More often than not trial attorneys are fighting against the way television and movies portray trial. For example, a murder trial does not last one day, a case is not tried within a few hours or days of the alleged crime and, if the process is working as it should, there are very few surprises during trial. But, that is not to say that all aspects of Hollywood’s portrayal of trial are inaccurate. Some of the most famous movie scenes take place inside a courtroom.
For something a little different, we thought we would quiz your reality versus movie legal knowledge. In each of these famous scenes, there are parts that are pretty realistic and others that are a stretch at best. See if you can figure out which is which ….
1. To Kill A Mockingbird
Gregory Peck played Atticus Finch, a character that led many a child to become a lawyer. Finch delivered a closing argument in the defense of Tom Robinson, a man alleged to have raped a young girl in a small town.
In the closing argument, Finch calls on the jury to review the evidence “without passion.” True of false, a jury is supposed to review evidence without passion?
True: Jurors are supposed to be objective and review the evidence in the case without allowing any bias to influence their verdict.
To Kill A Mockingbird takes place during the Great Depression and the movie was made in 1962. In the movie, Finch references God when calling on the jury to do their job. True or false, this would be acceptable argument?
Probably false: We say probably false because it would depend on whether the prosecution raised an objection. An objection would likely be sustained, meaning the statement is improper. Attorneys should focus their argument on the facts of the case and should not inflame the passions of the jury.
2. A Few Good Men
Tom Cruise plays a military lawyer defending two young men in military court for the death of another young military man. Jack Nicholson plays a high ranking officer who is implicated in ordering the defendants to carry out the conduct that resulted in the victim’s death.
Famously, during cross examination, Nicholson fought back with Cruise, stating “You can’t handle the truth” when Cruise yelled at Nicholson, “I want the truth!” True or false, a lawyer and a witness can fight with one another during cross examination?
True to a certain extent: As a practical matter, cross examination is designed to rattle the witness. It is not at all unusual for witnesses to become defensive and even confrontational during a good cross, but there is a limit to the level of fighting that is permissible.
False to a certain extent: A judge would likely not allow a lawyer and a witness to yell at one another. Attorneys are supposed to ask questions, not testify, so if an attorney stated, “I want the truth,” it could draw an objection from the other side.
3. Legally Blonde
Reese Witherspoon plays a sorority girl who follows her college sweetheart to Harvard Law School where she impresses everyone with her trial skills.
During one of the courtroom scenes, Witherspoon is directing her witness. Her co-counsel intercedes and objects to the answer given to one of Witherspoon’s questions. She asked whether the witness saw the defendant with a gun. The witness said, “No, she had time to stash it by then.” True or false, the objection based on speculation is a proper objection?
True: While it might be reasonable for a jury to infer that enough time had passed for the defendant to hide a gun, because the witness does not know that to be the case, it is speculative and not proper testimony, BUT …
The way it is portrayed is not entirely accurate because the lawyer doing the questioning usually handles the objections for that witness and, procedurally, the objection shoukd be raised first and the response stricken second.