias) says he is innocent, but he sounds a small-time drug trafficker.

    The End

    --- summary written by KrystelClaire

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