Justice Denied (Law & Order: Special Victims Unit)

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"Justice Denied"
Law & Order: Special Victims Unit episode
Episode no. Season 13
Episode 17
(#289 overall)
Directed by Michael Slovis
Teleplay by Stuart Feldman
Story by Stuart Feldman
Warren Leight
Production code 13018
Original air date April 11, 2012 (2012-04-11)
Guest actors
Episode chronology
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"Child's Welfare"
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"Valentine's Day"

"Justice Denied" is the seventeenth episode of the thirteenth season of the long-running NBC legal drama, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and the 289th episode overall. It originally aired on NBC in the United States on April 11, 2012. The episode follows Detective Olivia Benson, who discovers that she may have put an innocent man in prison for a crime eight years ago that he did not commit, placing her job and her relationship with Executive ADA David Haden (Harry Connick, Jr.) on the line.

The episode was written by Stuart Feldman (teleplay and story) and show runner/executive producer Warren Leight (story), and directed by freshman Law & Order: SVU director Michael Slovis. This episode is notable for ending the season thirteen story arcs for characters Executive Assistant District Attorney David Haden and Defense Attorney Bayard Ellis, who were portrayed by Harry Connick, Jr. and Andre Braugher respectively; this episode also ending Detective Benson's relationship with EADA Haden who is promoted at the end of the episode.

"Justice Denied" earned generally positive reviews, critics praising the break-up scene between Benson and Haden and Benson accepting Amaro as "a good partner"; the break-up scene made number 21 out of 25 on TV Guide's 2012 Best TV Episodes. According to the Nielsen ratings, the episode's original broadcast was watched by an average of 5.57 million total viewers and received a 1.7/4% share in the 18–49 age demographic, up slightly from the previous episode, "Child's Welfare".


It's 2004, and Omar Pena (Guillermo Díaz), a seaman in the US Navy, has just broken down in tears after a grueling nine hours in the interrogation room. Benson was finally able to get Omar to confess to the brutal rape of Ariel Baskins (Samantha Soule), who was tied up, gagged with a scarf, cut up, and got ammonia poured into her eyes, leaving scarring. Omar has been claiming his innocence ever since the interrogation, saying that his confession was made under extreme duress.

Now, Omar fails to convince Judge Blake (Ami Brabson) to allow DNA from the case to be gathered and tested via current methods that were not available eight years ago, and a 23-year-old rape victim named Gina Logan (Cynthia Laforte) is brought to the hospital after a harrowing hours-long ordeal. She was tied up, gagged with a scarf, cut up, and had ammonia poured into her eyes. Benson, feeling dread, immediately recognizes the M.O. as being from the case where she got Omar convicted.

The SVU is forced to reopen the 2004 case to determine if they're dealing with a copycat, or a case of wrongful imprisonment. Benson is hell-bent on believing that Gina's rapist is a copycat who's trying to throw doubt onto Omar's conviction.

The SVU learns that Omar had once helped Mike Martinez (Mark Consuelos), another former sailor who was in jail for rape, get his conviction overturned. Benson thinks that perhaps as a favor, Martinez copied the circumstances of Ariel's rape on Gina in order to bring a feasible alibi to Pena's cries of innocence. However Amaro doubts that theory.

Amaro is noticing inconsistencies in the 2004 case, and when Benson interrogated Martinez, and got him to come perilously close to confessing to Gina's rape, Amaro saw proof that Benson's intense interrogation technique can lead someone into making a false confession.

As Benson’s detective work is challenged, her personal relationship with Executive ADA David Haden (Harry Connick, Jr.) is placed in jeopardy, and then she learns that Omar's new attorney is Bayard Ellis (Andre Braugher), who has a habit of defeating the SVU's assistant D.A.'s in court.

Benson's world starts to spin out of control when she realizes that one of the main pieces of evidence against Omar was interpreted the wrong way by an MS-stricken cop who was showing the symptoms of color-blindness that MS can cause—it turns out that the scarf that Ariel was gagged with was red, but in the evidence log, the cop listed it as green.

Munch and Fin had a shot at questioning Omar before Benson did, and it was either one of them or Benson who told Omar that Ariel had been gagged with a green scarf. When Omar, who was under extreme duress, confessed in order to get the hellish interrogation to end, Omar said the scarf was green, when Omar did not know that it was actually red. Benson remembers that she never actually visited the scene of Ariel's rape as she was with her in the hospital, and Munch and Fin had never seen the scarf either, so they didn't know it was red.

