At age 30, Greg Beals has spent more than a third of his life on death row for a murder he didn't commit. Time's running out, so he tells faithful girlfriend Jewell to move on; their daughters need a father. Instead, Jewell proposes marriage. Beals' lawyer Al Druzinsky is still optimistic, despite being denied his last request for appeal. He's hoping to persuade the Supreme Court to grant a stay of execution. It's a Hail Mary, but at least the truth is on their side, and that's better than any prayer.
Flanked by beautiful women, Supreme Court Justice Cyrus Garza is the life of the casino, and the party is on at the blackjack table. Garza's prim, romantic clerk Mereta Sprows whispers to the pit boss, and before long, he escorts Garza to the door for counting cards - which, Garza reminds him, is legal in New Jersey. Besides, he was beating a six-deck shoe, and no one does that. Mereta hands him a file, explaining the Supreme Court is split on the decision to stay Beals' execution - his life is now in Garza's hands.In the parking lot, an attractive protestor angrily accosts Garza, assuming he'll send Beals to his death. Explaining why Beals didn't have a fair trial, she hands Garza a DVD.
Late that night after seducing the protestor, Garza watches the DVD, which contains a documentary film about his dad. Francisco Garza died tragically last year in a car accident, from which his son - the most conservative justice on the U.S. Supreme Court - was the only survivor. Both Francisco and his son love life and their country, but when it comes to justice, Cyrus is just plain wrong and deep inside, he knows it.The next morning, conservative law clerk Eddie Franks reports to Garza's DC chambers, surprised to find leather-clad private investigator Lucinda Pearl, the newest member of Garza's team. After flustering Eddie by insisting she'll never sleep with him, Lucinda confirms the protestor was right: Beals didn't get a fair trial, since he was doped up on Haldol, which she learned by hacking into county jail records.
Eddie can't believe Garza's actually considering granting Beals a new trial; if there was misconduct, the defense had 11 years to find out. Using a deck of cards to illustrate his point, Garza admits he's always played by the rules, which doesn't always lead to justice. No matter what, Beals deserves a fair trial. Garza dispatches Mereta to re-draft his opinion. In his limo, Senator Sidney Vidalin waits for Garza, fuming. Three recent precedent-setting cases involving big corporations all went south because of Garza. And now Beals!? Garza had better not shift the balance of the Supreme Court. Vidalin and his buddies put him there and they can easily take him out.
That night, Garza plays basketball on his rooftop court, deep in thought. The next morning, he presents his opinion on Beals to the Supreme Court. Although many believe granting Beals another trial will only create chaos, a little chaos is a fair price to pay for a human life. Garza grants the stay of execution and sends the case back for a new trial. Although he used to be satisfied by being cautious and neutral, Garza's changed, which is why he's resigning. Now he's ready to change the system. Senator Vidalin storms out of the courtroom in a huff. Garza's resignation is a bombshell, and pretty soon news trucks surround his home. Senator Vidalin calls, warning Garza to enjoy himself, because by tomorrow, he'll be the most hated man in America. And he might want to hire a bodyguard...
The media rages on the next morning as Garza packs up his office, while visiting with Claire Sax, senior partner in a prestigious K Street law firm. The sexual attraction is palpable, but the conversation centers on Garza's upper hand, as he negotiates a deal to join the firm. He'll receive the same salary as Claire, while picking his cases and his team. That night, Garza visits Al at home to beg him to join the team. Al's tempted, but clearly Garza has lost his mind - quitting the Supreme Court?! Garza explains: he's based his entire legal philosophy on upholding the rules, putting the system before the individual. Ever since the accident, it's seemed like he's hurting the very people he should be protecting. Beals is just such a man, and Garza wants him as his first case. To win, he'll need Al's help.
Mereta has already moved Garza's office into his townhouse and is preparing lunch, while Lucinda ribs her for trying to be more than just a clerk. Mereta doesn't care; she thinks Garza's amazing for quitting the Supreme Court based on principle. Eddie takes the opposite view, having already given his resume to Justice Esposito. When Garza arrives with Al, the team dives into the case. Eddie believes former crackhead Beals is clearly guilty of killing vice cop Pam Hogan, who interrupted his score. Mereta points out that the sole eyewitness recanted his testimony before dying six months ago in prison. His court-appointed therapist Felicia Milton called the office this morning. Garza sends Mereta to ask if she'll testify.
Al thinks there may be a timeline issue; Pam's body was found on April 10th, but she might have died as early as April 3rd - the one day for which Beals doesn't have an alibi (he was jailed for stealing a truck on the 4th). Lucinda offers to call the body farm, and Garza sends Eddie to keep her company. Just then, DA Manley Freed calls to request a meeting on behalf of the victim's husband, former cop Walt Hogan. Pam meant everything to Walt, especially after she nursed him when he was shot in the face. Since he doesn't want to relive the details of her murder, Walt has asked the court to commute Beals' sentence to life - an offer that's only available for the next 24 hours, starting now. When Garza mentions his questions about the eyewitness, Hogan berates him for being just like all lawyers, who don't care about the truth.
