Dumb Things We Believe About Courtroom Proceedings Thanks To TV And Movies
Vote up the wide-held beliefs about courtroom etiquette and practices that are pure hooey.
Between daytime court shows and prime-time legal dramas, we’ve all seen our share of fictional court scenes. Murder trials, surprise confessions, and emotional closing arguments all make for perfect movie fodder. But these shows and films tend to ignore real US legal procedure. Such delineation from the American legal system is sometimes known as “Hollywood law.”
As we immerse ourselves in these fictionalized legal worlds, we might not realize what would really happen in a court of law. Here are dumb things we believe about the legal system, court cases, and legal matters thanks to movies and TV.
- Photo: Law & Order: Special Victims Unit / NBC1112 VOTES
Lawyers Ignore Rulings On Repeated 'Objections'
The Trope: A lawyer with something to prove stomps around the room, demanding answers from the witness, while ignoring all courtroom etiquette. These lawyers blatantly ignore loud, repeated objections.
The Reality: Ignoring objections has consequences for anybody involved, even the judge. If an attorney repeatedly ignores a judge’s objections, they can face costly fines. If a judge ignores objections made by the defense or prosecution lawyers, the entire case is subject to being thrown out.
The Guilty: Primal Fear, My Cousin Vinny, A Few Good Men
- Photo: The Godfather Part II / Paramount Pictures2177 VOTES
Lawyers Can Harass Witnesses
The Trope: Lawyers are loud, aggressive bullies who have no qualms about harassing witnesses to get their way in court.
The Reality: Lawyers can be aggressive when dealing with a hostile witness (a witness who has been forced to testify), but ignoring objections from opposing lawyers and/or the judge will still result in being held in contempt of court.
Badgering a witness on the stand is another no-no in court, and can lead to fines. Lawyers caught intimidating witnesses can face possible jail time.
The Guilty: A Time to Kill, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Godfather Part II
- Photo: Legally Blonde / MGM Distribution Co.3171 VOTES
Witnesses Crack Under Pressure And Admit Guilt
The Trope: A lawyer barrages a witness with questions to the point where they succumb to their guilt and confess - typically accompanied by a lot of tears and wailing.
The Reality: Such admissions of guilt on the stand rarely happen in real life. Good lawyers will consider what the opposing side might drudge up during cross-examination. Witnesses are prepped for goading, and such behavior would be considered objectionable by the opposing lawyer.
The Guilty: Legally Blonde, A Few Good Men
- Photo: Law & Order / NBC488 VOTES
Lawyers Approach The Bench To Share Juicy Inside Knowledge Or Sudden Changes
The Trope: During a trial, or perhaps right before proceedings, a lawyer will ask the judge if they can “approach the bench.” The lawyers then go up to the judge and whisper about secret witnesses, surprise testimony, or new evidence.
The Reality: An attorney can approach the bench to have a conversation with the judge and opposing counsel out of the jury's earshot and off the record, but this is done to discuss a point in the case, not to introduce new information. Bench conferences can include explaining technical problems, the order of witnesses, or the need to take a recess. Anything more complicated than that can result in a recess or a side bar.
Legally Blonde, A Few Good Men, Most Law & Order episodes
- Photo: The Simpsons / Fox5123 VOTES
Calling Forth Surprise Witnesses Happens At Any Time
The Trope: A sudden, surprise witness is introduced toward the end of the trial - a move that more often than not miraculously pivots the jury’s opinion.
The Reality: Although a lawyer might be surprised by who their opponents have elected to question on the stand, or when, all possible witnesses are disclosed to both parties before a trial.
The Guilty: Anatomy of a Murder, My Cousin Vinny, The Simpsons
- Photo: Scent of a Woman / Universal Pictures690 VOTES
Cussing On The Stand Is Fine
The Trope: A witness or lawyer swears up a storm as part of their legal testimony.
The Reality: A certain level of decorum is expected, and upheld at all times during any kind of civil or criminal trial. The use of profane language is not tolerated in court. If a witness or lawyer continues to ignore this rule, they will usually be found in contempt of court. More “minor” violations can lead to fines or probation.
The Guilty: And Justice for All, Scent of a Woman