Perry Mason syndrome

Typical Perry Mason episode

In a typical episode of Perry Mason, a series involving a fictional Los Angeles defense attorney which initially ran from September 1957 to May 1966, the first half of the show usually depicted the prospective murder victim as being deserving of homicide, often with Mason's client publicly threatening to kill the victim. After Mason's client is charged with murder, during the preliminary hearing for the trial Mason would establish his client's innocence by dramatically demonstrating the guilt of another character.[1] The real murderer would nearly always break down and confess to the crime in the courtroom, often while on the witness stand.[1]


The Perry Mason syndrome purports that, due to the oversimplified manner in which trial proceedings were presented on the popular crime drama Perry Mason, jurors who watched the program would enter trials with misconceptions about how the legal process works.[2] Some argue that the Perry Mason syndrome greatly reinforced the presumption of innocence of the defendant, which may have been problematic when the defendant was guilty.[3] Others argue that, because Perry Mason was often able to cause witnesses to confess, jurors would expect similar "Perry Mason moments" to occur in real trials as well.[4] This shifted the burden of proof from the prosecution to the defense.[4] In one case, a juror told the defense attorney that the jury had voted to convict the defendant because the prosecution's key witness did not confess during cross-examination.[5]


The Perry Mason syndrome has been cited as a reason some defendants would choose to appear pro serepresenting oneself in court rather than being represented by a lawyer. The simplified portrayals of trials on the television series led some defendants to underestimate the seriousness of their predicaments.[6] Consistent viewers of the show may have also believed that they had gained an intimate understanding of the United States legal system and would be able to represent themselves better than an attorney could.[7] This effect may have been exacerbated by the tendency for news media to oversimplify their coverage of trial proceedings.[7]

See also

  • Criminal procedure in the United States
  • CSI effect


  1. Leitch, Thomas (2005). Perry Mason. Detroit: Wayne State University Press. pp. 28–29. ISBN 0-8143-3121-1.
  2. Boorstin, Daniel J. (May 1978). "The Great Electronic Dictator". Pediatrics. 61 (5): 684.
  3. Lippman Jr., Theo (16 September 1993). "The actor who has played Perry Mason on..." Baltimore Sun. Retrieved 25 December 2010.
  4. Podlas, Kimberlianne. The Potential Impact of Television on Jurors (PDF). August 2010 Impression and Pattern Evidence Symposium. University of North Carolina at Greensboro. p. 11.
  5. Graham, Fred (1991). "The Impact of Television on the Jury System: Ancient Myths and Modern Realism" (PDF). American University Law Review. 40 (2): 628. Archived from the original (PDF) on March 4, 2012.
  6. Scott, Teresa A. (1984). "The Role of Standby Counsel: The Road From Faretta To Wiggins". Howard Law Journal. LexisNexis. Archived from the original on March 4, 2016.
  7. Begg, Robert T. (1976). "Reference Librarian and the Pro Se Patron". Law Library Journal. 69: 29. SSRN 1616815.
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