We all know that in the average courtroom, things get pretty serious. After all, there’s a lot at stake, so we can’t blame people if they get caught up in the suspense, lose their way temporarily and say some pretty odd things when they’re just trying to make sure they get things exactly right.
Here’s the proof; real incidents from real trials.
Question: “You say James shot Tommy Lee?”
Q: “Then Tommy Lee pulled out his gun and shot James in the fracas?”
A: “No sir, just above it.”
(Apparently the fracas escaped unscathed.)
Possibly that influenced another questioner.
Q: “Did you say he was shot in the woods?”
A: “No, I said he was shot in the lumbar region.”
(Man, those technical terms will getcha every time.)
Q: “You’ve been charged with armed robbery. Do you want the court to appoint a lawyer to represent you?”
A: “You don’t have to appoint a very good lawyer. I’m going to plead guilty.” (but honest)
Q: “How was your first marriage terminated?:
A: “By death.”
Q: “And by whose death was it terminated?”
(He just broke two Attorney Rules in a row. Rule Number One: Never ask a question if you don’t know the answer. Rule Number Two: Never ask a stupid question.)
But those rules sometimes get overlooked more often than we would expect.
Q: “Can you describe the individual?”
A: “He was about 6 feet tall and had a beard.”
Q: “Was this a male or a female?”
We have two choices. Either this guy just wasn’t paying attention, or it was time for his afternoon nap.
This time, a reasonably intelligent witness is undergoing some penetrating questioning.
Q: “How would you expect someone to react, being stabbed six times in this fashion?”
A: “Well, it might slow him down a little.” (sounds about right to me)
Sometimes it gets difficult to distinguish if it’s the prosecution or the defense who is most bored with the direction this trial is heading — which apparently is around and around in circles, getting almost nowhere.
Q: “What is your date of birth?”
A: “July 15th.”
Q: “What year?”
A: “Every year.”
(Atta boy. Make sure you get all the details.)
As often happens, obviously this particular trial had continued too long, as both prosecutor and defendant had reached the end of their patience.
Q: “What happened then?”
A: “He says, I have to kill you because you can identify me.”
Q: “Did he kill you?”
A: “No, you (expletive deleted).”
Even the obvious can take a beating when a witness decides he’s had too much of an overenergetic questioning attorney.
Q: “Have you lived in this town all your life?”
A: “Not yet.”
(Which should indicate to the attorney that it’s time to clam up and sit down.)
And who was it that said, “Thirty days hath September, and so does my cousin, the burglar who got caught?"
There is no doubt in anybody’s mind that the details usually have to be precise, but an overenthusiastic attorney can try to get too much information and even confuse the witness.
Q: “The hospital is to the right?”
A: “It was on this side.”
Q: “When you say this side, can you say right or left?”
A: “Sure. Right or left.”
(Good job! Now everybody’s confused.)
Well, let’s try again.
Q: “And what did he do then?”
A: “He came home and next morning he was dead.”
Q: “So when he woke up the next morning he was dead?”
(By George, I think he’s got it.)
And in another courtroom, this time it was a feminine witness trying to make the facts perfectly clear.
Q: What was the first thing your husband said to you when he woke up that morning?”
A: “He said, ‘Where am I, Cathy?' ”
Q: “And why did that upset you?”
A: “My name is Susan.”
Y’know, someone once said, “The wheels of justice turn exceeding slow, but exceeding fine.”
Right. And as we have seen, every once in a while they just grind to a stop.
On the other hand, our day in court has demonstrated to everybody concerned, including the presiding judge, the prosecutor, the defending attorney, the plaintiff and even the defendant himself that there is one basic lesson.
Just because a trial concerns serious matters doesn’t mean it has to be dull.
Dumb? Sure, sometimes dumb — but not dull.
Newton columnist Mike Morton writes weekly for the Kansan. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org