If you’ve been caught rereading your court transcripts, perhaps you’ve been the butt of a joke or two about your vanity. However, even the best lawyers know the importance of reliving your courtroom experiences. No matter how intelligent or well educated you are you’ve probably had a few moments where you wondered what you were thinking. Sure, you have plenty of amazing days behind you where you’ve had a witness in the palm of your hand. That doesn’t mean you are immune to a slower day here and there. Rereading your transcripts can help you avoid more mistakes in the future as well as teach you to be more aware of yourself and your line of questioning. To illustrate that point, here are a few humorous examples of courtroom exchanges that haven’t quite gone as expected.
Sometimes, you will encounter a difficult witness. Other times, they might be unintentionally sarcastic.
Lawyer: “What is your date of birth?”
Witness: “July 15th.”
Lawyer: “What year?”
Witness: “Every year.”
Well, the witness was honest, though this perhaps is reminiscent of your college years when the bouncer wanted to know if you were old enough to be in that bar.
Lawyer: “Can you describe what the person who attacked you looked like?”
Witness: “No. He was wearing a mask.”
Lawyer: “What was he wearing under the mask?”
Witness: “Er…his face.”
In this case, the lawyer gave the witness no choice but to answer the question as honestly as possible. Asking a redundant question will happen once in a while during your career. Be prepared for a few laughs at the office if you are brave enough to recount the moment to your peers. Don’t worry. Everyone has a few of these stories under their belts.
The Technically Correct
When you call a witness up to the stand, more often than not he or she is not going to intentionally work against you. Sometimes, you accidently lead them into a situation where he or she cannot avoid a painfully obvious answer.
Attorney: What did the doctor tell you was the condition of the body when he performed the autopsy?
Witness: He described it as dead.
While this is a hilarious situation, the lawyer may have avoided this witness’ answer by being more specific with the question. The following is another example of where ultra precise questions can be useful.
Prosecutor: Do you see the defendant in court today?
Witness: Yes, I do.
Prosecutor: How is he dressed?
Witness: He looks pretty sharp.
Undoubtedly, this witness really believed the defendant was well dressed and the courtroom may have even had a collective giggle after hearing this response. This is a perfect example of when you might just need to roll with the punches. After all, you cannot fault someone for having good taste in clothing.
The Honest to a Fault
As a counselor in a courtroom, you have to stay professional, but your witnesses don’t. Be careful of giving the individual on the stand too much of an opportunity to turn the line of questions around on you.
Lawyer: Is possible that the patient was alive when you began the autopsy?
Lawyer: How can you be so sure, Doctor?
Witness: Because his brain was sitting on my desk in a jar
Lawyer: But could the patient have still been alive nevertheless?
Witness: Yes, it is possible that he could have been alive and practicing law somewhere.
Whatever you do be wary of this situation:
Counsel (to witness): Are you telling the truth?
Prosecutor: Objection; irrelevant.
Cynically speaking, this is certainly not a false statement. Any accomplished lawyer knows that with the right team and good work ethic a case can be won in murky circumstances. That said you probably shouldn’t make it obvious if the truth is not on your side.
If you find yourself in any of these situations, you might need to be more specific or direct as you question your witness. However, you might just need to have a good chuckle and proceed with your game plan. Funny moments are bound to happen as you continue in your law career. It is important to understand which situations indicate a need for improvement and which should just simply be chalked up to a humorous accident. As you progress, don’t forget to have a sense of humor or look for weak spots in your cross-examination skills. A good balance of both will see you through the case and into a steady string of victories. Plus, you’ll probably get a good bar story or two.