Also, Omar had been found with Ariel's credit cards, but that's because he found the credit cards in a dumpster, which was the truth, but the SVU detectives refused to believe that. When Benson interrogated Omar, her questions were based solely on the evidence log, which listed the scarf as green. Now, Benson is distraught to realize that she did force a false confession out of an innocent man 8 years ago.

The DNA comes in from Gina Logan's rape, and it matches the DNA from Ariel's rape. That confirms that Omar is innocent. Benson and Ellis visit Omar, and Benson tells Omar that she now knows that he's innocent. Omar, who is understandably livid, angrily says "You're telling me something that I told you eight years ago!"

Ellis meets with Haden to demand that Omar be set free due to the new evidence. Ellis says "My client has been wrongfully imprisoned for 8 years. How much longer does he have to wait?" Haden says "We can't let Pena out until we complete our investigation. The DNA results alone aren't exculpatory." Ellis says "Paired with a false confession, the hell they aren't."

Haden says "Hang on a minute. There's plenty of other evidence besides Pena's confession. The victim picked him out of a line-up, six witnesses ID'd him in a bar, harassing her, he gets arrested with the victim's credit cards -- it's, uh, not a slam dunk for a dismissal." Ellis says "Circumstantial. Bad IDs."

Haden says "There's no malice here -- not from the DA's office, not from NYPD. Detective Benson is killing herself trying to make this thing right. You saw her with Pena." Ellis says "Yes, I know." Haden says "She's taking this personally. She's not one of those good ol' boy detectives. This is a point of pride with her."

Ellis realizes that somehow, Haden knows about his and Benson's visit to Pena. Ellis says "May I ask when Detective Benson told you about our visit to Pena?" Haden says "Excuse me?" Ellis says "Yesterday afternoon? I was with her on the train, so it must have been...last night." Haden says "What are you asking me?" Ellis says "I'm curious...what exactly is the nature of your relationship?"

Haden says "I think we're done here." Ellis says "Does the District Attorney know? I've got an innocent man in prison, and appearances suggest that the detective who coerced the confession is involved with the ADA whose office is reinvestigating the case." Haden says "You know us both better than that." Ellis says "Then I know you'll both do the right thing here." Ellis leaves.

That night, Haden meets with Benson, and tells her that Ellis has figured out that they've been seeing each other. Benson says "I don't get it. Ellis knows that our relationship has nothing to do with this case." Haden says "He does, but it gives him a grenade." Benson says "Ok. So we have no choice. We have to disclose." Haden says "No, it's too late. If this comes out now, after I vouched for you, we'd lose our careers."

Benson says "I don't understand why the DA won't release Pena." Haden says "It doesn't work that way, Olivia. Overturning a guilty plea with that much evidence -- it has to go through a process." Benson says "Okay. So how do we speed it up? How do we get Omar out of prison?"

Haden says "You find the real rapist and tie him to both cases, and that exonerates Pena completely." Benson says "And if we don't?" Haden says "Ellis has to play his hand." Benson meets with Ellis, and Ellis agrees to give the SVU a week to find the rapist before Ellis will use anything against Benson and Haden.

The SVU figures out that the rapist is Javier Maranhao (Ramon Fernandez), a Brazilian Navy sailor who, according to DNA hits from Interpol, has committed other rapes—in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 2006, Naples, Italy in 2008, and Rota, Spain in 2009, all with the same M.O., and he had testified against Omar.

It turns out that the Brazilian Navy uniform looks so similar to the American Navy uniform that anyone who isn't familiar with the way a US Navy uniform looks and doesn't know what to look for could easily mistake the Brazilian uniform for the American one.

After Ariel, who now wears eyeglasses with extremely strong lenses, is shown a picture of Javier, Ariel realizes that her ID of Omar as her rapist was wrong, and she's distraught that she helped put away the wrong man. In tears, she quietly says "What'd I do? What'd I do?"

Ariel and Gina both identify Javier as the rapist, and Javier's DNA matches the samples that were taken from the rape scenes, including the ones in Argentina, Italy, and Spain. Gina, who has chemical burns surrounding her eyes, angrily says to Benson, "He's been doing this for eight years? So if you hadn't put away the wrong man, this never would've happened to me!?" Benson apologizes to Gina.

With Javier arrested, Ellis is able to get Omar freed, and have all the charges against him dropped, and his convictiion overturned. Omar is in tears as Judge Blake apologizes to him for the grave miscarriage of justice that he had to live with for eight years, and she tells Omar that he's now a free man.

