I sat in a court room today, all day. Tall wood-paneled walls and wide arcs over the windows, the judge in her robes, lawyers in suits, high-back leather swivel chairs for the gallery.
They spoke their own language, followed their rituals, quibbled over whether a witness had said “Shut up!” or “Shut the fuck up!” on a deposition many years previously. They made statements, and added “right?” at the end so it became a question for the witness to confirm.
The jury giggled. We recessed and the lawyers huddled. “Why can’t I ask him if he’s gay?” The court reporter told the clerk about her visit to Dubai. She fell asleep during the proceedings.
What, if anything, is this post about?
That language. The games they play with their words. Journalists should learn from lawyers to ask questions. The dynamic between the witness and the cross-examiner. He had a way of posing questions, and then ending them with a tone of incredulity.
"So you don’t know why being around people makes you anxious?"
It put the witnesses on the defense. They’re afraid to answer because from his tone it seems they’ve done something wrong by not knowing, that they’re helping him win the case by not knowing, and by agreeing to not know.
Today’s case was also about memory. The incident happened over 20 years ago. There have been depositions in between. The plaintiffs on the witness stand remembered differently now. Are your memories more right after 7 months, or after 20 years? But what if you were a kid the first time? What if you have a different motive now? Are you unreliable if you remember differently?
And, can you lie about your emotional state?
You’re under oath. You’ve sworn to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. You’re asked: Are you happy? Have you ever had suicidal thoughts? Why are you anxious? What do you think about at night, at the bus stop, when you remember summer of 1995?
There are probably books about this - legal books - about what constitutes truth when it’s perception, not facts, that are the question. That makes me sad though, I like it better as a question.
"What, if anything, was said to you by the officer while you were in the hallway?"
A lawyery tick maybe, that term, but it means one of two things. One, I know something was said but for some legal reason I have to ask it this way. Two, I make no presumption.
Also, it combines two questions into one. Efficiency.