Monday, 17. September 2012
In January of 2008, Breaking Bad premiered on AMC. And so our obsession began.
This new series will explore the crimes and criminals of the television series from a criminal defense perspective. To do so, we must look back to where it all began: the pilot episode.
For those of you who have missed out on the past four years of brilliant television:
Breaking Bad takes place in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Walter White is a lackluster and disenfranchised high school chemistry teacher in New Mexico, bereft with financial troubles, who has been diagnosed with inoperable, late stage lung cancer. Walter fears for his family’s financial future and, after learning of the money available in the drug trade, is inspired to take a new direction in life. Walter partners with former student Jesse Pinkman and the two begin to manufacture and sell methamphetamine while slowly developing a criminal enterprise. You can read a full synopsis of the pilot episode here.
The inaugural episode of Breaking Bad prompts the audience to reconsider how they conceive the types of people that become involved in crime. Walter White is unassuming and straight-laced, but yet he steps into a world of hardened criminals. Walter was not born into the drug trade and he doesn’t fit the stereotype of a man destined to “break bad”. He turned to the drug trade in desperation, motivation by financial hardship.
A 1996 DEA report paints a picture of the “typical” meth user: male, between the ages of 19 and 40. This profile still dominates public opinion today, and is superficially personified by Jesse Pinkman—a failed student, burnt out and restless with no ambition. However, once we learn more about his upbringing, he continually contradicts conventional notions, despite his appearance and public demeanor. Jesse was born into an upper-middle class, urban household. He is not the offspring of the streets, but instead was forced out by well-meaning parents who refused to tolerate his self destruction. Jesse makes and sells drugs to support himself financially.
According to MN criminal defense attorney Stacy Kaye, the profiles of the people involved in the methamphetamine trade continue to blur the lines of stereotypical demographics. In fact, more than 12.3 million Americans are reported to have tried methamphetamine. Once considered the bane of rural small towns, methamphetamine is making its way into city party scenes and replacing drugs like cocaine as the substance of choice for characters like Jesse Pinkman. This spread is due, in part, to the rise of organized manufacturing and trafficking from Mexico. Unlike the small town user mixing chemicals in their garage to supply their own high, we are now seeing a business-minded enterprise emerge, blazing the trails for figures such as Walter White to enter the drug trade.
While the audience is drawn closer to the leading characters, they are still left to reconcile with the justice system that vilifies them. In Minnesota, a person may be charged with a first degree felony controlled substance crime for manufacturing any amount of methamphetamine. The maximum penalty for this offense is 30 years in prison and up to $1,000,000 in fines.
The most important message to take away from the pilot episode is that the “criminal” is not an alien breed. The Walter White in the RV meth lab is the same Walter White we see in the classroom. It is the legal status of the chemicals which draws the line between ordinary citizen and criminal offender. Granted, the story continues to unfold and the characters’ actions become darker as the series progresses. However, the pilot episode serves to humanize these characters. This is perhaps why Breaking Bad resonates so strongly with our criminal defense firm. We understand that our clients are ordinary people who happen to be tangled up in statutes and legislation, often as a result of falling on hard times or an instance of poor judgement.
Stay tuned as next week, we explore specific criminal charges and penalties these characters could face in the real world as we continue our blog series The Criminology of Breaking Bad. In the meantime, learn about a real-life Walter White.