Later, Al explains Hogan's offer to Beals. Since they have no DNA evidence, a trial could easily uphold the verdict of execution. When Beals asks Garza what he'd do, Garza admits he couldn't say he killed someone if he hadn't. Beals insists he didn't kill Pam Hogan, and before long, all three men are standing before Garza's old buddy, Judge Richard Denner. Unlike a normal trial, Beals is now presumed guilty, so the burden is on Garza to prove he's not. When Freed explains Walt's offer of life is still available for another six hours, Al pulls Garza aside - this is about Beals' life, not Garza's crusade. Garza looks to Beals, who remains silent, and Denning sends the case to trial.
Eddie appears nauseous at the body farm, but Lucinda's in her element amidst rotting corpses. They meet forensic anthropologist Steve, who explains Pam died about seven days before her autopsy; exactly when depends upon the temperature. An average temperature of 70 degrees puts her death on April 8th. But if it was lower than 60, she could have died as early as April 1st. Mereta and Garza are devastated to learn Dr. Felicia Milton skipped town. Mereta thinks their case is washed up, so Garza takes her back to his house for a beer. When she asks why he hired her, he admits it was because she was pretty. The doorbell rings, and Garza leaves talk to his "nutritionist" Doc Levin, unwittingly leaving the intercom on. When Doc claims Garza's illness gives him best case three months, Mereta's eyes grow wide with fear.
Garza apologizes to Al for being rusty. He should never have tipped Freed about the eyewitness recanting - then she wouldn't have left town. All smiles, Lucinda and Eddie arrive with good news. Since the temperature in the crack house where Pam Hogan was murdered never went below 70 degrees, the murder couldn't have occurred prior to April 8th, five days after Beals was jailed!Exhilarated, Garza appears in court, intending to introduce his new evidence. Denning quickly puts a stop to this - no case allows the introduction of new evidence on appeal. Garza points to one precedent - his own. In Beals, the Supreme Court ruled federal law doesn't prohibit the introduction of new evidence that can prove a defendant's innocence. Denning angrily pounds his gavel, refusing to allow it.
Down but not out, Garza instructs Eddie to find a case where Denning himself allowed the introduction of new evidence on appeal. On the way out of court, Jewell runs up to Garza. What are all these rules? Garza told Beals to go to trial, and now he might die! Full of righteous passion, Mereta pipes up. Garza only has three months to live, and he's spending them trying to save Beals' life! Yes, she eavesdropped, and she's glad, because it's allowed her to speak the truth - she's in love with Garza. Garza grabs Mereta and pulls her away from the stunned group.
Over coffee, Garza tells Mereta that Doc Levin is his bookie. Garza's not dying, and he doesn't owe half a million like Politico said - his debt is only $250,000. He shouldn't have said he hired Mereta because she's pretty, and furthermore he's not a good candidate for love. Hell, he can't remember the names of the last three women he slept with. After making peace, they head back to the office to brainstorm with the team. Mereta and Al have discovered that Medical Examiner Simon Barnett never testified. When they tracked him down, it seemed clear that he was protecting someone - but who? It turns out, another crime tech was in the lab on the night Pam Hogan's evidence came in: Rita Schmidt.
Realizing Barnett would likely be a hostile witness, Garza's team gets busy trying to locate Rita, but it's as if she fell off the face of the earth. Garza follows a hunch: if Barnett's been protecting Rita all this time, chances are he'd call her right away if threatened. Besides, laws regarding wiretapping don't apply to patently unlawful conversations. And isn't protecting a material witness unlawful?Later that night, Lucinda plugs a digital data interpreter and a scanner into her laptop while sitting in her Gremlin outside Barnett's house. Eddie calls Barnett, claiming Rita agreed to testify. As predicted, Barnett hangs up and immediately calls Rita. Lucinda quickly locates her at a Baptist church in Massachusetts.
In court, Garza wins the right to introduce new evidence based on Denning's own precedent, then calls Rita to the stand. While cataloging evidence on the night of Pam Hogan's murder, Rita found a bloody pair of prescription glasses belonging to Walt Hogan. When she came back from her break, he was trying to steal them. Caught, Walt broke down, explaining that when Pam found out he was addicted to drugs, she followed him to the crack house - so he shot her. Rita never came forward because Walt threatened to kill her.
Freed jumps to his feet in protest - how can Rita prove the glasses belonged to Walt?! Thinking she might need protection someday, Rita stole the glasses. Garza offers them up as defense exhibit one. Freed protests - the glasses could belong to anyone! Garza points out that when Walt was shot in the line of duty, he was left partially deaf, and the glasses have been adjusted to accommodate his hearing aid.In his closing statement, Garza claims that Americans arrive in court expecting not just fairness, but moral rightness. If the rules we created to protect us wind up putting an innocent man to death, then something's very wrong. True justice demands the immediate release of Beals, and Hogan should be taken into custody for the murder of his wife.
As Hogan is loaded into a police car, Beals is set free, immediately accepting Jewell's marriage proposal. When Al asks Garza how it feels to be an outlaw, he answers, "Pretty damn good!"Later, the team gathers at Garza's house for a rooftop barbecue. Eddie mans the grill, admitting to Lucinda that he decided not to quit after all, and Mereta apologizes for any discomfort resulting from her declaration of love. Garza's on the phone setting up their next case, when he spies a large man with a buzz cut casing his home. He calls the senator and tells him to call off the "bodyguard" who's been following him everywhere. Vidalin claims he knows nothing about the guy, but wherever Garza is, he should leave. Garza scoffs - no matter what, he's not going anywhere.