The Star Chamber
|The Star Chamber|
|Directed by||Peter Hyams|
|Produced by||Frank Yablans|
|Written by||Roderick Taylor
Peter Hyams (screenplay)
Roderick Taylor (story)
|Distributed by||20th Century Fox|
|Release date(s)||August 5, 1983|
|Running time||109 min|
The Star Chamber is a 1983 American thriller film written by Roderick Taylor and directed by Peter Hyams. It stars Michael Douglas and Hal Holbrook. Its title is taken from the name of the notorious 17th century English court.
Judge Hardin (Douglas) is an idealistic Los Angeles jurist who gets frustrated when the technicalities of the law prevent the prosecution of two men who are accused of raping and killing a 10-year-old boy. They were driving slowly late at night and attracted the suspicion of two police officers, who wondered if the van's occupants might be burglars. After checking the license plate for violations, the policemen pulled them over for expired paperwork, claimed to have smelled marijuana, then saw a bloody shoe inside the van. However, the paperwork was actually submitted on time (it was merely processed late), meaning the police had no reason to pull over the van and Hardin has no choice (see fruit of the poisonous tree) but to throw out any subsequently discovered evidence, i.e. the bloody shoe. Hardin is even more distraught when the father of the boy attempts to shoot the criminals in court but misses and shoots a cop instead. Subsequently, the father commits suicide while in jail only after he informs Hardin that another boy has been discovered raped and murdered and tells him "This one is on you, your Honor. That boy would be alive if you hadn't let those men go." After hearing all this, Judge Hardin approaches his friend, Judge Caulfield (Hal Holbrook), who tells him of a modern-day Star Chamber: a group of judges who identify criminals who fell through the judicial system's cracks and then take actions against them outside the legal structure.
Judge Hardin participates in one of these proceedings in which he presents the case of the two criminals. The Star Chamber declares them "guilty" and dispatches a hired assassin. Soon afterward, however, a police detective (Yaphet Kotto) comes to Judge Hardin with conclusive evidence that someone else raped and killed the boy. Realizing that he and the Star Chamber have just sentenced two men to die for a crime they didn't commit, Hardin implores the Star Chamber to recall the assassin, but is told by the other judges that the hit cannot be canceled. For the judges' own protection, their system includes a buffer between themselves and the assassin; they don't know who he is and he doesn't know who they are. They rationalize to Hardin that although an occasional mistake is inevitable and regrettable, what they are doing still serves society's greater good — especially, they argue, considering that the two targeted men are clearly criminals guilty of plenty of other crimes, even if not of the specific crime for which the group convicted them.
Hardin makes it clear that he does not accept their reasoning. Caulfield warns him to back down because the group will do whatever they have to in order to protect themselves. Hardin refuses to heed this warning and says he will do whatever he can to stop the men from being killed. He then tracks down the men in an attempt to warn them. However, when he arrives, they do not trust him, as he has stumbled across their illegal drug operation. After they attack him, Hardin is saved by the hitman, disguised as a police officer, who kills the two men before they can kill Hardin. The hitman points his gun at Hardin, but at the last moment, the detective arrives and kills the hitman.
The movie ends with the Star Chamber deciding another "case" without Hardin, who is outside in a car with the detective recording their conversation.
- Michael Douglas: Superior Court Judge Steven R. Hardin
- Hal Holbrook: Judge Benjamin Caulfield
- Yaphet Kotto: Det. Harry Lowes
- Sharon Gless: Emily Hardin
- James Sikking: Dr. Harold Lewin
- Joe Regalbuto: Arthur Cooms
- Don Calfa: Lawrence Monk
- David Faustino: Tony Hardin
Legal accuracy 
||This section may contain original research. (March 2011)|
Although the evidentiary law of the movie was accurate at the time the movie was produced, several evidentiary rules used in the movie have since been overturned by subsequent court rulings. Under California law during the events of the movie, the police did not have the authority to search garbage; this was overruled in California v. Greenwood, 486 U.S. 35 (1988), in which the United States Supreme Court ruled no reasonable expectation of privacy exists in a trashcan placed outside of a residence. Although the movie accurately reflects the law at the time it was released in 1983, Greenwood later invalidated that particular legal underpinning.
The evidentiary ruling by Hardin concerning the police officers' reliance upon Department of Motor Vehicles records that were out-of-date was also correct at the time of the movie's events but has since been overturned by the United States Supreme Court. In United States v. Leon, 468 U.S. 897 (1984), the Court carved out an exception to the exclusionary rule where a police officer relies on invalid information but does so in good faith. In Arizona v. Evans, 514 U.S. 1 (1995), the Court ruled that evidence seized as a result of incorrect motor vehicle records is still admissible.
The Star Chamber earned positive reviews from critics, where it holds a 71% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 14 reviews.
- Aubrey Solomon, Twentieth Century Fox: A Corporate and Financial History, Scarecrow Press, 1989 p260
- Law and Popular Culture: A Course Book. Michael Asimow page. 158