Criminals are pretty stupid. They also end up in court a lot. So it stands to reason that a lot of dumb things happen in courtrooms all the time. Lawyers and other members of the court join in this chorus of stupidity.
The stories are funny and crazy and reading them will make you grateful you aren't in court with one of these morons. Enjoy!
"A story from a friend of mine - he was defending a guy in court, don't remember what he was charged with.
The main witness for prosecution was on the stand, and was asked if she could identify the defendant. She was scanning the courtroom and seemed confused - my friend was already silently celebrating because if she couldn't identify him, he could probably get all charges dropped.
As he was mentally adding this case to the 'win' file, he happened to glance over at his client, who had just helpfully raised his hand to make it easier for her to identify him.
Even the judge facepalmed on that one."
"Never ask a question to which you don’t know the answer.
A prosecutor suggested that my client used some canned goods he had burgled to trade for illegal substances. Me, thinking the idea was ludicrous, asked my client whether he has ever traded food for substances. He replied that once, he exchanged a frozen chicken for smack.
Needless to say, I didn’t win that one."
"I was prosecuting a contempt action in family court (something that basically never works) and everyone in the room could tell I was winning. The other side was unprepared (out of arrogance) and I was basically ripping this guy to shreds on cross examination, which his lawyer didn't even think would happen, because he expected the case to be dismissed.
At the end of the trial, the judge ruled for me and stated that she found the defendant's testimony to be untrustworthy. I was shocked at winning a contempt trial to begin with, but then this exchange happened:
The defendant's attorney: 'Your honor, now that you have found my client's testimony to be untrustworthy, I am requesting a continuance in order to prepare further witnesses.'
This concept is shocking in an of itself, because to even think you can bring more witnesses after you rest your case is laughable.
Judge: 'You had your shot and you missed, counsel.'
Defendant's attorney: 'Your honor, there was no way I could have anticipated that you'd find my client's testimony untrustworthy and as such, I didn't have the opportunity to prepare other witnesses in support of his position.'
Judge: 'That may be an argument for your malpractice insurance carrier, counsel, but it holds no water with me. See you this afternoon for sentencing.'
For those who didn't pick up on it, the judge basically told the lawyer ON THE RECORD IN FRONT OF HIS CLIENT that she expects him to get sued for malpractice because he messed up so royally.
That was mind-blowing on multiple levels."
"A person I was representing was on trial for Assault in the Third Degree and drinking and driving. In my state, Assault Three means you've assaulted an aid worker or police officer, and it is a felony. The allegations are that he was very verbally abusive to the officers and, at one point, kicked one in the face.
We're sitting at the defendant's table and the officer is testifying about the statements my guy made to him, including some pretty horrific name calling. Out of nowhere, my client screams 'You're a [EFFING] liar! [EFF] you, you son of a [witch]!!!'
We lost that trial.
Another time, the judge asked a client whether anyone had coerced him into pleading guilty, and he said 'Yeah, my attorney.' I about crapped my pants, but he laughed and said, 'I'm joking. No.'"
"I was interning in court during law school when this case happened.
There was a fight in a nightclub and someone had broken someone else's jaw. He had six friends with him that insisted he had been identified wrongly because he never had a beard and the victim said he had a beard. They used very specific phrasing: 'my friend doesn't have facial hair because he is a professional in the food industry and it would go against the regulations.'
After three of the witnesses had repeated the same exact phrasing, the judge stopped one to ask if he knew what a couple of the terms in that line meant, and the witness couldn't explain it.
The defense lawyer got busted for instructing the witnesses. She'd also gotten the defendant to reject a plea deal that exchanged prison time for a fine and community service."
"I was at a hearing arguing that my client was wrongfully terminated. It was an age discrimination case.
It wasn't a very strong case, but one of our arguments was that my client's supervisor railroaded him by terminating him without following the proper procedures. This employer (a government entity) is supposed to give its employees certain number of days of advanced notice before a termination.
During the hearing, a witness for the employer tried to offer documents that were fraudulently altered in order to make it look like the proper procedure was followed. But during discovery, the employer disclosed documents that indicated that they they didn't give the client proper advanced notice. Then the witness shows up with the same paperwork, but with completely different dates.
Opposing counsel quickly got that witness out of the room, and after a quick adjournment, my client got a large settlement.
Their forgery turned a weak case into a strong case."
"I represented a pro-bono client that had just turned 18 and was charged with serious property damage.
I walk in to his bail hearing and the judge looks at him and goes 'I knew you’d be back as an adult.' The judge then turns to me and says, 'Counselor, you may want to learn about your client’s history.' No bail."
"This was not in court, but in a deposition.
The plaintiff in a harassment case kept a very detailed diary on her work computer. At one point she was asked to read from the diary for the record and asked if she had written the accounts and if they were true. She was asked at several points if she wanted her new husband to leave the room while she did this, but she declined.
Let's just say it was extremely kinky, she confirmed it was true, and the only mention of her now-husband was that he was boring in bed but she was going to marry him because she couldn't get her first, second, or third choice.
Her husband ended up leaving on his own after she read that part out and confirmed it was him she was writing about."
"I got called for jury duty. It was at the jury selection phase, and they asked if 'anyone here thinks they should not be on this jury?'
The defendant was in the room.
I raised my hand. The defending lawyer looked at me like, 'Oh, this oughta be good' and asked me to explain. I suggested I tell them in private. He insisted I tell the courtroom.
I said, 'OK...I probably shouldn't be on this jury because I was on a previous jury for this man which returned a guilty verdict.'
The lawyer's face went, 'Oh crap!'
There was a huge commotion and a wait while they looked up records. Yep; verified. The whole jury was now 'tainted.'
Everyone goes home, and they start over!"
"I was on a jury once for a murder trial. I got selected and the trial started almost immediately.