Back at the SVU, Cragen informs Benson that the District Attorney has decided to form a Conviction Integrity Unit to investigate past cases and ensure that no one is wrongfully imprisoned. Cragen says that the Conviction Integrity Unit will be starting with the SVU, and that Haden has been appointed as the attorney in charge of the Conviction Integrity Unit.

Benson and Haden later meet for drinks, and Haden says that he has asked Ellis to be a member of his outside advisory panel in the Conviction Integrity Unit. Benson and Haden discuss how the case leaves their relationship. Haden says "In conflict." Even though they don't want to, Benson and Haden decide that, in order to protect the integrity of the SVU, and avoid a conflict of interest, they have to end their relationship, and pretend like the relationship never happened.


"Justice Denied" was written by Stuart Feldman (teleplay and story) and showrunner/executive producer, Warren Leight (story), and directed by Michael Slovis. This episode was the final episode of the thirteenth season for both recurring guest stars Andre Braugher and Harry Connick, Jr., who portrayed defense attorney Bayard Ellis and Executive Assistant District Attorney David Haden in four episodes, respectively. In an interview close to the episodes original airing, Connick, Jr. enjoyed his time on SVU, stating; "The greatest thing for me is that I became friends with Mariska [Hargitay], she's an incredible woman, has an amazing family, and I really feel that although my time on SVU has come to an end, that I made a really good life-long friend, and if I have the good fortune of coming back I'd be very happy about that and if not, I feel really proud of the work I've done thus far [on SVU]."[1]

Mariska Hargitay (Detective Olivia Benson) and Harry Connick, Jr. (Executive Assistant District Attorney David Haden) in the Law & Order: SVU episode, "Official Story". Connick, Jr. portrayed Haden for a four episode story-arc as a love interest for Detective Benson, but they broke up at the end of "Justice Denied".

In an interview with TV Guide in February 2012, showrunner/executive producer Warren Leight initially spoke of what was to come in this episode. Leight suggested that it is possible Connick, Jr. will return to the show after his initial four-episode arc. "Originally [Connick] was booked for four episodes, but I'm under no obligation to kill him off at the end of those four. He seems to be having a good time. They seem to be working pretty well together, but at some point drama must rear its head. One thing I will say is we will not reveal him to be a serial killer. And I have no intention of tragically blowing him up in a car or anything like that." Between seasons 8 and 12 (under former showrunner/executive producer Neal Baer), the show has had characters change or even die as sort of a dramatic plot twist.[2]

Leight went on to discuss about the episode and obstacles in David Haden's and Detective Benson's relationship, "They may disagree on a case. She may question his commitment because she's such a crusader. If you work as a No. 2 in a New York City D.A.'s office, you have to have political skill. So I could see her mistaking his political skill for a lack of fervor. And clearly, they're not supposed to be working on the same cases. That'll get a case thrown out of court. The ethical boundary is a huge, huge issue. But then also there's this question of boundaries in a relationship. If both of you do the same kind of stuff, and you're always talking shop — is that healthy for a relationship?"[2]

Mariska Hargitay noted in an interview on The Today Show that "Justice Denied" was, "truly one of (her) favorites." In the interview she also discusses the adoption of her two children in 2011 - Amaya and Andrew - and noted after Christopher Meloni departed the cast it was a difficult adjustment for her at first, but she now says it is "reenergizing to do the same thing that you've been doing for twelve years and with a whole new freshness to it and a new take on it."[3] Hargitay earlier stated in an interview with TV Guide at a benefit in Los Angeles for her Joyful Heart Foundation, "It's going to get complicated, though," warns Hargitay of the relationship between Benson and EADA Haden in "Justice Denied". "But when Chris Meloni was around there was no way Olivia could ever be with anybody else. Now that he's gone, I think she has room in her heart."[4]

Danny Pino said of the episode's subject matter, "The case we're about to work on is one that deals with Fleet Week, and sailors that may or may not be responsible for a rape, Amaro starts to realize that maybe the original attacker wasn't really guilty. He starts to look at the new evidence and starts to question [the original investigation]."[4] Partial scenes and dialog in this episode were taken from another Law & Order: SVU episode in the sixth season titled, "Quarry", which originally aired January 25, 2005. The episode "Quarry" was actually about a seven-year-old who was found dead and sexually assaulted by a serial killer.



