The 5th season of the television series, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit premiered September 23, 2003 and ended May 18, 2004 on NBC. Law & Order: SVU moved away from its Friday night slot to Tuesday nights at 10:00 p.m. Eastern / 9:00 p.m. Central. Casey Novak, the unit's longest serving ADA, was introduced in the fifth episode when Diane Neal joined the cast to fill the absence left by Stephanie March.
In a race against time to find a woman with a high-risk pregnancy who's kidnapped as approaches her delivery date, Benson and Stabler are faced with more than one suspect willing to take the fall for the crime.
Benson and Stabler enlist Huang's help in probing the connection between the deaths of two high school students and an illegal marketing campaign by a major pharmaceutical company.
Although they are hampered by doctor-patient confidentiality as they investigate the near-fatal beating of a psychiatrist who may have been attacked by one of her patients, Benson and Stabler are able to link the assault to child abuse and a unsolved homicide.
Investing the brutal rape and murder of an undercover federal agent and forced to use discretion in order to protect the identities of those agents in the field, the detectives arrest a suspect highly connected with a Colombian drug cartel. As the case proceeds towards trial, Cabot is faced with death threats on herself and her family along with pressure to yield the case to federal authorities.
A dead baby is found in a gutter, sending the detectives on a hunt for its mother. She too turns up dead, and the clues point to a dermatologist whose DNA happens to match the evidence in a cold case of child molestation. Casey Novak, the ADA newly assigned to prosecute SVU cases, butts heads with Benson and Stabler over their handling of these murders. Though she has the blessing of DA Arthur Branch, she is still unsure of whether or not she is the right person to take Cabot's place.
In resolving the kidnapping case of a little boy by a schizophrenic, Stabler uncovers further crimes at an adult group home with Huang's help.
After a man is arrested for attacking his pregnant wife and then seeks to have her charged her with neglect for drinking during her pregnancy, Benson learns that this is not the first time a child has been exposed to the devastating repercussions of the woman's uncontrolled alcoholism.
After the homosexual poster-boy for a sexual re-education group is found murdered, the detectives suspect an outspoken minister who was in the process of flooding the victim with hate mail and death threats. When the activist's alibi checks out, the detectives turn their attention to a professor who objects to the victim's thesis on the failure of sexual re-education groups.
The mutilation of a subway commuter leads the detectives to discover their "victim" may be the perpretator in abducting women and forcing them to live in his dungeon for several years as his bride. As the detectives prepare to arrest their victim turned suspect, Benson arrives ahead of the other detectives to find their perp murdered and is crucified in court as a result of turning away one of his victims four years ago because she did not believe the report.
The discovery of a beaten infant leads Stabler and Cragen on a search for the attacker who may be a pedophile. When the medical evidence shows that the injuries were a result of shaken baby syndrome, Stabler shifts the focus of the investigation to those closest to the child: her mother, the nannies and a boyfriend of the mother.
When a convicted pedophile, desperate to prove his innocence before his terminally ill mother dies, escapes from prison and kidnaps his accuser to force him to recant his story, Benson finds herself in the middle of a hostage situation beginning to believe his story. After he is disarmed, Benson reviews his case, uncovers the web of corruption and deceit which caused his wrongful conviction, and reunites him with his mother and his son
The murder and sodomy of a local fraternity pledge master leads the detectives to his pornographic web site, which features college girls at a local bar. Further investigation points back to the fraternity, whose members are not cooperating, and their code of conduct for prospective pledges.
After a man accused of the murders of three Arabs claims that he was genetically and biologically predisposed to hatred and violence, Benson and Stabler dispel the fallacy of his defense when they uncover the real impetus to the slayings.
The investigation into the death of a young boy who appears to be the victim of a ritualistic killing leads to the discovery that he was one of many children smuggled from Nigeria to be sold into slavery
The investigation into the death of a pregnant teenager exposes a long-held family secret which precipitates another violent death and the destruction of two families.
A mentally ill woman's paranoia intensifies after her innocent-bystander husband is murdered during a robbery, fueling her descent into child abuse, abandonment, and death.
The conviction of a group of sociopathic high school bullies who turned one of their own from a victimiser into a torture murder victim escalates the systematic peer abuse at their exclusive private school, leading to further tragedy.
The investigation into the death of a foster child, who passed out at a midnight exorcism, leads to charges of neglect and murder for the foster parents and the social worker.
The prosecution of a suspected pedophile is impeded by parents who refuse to produce their molested child for questioning to avoid losing the millions they were paid through a non-disclosure agreement, and by the discovery that a second molestation accusation was falsified in an attempt to extort a settlement similiar to that received by the first victim.
When the death of a prosecutor is staged using information gleaned from a co-worker's caseload, Novak endangers her career to obtain a confession.
When it becomes obvious that a forensics expert raped and murdered a student, the investigation focuses on a criminology professor Cragen arrested decades earlier for similar crimes, and it's up to Cragen and his team to discover if the professor is the perpetrator or the victim of a bitter rival, a disappearing alibi witness, a corrupt businessman, and ultimately, Cragen's rush to judgment.
After finding a woman handcuffed to her bed with a bag over her head, the detectives believe it was a homicide. Later on the detectives find out the woman had been planning her suicide for quite a while. Due to an event in Munch's past he become's personally involved in finding out if a terminally ill embyologist facilitated the suicide of the victim. They find out that the victim had been encouraged by the embyologist through the use of a website.
A nurse, whose brother owns the home-nursing company she works for, takes her childhood abandonment frustrations of her mother out on the rich elderly women the company cares for, leaving the detectives to believe they have a money-hungry serial killer on the loose. The detectives know the nurse has committed the murders of what they thought was six people, but they cannot prove it, that is untill Benson and Stabler do a little roleplaying and get the nurse to confess that she has killed numerous elderly women and framed the murders on her brother as a way to get back at her mother and brother.
A child is taken to a hospital after passing out, and it is discovered that she had a huge amount of detergent in her stomach. The first suspect is the mom and her daughter claims that she forced her sister to drink the detergent. After a scary confrontation with the judge he rules that the daughter cannot testify and therefore the mom is found not guility. Novak then enlists Clark's assistance in obtaining evidence to remove the judge from the bench after his bias in two child abuse cases lead to the death of the child who died of suffocation by the mom and in another case the wrongful incarceration of an innocent woman.
After a video voyeur's hidden camera in a public restroom records a middle school principal sexually assaulting a teenaged boy, Novak learns that the pedophilia arose from a brain tumor that is successfully treatable by surgery, but can grow back, which they find out from another case.Novak agrees to a plea bargain, but only if the principal agrees to register as a sex offender, just in case the tumor grows back. She then finds out that she is pregnant and violates her plea bargain by contacting the boy and letting him know he is the father.