Rafael Barba

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Rafael Barba
Law & Order character
ADA Rafael Barba.jpg
First appearance "Twenty-Five Acts"
Portrayed by Raúl Esparza
Time on show 2012–
Seasons 14, 15, 16
Credited appearances 35 episodes (total)
Preceded by Alexandra Cabot
Casey Novak

Rafael Barba is a fictional character portrayed by Raúl Esparza, who joined the cast of the long-running NBC crime drama series Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, during the 14th season episode "Twenty-Five Acts". The character was promoted to a series regular for the 15th season.

Character overview[edit]

Assistant District Attorney Rafael Barba transfers from the Brooklyn District Attorney's office, to Manhattan, after requesting a lateral move. Barba is brought in to work with the Special Victims Unit at the behest of temporary SVU captain, Steven Harris (Adam Baldwin), due to the aftermath of the Delia Wilson case which saw members of the District Attorney's office "lawyer up". He is a by-the-book headstrong prosecutor, who puts pressure on not only the detectives, but also the victims and witnesses, in order to achieve outcomes.[1]

Character within SVU[edit]

In his first case with the Special Victims Unit, he prosecutes a rape similar to a best selling erotic novel Twenty-Five Acts by Jocelyn Paley (Anna Chlumsky), who is the rape victim. Barba tells the detectives to uncover anything and everything about Paley and her attacker. After rushing to put Paley on the stand to testify, Barba and the detectives discover that Paley did not write the book, which forces Barba to get creative with the trial. Barba taunts the defendant with a belt tied around his neck, resulting in him lashing out and choking Barba from behind the way he did to the victims. After this, the jury finds the defendant guilty.[1]

Barba goes head to head with the Suffolk County District Attorney, Pam James (Jane Kaczmarek), in the episode "Beautiful Frame", after a Manhattan rape victim is charged with the murder of her ex-boyfriend in Suffolk County. Detective Benson questions the charges against the woman and gathers enough evidence for Barba to put another man on trial for the same murder, as Barba and James race to get a conviction before the other. Barba and the SVU detectives uncover a scandal within the Suffolk County DA's office, as one of James' investigators set the young woman up for the murder. Barba offers to spare James' office of more embarrassment as long as the investigator is convicted for the murder in Suffolk County.[2]

In the episode, "Funny Valentine", Barba and the detectives have a tough time convincing pop star Mischa Green (Tiffany Robinson) to testify against her abusive boyfriend, hip-hop artist Caleb Bryant (Eugene Jones). After a shooting that kills her manager with Bryant as a suspect, Barba and Detective Benson convince Green to testify in the grand jury. But when she finally takes the stand, she tells Barba that her boyfriend was not at the scene and instead says Barba and Benson put those words in her mouth. After not being able to arrest Bryant, the couple flees on a vacation, where Green is ultimately found dead.[3]

Towards the end of the fourteenth season, Barba becomes close with the squad, and they rely on his legal advice on many of their assigned cases. In the episode "Undercover Blue", Benson goes to Barba in an attempt to provide evidence that could potentially clear Detective Cassidy (Dean Winters) of rape. Barba already had the evidence and, although he was not prosecuting the case, keeps a close eye on the trial.[4] In the season finale, "Her Negotiation", Rollins calls Barba in to the precinct on a weekend for a class-B misdemeanor because she believes that the man is more dangerous than the charges. Rollins' instinct is correct and Barba must fight to convict the man, who is discovered to have committed a long string of heinous crimes.[5]

In the fifteenth season, more about Barba's youth is shown, primarily in the episode "October Surprise", in which SVU pursues his childhood friend Alex Munoz. A frontrunner for the mayor of New York City, he is arrested for indecent exposure and possession of child pornography. Although Barba is initially reluctant to aid in the investigation, he becomes more focused on doing the right thing when it becomes clear that Munoz is guilty of the wrongdoing. Barba gives Munoz the opportunity to "get ahead of it" by alerting him to severity of the charges, which irritates the detectives, particularly Detective Amaro. Barba is ultimately forced to bring charges against Munoz, despite repeated warnings and threats from Munoz, his manager, and Munoz's wife, who happens to share a romantic past with Barba.


I don't think there's anything nice about [ADA Rafael] Barba. He's kind of an a--hole, but I love him ... And that's OK. He's fundamentally a good person and gets the job done.

