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Allison Leotta Headshot

SVU Takes Criminal Procedure Down the Rabbit Hole

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Tonight's SVU promised a trip down an Alice-inspired rabbit hole of mind-bending drugs, hipster popup parties, and sly trust-fund kids. But the thing about "Wonderland Story" that was curiouser and curiouser was the oblivious way that the detectives botched their investigation.

A pretty blond named Sarah wakes up and discovers she's been raped -- for the second time in two years. At first, we suspect Michael Wedmore, the guy who got away with holding a gun to Sarah's head and raping her in Season 13. But that would be crazy, right? I mean, no one gets raped by the same stranger multiple times (except in the SVU episode "Behave," where Jennifer Love Hewitt was raped by the same stranger four separate times.) Anyway, Wedmore has an alibi: working at the nearby hospital and going on a church retreat (all of which seemed rather out-of-character for this psychotic gun-toting rapist, but let's go with it).

So our detectives don some designer jeans and go undercover (of course!) to follow a path through some spectacular popup Manhattan and Hamptons parties. They discover that a preppy young millionaire named Cameron is using GHB to immobilize and rape young women at these lavish, secret soirees. Not only did he probably drug and rape Sarah, he also probably drugged and raped her best friend Nicole, who doesn't realize that her blurry night and sore morning in the Hamptons some months ago were probably the result of a sexual assault.

The detectives briefly debate whether they should tell Nicole that she might have been raped. Yes, they decide. "We think you were raped," Olivia tells her. Nicole can't believe it. Amanda assures her, "We wouldn't have told you if we weren't sure." "Cameron is a serial rapist," Olivia adds. "We need to put him away." (As the Red Queen might say: "Off with his head!")

Having thus polluted their witness, they send her, wired up, to talk to Cameron. Nicole tells him she's pregnant with his baby, and he admits to having sex with her many months ago, but says she was drunk and coming on to him. The detectives rush in, arrest Cameron, and execute a search warrant on his posh Manhattan pad.

At that point -- hooray! -- they find the only real evidence that ties Cameron to any crimes, but lots of it. We're talking: (a) videos of him having sex with eight different unconscious girls, (b) jugs of GHB, and (c) bloody earrings he tore from the victims' earlobes and kept as trophies. The only thing that would have been better was if he'd left a notarized letter saying "I raped all those girls." What a productive search warrant! If only they had a legal basis for it.

But Cameron is duly cuffed and led off to jail. It was a good thing our hour was up before the suppression hearing began. Because Cameron is about to get off on some serious technicalities.

On a happier note, Munch wears a fabulous white tuxedo to his retirement party.

Verdict: C-

What they got wrong:

Detectives and prosecutors are only supposed to take evidence from witnesses -- never give it. They can ask a witness a question. They can show her a fair lineup. What they can't do is tell a witness who doesn't remember anything: your friend is a rapist and we are certain he raped you. Amanda and Olivia ruined Nicole as a witness. Imagine the devastating cross-examination: "You didn't think you were raped did you? But then you spoke to the police and they told you it was my client, right? And then you realized you were raped?" Prosecutors have been disciplined for less than this.

And the detectives didn't have nearly enough evidence to get a search warrant for Cameron's house. His statement to Nicole was barely incriminating: he said he'd consensual sex with her while she was intoxicated. More importantly, a detective who seeks a search warrant must show probable cause that evidence of the charged offense will be found on the premises. Nicole's suspected sexual assault took place months ago, in the Hamptons. There was no reason to believe that any evidence would be found at the Manhattan apartment. The fact that amazing evidence was found was a lucky break (very lucky!), but did not change the underlying invalidity of a warrant that was illegally obtained. Those sex tapes, that GHB, those bloody earrings -- all will be suppressed.

And that will leave only some fuzzy memories and a fuzzy suspect statement. Which is to say, the sort of evidence you have in most drug-facilitated sexual assault cases. The amazing iron-clad evidence they got from Cameron's apartment is extremely rare in the real world.

What they got right:

GHB is one of the most common substances used for drug-facilitated sexual assault. Blood tests can ascertain if it is still in your system, but act quickly. After a day or two, your body will metabolize it without a trace. Also, GHB tastes a salty and bitter, so it is often masked in salty drinks like the margarita Nicole had.

"Revictimization" of sex assault survivors is a real things. Research has shown that victims of past sexual assaults are more likely to be assaulted again. There are many possible explanations, including the effect of PTSD, greater self-blame, and effects of the victim's childhood. One study suggests that two of three individuals who are sexually victimized will be revictimized.

There really have been a bunch of popup parties thrown by a 19-year-old Manhattan millionaire (although this guy seems to be way nicer than Cameron). Alex Schlaferman, aka "Alex Xander," started with circus tents, fireworks and mechanical bull rides in an abandoned field, and peaked with a raver on the Manhattan bridge. He's been described as the man Jay Gatsby would be "if Gatsby were a hipster." After his arrest this August for the bridge flash party, he's been hailed as the "next big thing," and is fielding reality-show offers.

What do you think SVU fans? Leave your comments!