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What Happened to Diane Neal's Character A.D.A. Casey Novak on Law & Order: SVU?

The former prosecutor worked with the department for five years, was censured, and later returned to the job.

By Megan Carpentier
21 Reasons We Love SVU

Casey Novak (Diane Neal) was a beloved Assistant District Attorney on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit from Seasons 5 through 9 and then again in Seasons 12 and 13.

How to Watch

Watch the Season 26 premiere of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit Thursday, October 3 at 9/8c on NBC.

Known for her compassion for victims and no-nonsense attitude to perps, she was tight with both Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay) and Elliot Stabler (Christopher Meloni) by the time she left under a cloud in Season 9 — but she didn't start off that way. 

Casey Novak and the cast of Law And Order Svu Season 6

When did Casey Novak start on SVU?

Casey Novak's first episode was Season 5, Episode 5 ("Serendipity"). She began working with the squad after their previous liaison, Alexandra "Alex" Cabot (Stephanie March), faked her own death and entered witness protection the previous episode.

RELATED: What Happened to Stephanie March's A.D.A. Alex Cabot on Law & Order: SVU?

She announced her arrival by showing up while Benson, Stabler, and several crime scene techs were serving a search warrant and ordering Benson to bag up evidence she was already planning to collect.

"Who the hell are you?" Benson asked her.

RELATED: The First Thing Olivia Benson Said to Casey Novak on SVU Was Bitingly Shady

Her comments to Stabler weren't much more collaborative. He explained to Benson that she was their new A.D.A., and Novak said, "Do I know you?

"Yeah, shortstop. Cop's team," he said.

"Oh, right, I didn't recognize you when you weren't covered in my dust," she said.

She then went on to tell them that she was "very hands on" and "liked to see [her] cases through from beginning to end," so they could expect her to do her own sweeps during search warrants and at crime scenes... including the one the two detectives had already cleared before serving the search warrant.

Casey Novak and the cast of Law And Order Svu Season 5

Why did Casey Novak leave SVU the first time?

Novak was forced out of the Manhattan D.A.'s office for breaking the law in Season 9, Episode 19 ("Cold").

The episode centered around then-Detective Chester Lake's (Adam Beach) pursuit of the perpetrator in a cold case rape and murder — then-Detective Edward Kralik, who was killed in Lake's presence at the beginning of the episode.

Kralik and his friend from the police academy, then-Fugitive Apprehension Team Officer Thomas Crane (Jack Gwaltney), had kidnapped two young undocumented immigrant girls 10 years prior and taken turns raping both. The one who fought back during her rape by Kralik, Alisa Hernandez, was strangled by him and the two rapist cops fought over what to do, allowing the second girl, Cecelia Cruz (who had been begging for her life and promised not to tell) to escape.

RELATED: Why Casey Novak Left Law & Order: SVU

Lake had never solved the case, but was closing in on Kralik when Crane ambushed him. Kralik ended up dead in the shoot-out and Lake ended up injured.

Ultimately, Crane was prosecuted for the rape and murder of Alisa — but the DNA evidence from her rape kit had been degraded and, while strongly implicating Crane, wasn't fully conclusive. In order to shore up her prosecution, Novak withheld the reports about the extent of the degradation from the defense until late in the trial, claiming the reports for the lab were not yet complete. Withholding potential exculpatory evidence from the defense is a Brady Rule violation, which can result in a conviction being overturned and/or a prosecutor facing sanctions.

Crane's jury deadlocked on the charges, and Novak (who planned to re-try the case) was called into Judge Elizabeth Donnelly's (Judith Light) office. (Donnelly had been Novak's boss as the Bureau Chief Assistant District Attorney in Seasons 5 and 6 before taking the judgeship in Season 7, though she was not the judge on the Crane case.)

Donnelly told her that the D.A.'s office would not pursue a second trial against Crane because of her Brady rule violation, and that she had personally reported Novak's malfeasance to the state bar so that she would face sanctions. She then asked Novak why she'd done it. ​​​​​​

"Because the bad guys can't always win," she said. "He deserved to pay."

"And so do you," said Donnelly, adding that Novak was facing censure and the possible suspension of her law license for a year or more.

Lake, meanwhile, murdered Crane and was arrested.

Casey Novak on Law And Order Svu epsiode 913

When did Casey Novak return to SVU?

Novak returned to SVU in Season 21, Episode 21 ("Reparations").

In her first case back, she faced Law & Order: Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney Joe Dekker (Terrence Howard), who had come to New York City to defend his cousin against burglary, assault, and rape charges. The cousin ended up taking a plea deal for the burglary and assault, which he committed against the granddaughter of a man who had gang-raped his mother and Dekker's aunt. The victim had lied about being sexually assaulted and was charged with perjury.

Her Season 9 misconduct came up several times over the course of the episode, and the judge in the case was the same judge she'd lied to in her last case.

Casey Novak on Law And Order Svu epsiode 1222

Why did Casey Novak leave SVU?

Novak went on to appear in four episodes in Season 13: Episode 3 ("Blood Brothers"); Episode 4 ("Double Strands"); Episode 5 ("Missing Pieces"); and her final episode, Episode 18 ("Valentine's Day").

Her last case also resulted in a deadlocked jury and a mistrial. She has not prosecuted a case for the Manhattan SVU since.

Casey Novak on Law And Order Svu epsiode 1317