I really like watching CBS's "Hawaii 5-0," and I don't even think of it as a guilty pleasure. It's got the gorgeous backdrop of Oahu, good chemistry among the cast, and three Asian-American actors in co-starring roles, which is about three more than other shows that I watch put together. Of course, it's a comic book show, so any expectations about verisimilitude are at the viewer's own risk.
Still, last week's episode, Na hala a ka makua, was chock full of legal errors worthy of comment. The basic premise of the episode was that a two-time felon played by Michael Madsen has just been convicted of first-degree murder but escapes from custody and ends up taking our heroes, Steve McGarrett and Danny Williams, hostage.
First problem: the verdict of first-degree murder is announced in "United States District Court" in a case stylized as State of Hawaii v. Roy Parrish.
U.S. District Court is a federal court, for the trial of federal crimes. There is a federal crime of first-degree murder, but it is not a general murder statute; rather, it is first-degree murder in circumstances giving rise to federal jurisdiction, such as murdering federal employees or foreign officials. And it certainly wouldn't be the State of Hawaii against the defendant in such a case; it would be United States v. the defendant.
(There is a situation in which a criminal prosecution under state law could end up in federal court, but that is where the defendant is a federal officer who is being prosecuted for violating a state law while acting within the scope of federal employment. In such a situation, the federal officer can "remove" the case from state court to federal court in order to ensure a fair trial, on the assumption that the federal court will be less subject to local bias and the like. Thus, when the State of Idaho prosecuted FBI sharpshooter Lon Horiuchi for killing Randy Weaver's wife and baby son during the Ruby Ridge siege, Horiuchi was able to remove the case to federal court, even though the case remained one under state law.)
Now, if this were a federal courtroom matter, the security would be provided by court security officers and U.S. Marshals. Yet, after being pronounced guilty, the Madsen character was escorted out by local police and SWAT team officers. . . .
Fast forward to the end. The Madsen character has been killed, but not before the emergence of apparently incontrovertible evidence of his having been set-up for the most recent crime. His daughter is present in U.S. District Court (again), where the judge apologizes on behalf of the United States for the grievous wrong that was done to her father and announces that he has been posthumously pardoned.
Pardoned? That's an Article II (i.e., Presidential) power, and only as to federal crimes, not state crimes. So it wouldn't be a federal judge announcing a pardon; it would be the President, unless we're talking about a pardon of state crimes, in which case it would be the governor.
I'm being utterly nitpicky here, but at the same time, all of this would have been avoided by simply designating the courtroom a state court, not a federal court; and having the end scene be one with the governor's office rather than a court.