THE DEVIL IS IN THE DETAIL

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[A follower of this blog who prefers to remain anonymous and therefore never posts comments online sent me an anecdote by email yesterday that she thought might be right up my alley because it takes place in a courtroom.  I haven’t been inside a courtroom (professionally or otherwise) for upwards of nine years.  But she did roll it up the right alley.  Whether it’s the old Pavlov’s dog reflex, or simply the new blogging me always on the qui vive for fresh material, I asked if I could use it, without attribution of course, and she at once replied, “You betcha.”  Rest assured it has no redeeming intellectual value whatsoever.] 

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Anglo-American juries may be comprised of twelve people not smart enough to get out of jury duty.  But you can usually count on them not to be bamboozled in the end.

A defendant was on trial for murder. Overwhelming evidence in the record indicated guilt. But there was no corpse!   Suspecting his client would nevertheless be convicted unless he could raise last-minute doubt in the minds of the jurors, counsel for the defense resorted to a trick in his closing statement.

“Ladies and gentlemen of the jury,” he said, as he openly checked his watch. “I have a surprise for you all.  In exactly one minute, the person my client is charged with having murdered will walk into this courtroom.” He spun on his heels and looked directly at the courtroom door. The jurors, stunned expressions on their faces, all turned expectantly to the courtroom door as well.

A minute elapsed. The door remained closed. Defense counsel then turned back to the jurors. “And now, ladies and gentlemen of the jury,” he said,  “I have a confession to make.  I lied to you just now. I have no idea where the alleged victim in this case may be. But you all looked eagerly to the door when I promised he would walk through it.  Therefore I put it to you that each and every one of you has a reasonable doubt as to whether anyone was killed in this case, and you must return a verdict of not guilty!”

The jury retired to deliberate. It took them very little time to return.  “And what is your verdict?” inquired the judge.  “Guilty!” pronounced the foreman.

“But how?” stammered counsel for the defense. “You must have had some doubt. I saw all of you stare at the door.”

“Yes, we looked,” the foreman replied.  “But your client didn’t.”

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14 thoughts on “THE DEVIL IS IN THE DETAIL

    • It almost always works, if what is put into evidence is persuasive. (Juries may only consider the evidentiary record in reaching a judgment.) Problems arise with corrupt prosecutors (who “create” or suppress evidence), inept public defenders appointed to serve the poor, judges who give careless or biased rulings from the bench during the trial as to what may come into evidence and what can’t, and also give poor or mistaken instructions to the jury when the evidence is all in. Those things do happen — more in certain states than others — because human beings err. But that’s what our system of appeals courts is for!

      This was just a funny anecdote, though, Shimon. Don’t take it too seriously! 😀

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