Raúl Esparza on Barba's character.[6]

Raúl Esparza was approached by Law & Order: Special Victims Unit Executive Producer Warren Leight to appear in the series as an Assistant District Attorney. Leight had previously worked with Esparza in the 2012 Broadway production Leap of Faith and Leight insisted on writing a character for Esparza that would complement his acting strengths, "because he wanted to keep working together". He initially had reservations on accepting the role, as he didn't believe that it would satisfy his onstage work and that acting required a different set of skills. However, Esparza believed the role would offer him "recovery" time from the Leap of Faith Broadway production, which "fell apart". He signed up for the role, as "it was the best time to step away from a place where my [Esparza's] heart was broken."[6][7]

Prior to being cast as ADA Barba in SVU, Esparza appeared in a 2009 episode of Law & Order: Criminal Intent, in which he portrayed an ADA who had a dirty secret,[8] and a 2010 episode of Law & Order,[9] in which he portrayed a journalist.[10]

On July 12, 2013, it was announced that Esparza would join the main cast as Barba, in the series' fifteenth season.[11] On the promotion, Leight expressed, "Making him [Esparza] a series regular is a small way of acknowledging his enormous contribution to our show". Barba is the first regular ADA on the series, since Alexandra Cabot (Stephanie March) in the eleventh season.[12]


The New Yorker television critic Emily Nussbaum praised Esparza's portrayal of the character, stating that, "[Esparza] is a major asset as the dandyish A.D.A. Rafael Barba."[13] According to AM New York newspaper, Esparza is "most familiar to TV viewers as Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Rafael Barba on 'Law & Order: SVU.'"[14]

According to Esparza, Barba's "flashy, high-fashion suits ... and snappy suspenders" are popular online, with Kate Stanhope of TV Guide, adding that the character's "designer duds have been a hit with fans."[6]


Esparza has been credited in 35 episodes of SVU (appearing in 25) as Barba.[15]

Seasons Years Episodes
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25
14 2012–13
15 2013–14 × × × × × × × × × ×
Seasons Years 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25


  1. ^ a b "Twenty–Five Acts". Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. Season 14. Episode 3. October 10, 2012. NBC.
  2. ^ "Beautiful Frame". Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. Season 14. Episode 11. January 9, 2013. NBC.
  3. ^ "Funny Valentine". Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. Season 14. Episode 16. February 27, 2013. NBC.
  4. ^ "Undercover Blue". Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. Season 14. Episode 17. March 20, 2013. NBC.
  5. ^ "Her Negotiation". Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. Season 14. Episode 24. May 22, 2013. NBC.
  6. ^ a b c Stanhope, Kate (January 30, 2013). "Law & Order: SVU's Raul Esparza: There's Nothing Nice About ADA Barba". TV Guide. Retrieved June 24, 2013. 
  7. ^ Cutler, Jacqueline (November 21, 2012). "'Law & Order: SVU's' Raul Esparza: 'I have been part of critically acclaimed glories'". Zap2it. Retrieved June 24, 2013. 
  8. ^ "Lady's Man". Law & Order: Criminal Intent. Season 8. Episode 11. June 28, 2009. NBC.
  9. ^ "Blackmail". Law & Order. Season 20. Episode 12. January 15, 2010. NBC.
  10. ^ Gans, Andrew (October 3, 2012). "Raúl Esparza Lands Recurring Role on NBC's "Law & Order: SVU"". Playbill. Retrieved June 24, 2013. 
  11. ^ "Justin Hartley Joins ABC’s ‘Revenge’, Raul Esparza Upped To Regular On ‘Law & Order: SVU’". Deadline. Retrieved July 17, 2013. 
  12. ^ "Law & Order: SVU Promotes Raul Esparza to Series Regular for Season 15". TV Guide. Retrieved July 17, 2013. 
  13. ^ Nussbaum, Emily (June 10, 2013). "The pulp appeal of "Law & Order: SVU."". The New Yorker. Retrieved June 24, 2013. 
  14. ^ Feeney, Sheila (June 10, 2013). "Stage veteran Raul Esparza embraces the role of the bad guy on screen". AM New York. Retrieved June 24, 2013. 
  15. ^ Rafael Barba — IMDb