In its original American broadcast on April 11, 2012, "Justice Denied" was approximately viewed by an estimated 5.57 million households with a 1.7 rating/4% share in the age 18–49 demographic. "Justice Denied" was the top performer on NBC that night, beating comedies Betty's White's Off Their Rockers and Best Friends Forever along with poorly rated NBC new's magazine, Rock Center with Brian Williams in the 18-49 age demographic. It was ranked #2 program of the night under CSI on CBS which pulled 9.94 total million viewers and a 2.4 rating/6% share in the 18-49 age demo, SVU beat a special recap episode of ABC's Revenge by 0.1 in the age 18-49 audience.[5]

Critical response[edit]

Teresa L. of TV Fanatic had a mixed review of "Justice Denied"; "Despite the episode's attempt to invoke some sympathy for Benson, I didn't feel sorry for her when she discovered the truth about Pena. It was Pena who deserved that sympathy, and I resented the fact that Benson was sort of made into a victim by the episode's end." She goes on to add, "She's (Mariska's) a strong actress, so it isn't hard to enjoy her scenes. However, I'm feeling a little bored with her storylines; perhaps, this break from her relationship with David will mean a break from Benson as well." She positively noted, "On the bright side this week, I enjoyed watching Amaro not only stand his ground on the Pena issue, but also continue to support Benson when she began to doubt herself. I definitely agreed with Benson when she said he was a good partner. Amaro has the kind of calming and logical presence that really balances out some of the more hot-headed detectives."[6]

TV Guide's Kate Stanhope said of the break-up of Detective Benson and EADA Haden, "Although it was a tearful end, taking such a close peek into Olivia's romantic life was daring by Law & Order standards, and the diversion paid off. Following the sudden departure of Det. Stabler (Christopher Meloni), it was nice, and possibly necessary, to see another door open for her after Stabler's was slammed shut without closure." Stanhope added, "After showing her[self] so emotionally vulnerable at the beginning of the season, the introduction of David Haden gave Olivia room to return to her stronger, more put-together self. And while another door may have closed for Olivia, she opened a window when she told Det. Nick Amaro (Danny Pino) that he was a good partner. Too bad it looks like he has some personal issues of his own to deal with first."[7]

The break-up between EADA David Haden and Detective Olivia Benson made TV Guide's top moments of the week, it ranked #3 in, " Most Heartbreaking Conflict": "As if Law & Order: SVU's Olivia hasn't had enough hard days on the job already, this week she learns that she helped wrongly convict a man of rape eight years ago and that a new unit is being formed to investigate past NYPD actions. Not only will the unit be starting with the sex crimes unit, but Olivia's boyfriend, ADA Haden (Harry Connick Jr.) will head up the effort. Foreseeing the obvious conflict of interest that is about to arise, the couple meets in a darkened bar and decides to pretend that their fledgling relationship never happened. Poor Olivia! First Stabler, and now this?"[8]

"Justice Denied" made number 21 of TV Guide's 2012 Best TV Episodes; "The heartbreaking end feels like a tease and makes us wonder if Olivia will ever find happiness, but the glimpse into her love life, however fleeting, is necessary for someone with whom we've grown close over the last 13 years." said TV Guide.[9]


  1. ^ "Law & Order SVU Justice Denied Harry Connick Jr Interview". Retrieved April 7, 2012. 
  2. ^ a b Bryant, Adam (February 15, 2012). "Law & Order: SVU: Will Benson's New Relationship Last?". TV Guide. Retrieved February 16, 2012. 
  3. ^ Hines, Ree (April 10, 2012). "Mariska Hargitay: Adoption is the greatest thing on the planet". Today, MSNBC. Retrieved April 12, 2012. 
  4. ^ a b Rizzo, Carita (March 5, 2012). "Law & Order: SVU: Mariska Will Be Back, A Tense New Case and More!". TV Guide. Retrieved April 12, 2012. 
  5. ^ Bibel, Sara (April 12, 2012). "Wednesday Final Ratings: 'Modern Family', 'CSI', 'American Idol', 'Survivor', 'Law & Order: SVU' Up; 'Rock Center' Down". TV by the Numbers. Retrieved April 12, 2012. 
  6. ^ L., Teresa (April 11, 2012). "Law & Order: SVU Review: Blinded by Justice". TV Fanatic. Retrieved April 12, 2012. 
  7. ^ Stanhope, Kate (April 11, 2012). "Law and Order: SVU's End of the Affair: "This Never Happened"". TV Guide. Retrieved April 12, 2012. 
  8. ^ Joyce Eng and, Kate Stanhope (April 12, 2012). "Top Moments: Anderson Cooper Gets Another Case of the Giggles, SVU's Olivia's Unlucky in Love". TV Guide. Retrieved April 13, 2012. 
  9. ^ "2012's Best Episodes: Grey's Deadly Crash and SVU's End of the Affair". TV Guide. December 23, 2012. Retrieved January 6, 2013. 

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