Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Top Five Fallacies in Courtroom Dramas

Since I love a good legal thriller, especially the courtroom scenes, I’ve read lots of books and seen lots of movies in this subgenre. They’re dramatic! They’re great battles of wits! Hopefully, the truth will prevail! I was even on the high school mock trail team for a few years, which taught me a good deal about what is accurate and what is not in these scenes. Herewith are five things that drive me nuts about courtroom dramas. To keep things simple, I’ll stick with movies. That’s where these mistakes are the most glaring.

5. Stupid Witnesses

Since trials are so dramatic, it’s easier to conceive that the entire mystery shall be solved within the courtroom. Who wants middle ground? We want a witness to confess to the murder on the stand. The audience will loudly gasp; the lawyer will smirk. Everything is tied up.

In the real world this never happens. Yes, being on the witness stand is a very stressful ordeal but people these days know better than to proclaim you stabbed the guy. Especially if it’s Reese Witherspoon giving you the fifth degree.

4. Random Speeches

If I know anything about law, I know there is no protocol. It’s a very loose system where you can pretty much do whatever you want. Sorry, that’s an underground fight club. The legal system is the exact opposite, so then why do movies think that lawyers can just burst into dramatic, persuasive speeches in the middle of the trial? Tom Cruise, I don’t care if you just figured out Jack Nicholson’s motivations, you can’t give a speech about it. You really do have to ask questions. Same goes for you, Cousin Vinny.

3. “I’ll Allow It.”

So how do those speeches get through? Clearly the judge is bored. “Hey that lawyer just brought a reindeer into the courtroom. That’s extremely unprofessional.” “I’ll allow it.” WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT? Judges are called “Your honor” so please pretend to be honorable sometimes. Also it’s their fault for all of Liar Liar. The second Jim Carrey started his case; it should have been declared a mistrial because he appears to be on many illegal drugs. (Turns out that is just his acting style.)

2. Objections?

During my days on the mock trial team, I learned what questions are allowed. Namely, none of the ones in any legal thriller film. Every movie I’m muttering to myself “Hearsay.” “Asked and answered.” “Speculation.” “Leading.” “Leading.” “Leading!” The opposing lawyer never says these things because doing so would break up the narrative flow of the movie. Also, I don’t think they’re listening. The only time lawyers object in movies is when they’re evil or flabbergasted. If I ever get called for jury duty, I will to assume that is the case when I hear an objection.

1. Audiences

When I am a jury member I probably will be nervous; not because of my civic duty and any possible ramifications from my decision. That will be easy. I’ll be nervous due to the massive number of people in the audience. Sometimes it makes sense: I’ll buy the packed house in To Kill a Mockingbird because after all, it’s of the small town community. But a packed house for every single John Grisham adaptation? Don’t these people have jobs?!?

Also they’re really loud. They gasp obnoxiously and mummer to themselves a lot so often that lazy judge has to say, “Order in the court!” Then she’ll change her mind and allow it. This causes the idealistic lawyer to make a heartwarming speech. Then the witness will confess to all of their sins. The other lawyer, recognizing this whole thing could be thrown out, chooses not to because he finds this to be too ridiculous and decides not to object to get this trial over with.

Then I pass out from rage.

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