Art Imitating Life: How Courtroom Experience Becomes Courtroom Drama

The Victim Book Cover.jpg

I began my legal career as a prosecutor, fantasizing about jail-hardened career cons crumbling under the strain of my brutal cross-examination.  There would be tears and confessions on the witness stand, lots of “You Can’t Handle The Truth!” moments.

By the time I left the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office, I had handled thousands of cases though I had yet to see anything that vaguely resembled the stuff we see on TV. 

Not that it was all routine.  I once watched - and smelled - as an in-custody defendant succumbed to a particularly noisy case of diarrhea, right there in the courtroom, clad in his county-issued jumper. 

Corrections officers took him out to be hosed off while he lashed out at everyone within earshot, blaming his ailment on spoiled baloney.  While lead on an attempted carjacking trial, a defendant, representing himself, snuck a shaving razor into the courtroom and proceeded to slice his wrists open while seated at the defense table.  He passed out, court recessed for the rest of the day, and everyone returned the following morning where the defendant - whose long-sleeve dress shirt did a bang-up job of concealing his bandages - was found guilty in less than thirty minutes and sentenced to ten years his prison. 

 When I left the State Attorney’s Office in 2009 to enter private practice as a criminal defense lawyer, I had somewhat figured out that in the practice of law, art seldom imitates life.  If you were to base your knowledge of the criminal justice system on say, “Law & Order”, you would be made to believe that prosecutors, detectives, and judges are insanely good-looking and that every case, no matter how big or small, is resolved by a jury trial.  (You might also think that we always converse about cases while walking briskly down hallways in groups of three).  The reality is, attorneys, judges, and detectives (detectives in particular) are as homely as anyone else, and 99% of our cases will never see a jury. 

 The overwhelming majority of our courtroom appearances are for routine matters.  Arraignments, pleas, calendar calls.  Only the cases that cannot be resolved will be tried, and even then, trials tend to go off without much fanfare.  The thing is, the idea of what we do - bad guys doing bad things, represented by noble men and women fighting against the immeasurable forces of government - is incredibly sexy.  When put into practice, the reality overtakes the fantasy.  I mean, even astronauts consider space walks to be routine. 

 The point is, a legal thriller plays on that fantasy, crafting a story full of twists and turns and mysterious characters while following the technical accuracy of the legal process as a framework.  What you have then is a farfetched story that’s transformed into something plausible.  That’s where the entertainment value lies; in the notion that fictitious events could occur in real life. 

 When you have a technical foundation in a novel - be it a courtroom, a battlefield, an operating table - the story must be crafted along those lines.  The way courtroom experience transforms into courtroom drama is merely formulaic.  Change the input while maintaining consistency with the process.  So that run-of-the-mill murder trial turns into a thriller when the defense attorney realizes that his client is innocent and the lead detective set him up to cover up the fact that dirty cops really killed the victim.  That fact pattern is the stuff of fiction but when set against a backdrop that mirrors the real-life court process, you have a viable story.

 No plot is too imaginative if the story is grounded in fact.

Check out Eric Matheny's new book "The Victim" released August 13th.


Anton Mackey is a man with everything. At least, he seems to be on the surface. He has a rising career as a private attorney, a lovely wife, a beautiful daughter; he and his family live in an idyllic neighborhood that most people dream about. Sure, there are troubles that plague this family, the same as any other, but all in all things are looking up. Life is good, and the future is better. 

Except Anton has a past, too, and something has been looming, bearing down on him from that history, just waiting for the chance to strike. Soon, everything will change, and the life he’s struggled so hard to build will come crashing down around him. 

And the worst part of it all: Anton Mackey has no one to blame but himself.

Eric Matheny

About the Author:

Eric Matheny was born in Los Angeles, California, where he lived until he went away to college at Arizona State University. At ASU he was president of Theta Chi Fraternity. He graduated with a degree in political science and moved to Miami, Florida, to attend law school at St. Thomas University. During his third year of law school, he interned for the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office, where he worked as a prosecutor upon graduation. In 2009, he went into private practice as a criminal defense attorney. He is a solo practitioner representing clients in Miami-Dade County, Florida, and Broward County, Florida. He has handled everything from DUI to murder.

In his free time, Eric enjoys writing crime fiction, drawing from his experience working in the legal system. He published his debut novel Home in 2004, which centers around a successful drug dealer catering to the rich in Orange County. His second novel Lockdown, published in 2005, follows a law student trying to prove that an inmate serving a life sentence in one of California’s toughest prisons might actually be innocent. Eric’s latest novel The Victim, is a tense, fast-paced, legal thriller/psychological suspense novel that centers around a young defense attorney whose horrifying misdeed from his college days comes back to haunt him. It was published by Zharmae in August 2015 and is available for sale on Amazon.

Eric lives outside of Fort Lauderdale with his wife and two young sons.

Readers can connect with him on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.