The practice of law has its exciting moments. But many lawyers will probably tell you that being thorough and methodical is more important for success in our business. Certainly, film and television depictions of how courtroom proceedings are conducted must embellish, or even fabricate, aspects of the practice to maximize entertainment value. Below, we discuss some common film and TV tropes about courtroom practice that have little basis in real practice.
Approaching a Witness
On TV, you might see lawyers casually walk around the court while they’re examining a witness. As the intensity of questioning reaches a peak, the lawyer is practically inches away from the witness.
In reality, attorneys normally request permission from the judge before approaching a witness. While there is no legal requirement to do so, it is customary practice. Usually, there is a practical reason to approach the witness, such as handing over a document for the witness to read and refresh their memory. But among the accepted reasons an attorney may approach a witness, “creating dramatic effect” isn’t really one of them.
Many TV shows and movies are irredeemably guilty of this next sin: After an attorney raises an objection, they fail to specify the grounds for the objection. Then the judge is often shown to immediately say either “sustained,” “overruled” or some variation of “I’ll allow it for now.”
If an attorney shouted “objection” without saying anything more in a real courtroom, the judge would quietly stare at them for just the minimum amount of time to qualify the moment as an awkward silence, right before responding with “on what grounds” or “well, counselor?”
In real practice, lawyers must support their objections with a legal justification. This is especially important for creating a comprehensive record of the proceedings for appeal. The appellate court would be hard-pressed to explain why the trial judge’s ruling was or was not fair, if the trial judge never gave a reason behind its ruling in the first place.
Ranting on the Stand
Another common scene in TV and film depictions of courtroom practice involves a witness launching themselves into a mostly irrelevant but impassioned speech about their principles, or a speculative but heart wrenching soliloquy about their beliefs (usually after the judge overrules an objection for no apparent reason).
A real trial attorney or judge would not allow a witness to derail a trial like that. They would cut off the testimony by objecting that the question and testimony was “asked and answered,” “nonresponsive,” or irrelevant.
Some TV or movie scenes portray a lawyer criticizing certain evidence as “circumstantial,” suggesting the evidence is somehow too insufficient to mention. So what is circumstantial evidence? When evidence is used to directly prove a fact, it is considered “direct evidence.” Circumstantial or “indirect” evidence requires drawing inferences to prove something true.
For example, a witness who testifies that they saw the defendant take their wallet is direct evidence that the defendant took the witness’s wallet. But a witness who testifies that they found their wallet on the defendant’s desk is indirect evidence that the defendant took the witness’s wallet.
While its true that indirect evidence is not as strong as direct evidence, most cases – especially criminal cases – involve little to no direct evidence. This is particularly true when a prosecutor needs to prove criminal intent. Anything short of “I intended, planned, and prepared to kill the victim” is essentially indirect evidence of someone’s intent to commit murder. As a result, many trials involve piecing together a lot of circumstantial evidence like completing a jigsaw puzzle.
Call a Real Marietta Criminal Defense Attorney Today
Real criminal charges aren’t entertaining. Defendants could face severe criminal penalties, including imprisonment. That’s why you need a serious Marietta criminal defense lawyer to represent you throughout criminal proceedings. At Busch, Reed, Jones & Leeper, we have invaluable experience in trial advocacy, making sure our clients’ constitutional right to a fair trial is respected by the state.
Call Busch, Reed, Jones & Leeper, P.C. at (770) 629-0154 to schedule a consultation with one of our qualified criminal defense attorneys today.