A man was charged with murdering his neighbor. They made their opening statements, there was even a bloody note. It wasn't terribly long but they clearly put a lot of effort into their strategies and were ready for battle.
The first witness was called, it was the son of the man on trial. I forget the first question but it didn't matter, he immediately broke down crying and invoked his 5th amendment right.
Everyone freaks out. The judge and the lawyers were like what?! The jury had no clue what was going on but we were quickly ushered out immediately after that.
Few minutes later it was explained to us what happened. The judge declared a mistrial. The prosecutor must have suspected that the father was taking the fall for the son who actually murdered the neighbor. Rather than risk losing, there was a mistrial while they sorted out who to actually charge and try."
"I was involved in a pretty messy custody case.
The other party was a mess and had kept the child from my client for a few weeks. They were playing lots of stupid games and kept requesting continuances. I requested a substance test, which the judge ordered. However, the opposing counsel didn’t show up for it.
I was representing the plaintiff so the burden was on me. I called multiple witnesses that testified to the defendant’s substance use. So, opposing counsel decides to call their client for direct examination and asks, 'You don’t use smack and crack, right?”'
That is, for the non-lawyers, a very stupid question for many reasons. Especially considering his client didn’t show up for his substance test. However, I fully expected the defendant to just lie and say he was clean. After the question was asked, there was a really long pause and the defendant said, 'Yes, I do both of those things.'
My head almost exploded. I didn’t ask any questions on cross examination because I didn’t want to muddy the waters. I won and the child is doing great."
"I'm not an attorney, but I'm a reporter whose beat is the county courthouse, so I've had plenty of these moments happen in front of me.
A guy was convicted of attempting to murder several police officers.
At his sentencing, the prosecutor revealed the defendant got a prison tattoo while he was awaiting sentencing of a tombstone with the names of all the cops he attempted to kill. But the defendant still had the audacity to beg for a lenient sentence.
He got a few hundred years in jail."
"I'm a medical malpractice defense lawyer representing hospitals/doctors. This was not my 'oh crap' moment but the plaintiff's. For context, usually at trial, both plaintiff and defendant will have an expert physician testify as to their opinion to whether the doctor/hospital performed everything correctly.
I thoroughly researched the plaintiff's expert, who was an ob/gyn (baby delivery) and found out he had been suspended a number of times for his own botched deliveries and giving incorrect medical testimony to help plaintiff's cases.
During the actual day of trial, it turns out he was not licensed to practice medicine independently without supervision from another physician and he was one year into his three year suspension. The plaintiff's lawyers had no idea about their own expert's background and they just sat there with a blank look on their face.
Needless to say, during cross examination, we destroyed his credibility and won at trial."
"I was the defendant, representing a nonprofit that I volunteered for.
The plaintiff was a 60-something-year-old Grandma who was looking for a retirement settlement after falling out of her jacked up pick up truck in our parking lot. The premise of her case was that our parking lot was in bad shape (it was) and that she fell into a pothole and broke her leg, which resulted in her having to take a blood-thinning medication and diminished her enjoyment of salads at the Friday night fish fry - seriously.
It was going along fine, until my lawyer put up a photo of the pothole, taken the day of the incident, filled to the brim with water, after a recent rain. He asked the lady if she had gotten her foot wet, to which she replied that she couldn’t recall.
He talked a little more about how perhaps if her foot wasn’t wet, it might have been because she fell out of the truck and didn’t really fall into the pothole. He asked again if her foot was wet, and she affirmed that yes, her foot was wet.
The 'oh shoot!' moment came when he went back to his desk, flipped through her deposition and read the part where she was extremely adamant that her foot wasn’t wet. Then he did some fancy legal stuff, the case was thrown out and I went back to work."
"I was interning during law school prosecuting domestic violence cases.
The deputy DA asked me to talk for the first time during a guy's arraignment for beating his wife. An arraignment is when the defendant hears the charges against them and pleads guilty or not guilty. When the judge calls on me to speak, I got insanely nervous and told the defendant that his charge carried a maximum penalty of 30 YEARS, when it was actually 30 DAYS.
He freaks out, the crowd (some in the gallery were his family and friends) gasps. The judge basically stops me and says, 'I think you mean 30 days counselor.' After which everyone, including the defendant, laughed at me."
"It was a new judge with a chip on his shoulder.
The plaintiff called me to get an adjournment on a summary judgment motion I had made - they wanted more time to submit opposition. I don't have a problem with this, but the court refuses to accept the adjournment request over the phone and says we have to appear in court the next day.
So I go and the plaintiff doesn't show up. When our case gets called, I request the adjournment and the judge explodes on me. He demands to know why, insists he doesn't grant adjournments, just yells for no reason in front of a courtroom full of attorneys. I tell him it's plaintiff's request, and they are not here, they want more time, etc... but he doesn't want to hear it and just says 'request denied, call plaintiff and tell them to get here by second call.'
So my 'oh crap' moment is that I just won my case because the judge decided to be a butthole. I call plaintiff and let them know what happened and they panic. They are about to lose their case. The judge has to grant my motion, it's unopposed. There is no way they can get an attorney to court in time.
So the case is called again, and again I'm the only attorney on the case. I go up to the defendant's table with the biggest turd-eating grin on my face and say, 'Your honor, I'm here on behalf of defendants with an unopposed summary judgment motion.' Everyone that saw me get yelled at suddenly realizes what I was doing (getting yelled at for trying to be helpful), and what judge's outburst meant. I win. The judge has no choice but to soften and re-hear my request for an adjournment, and grant it.
Follow-up: The plaintiff's client died and the motion was never opposed or heard. When they tried to reactivate the case with an administrator, I reminded them that my motion was the first thing to get heard once the case was restarted. They actually read it, knew they had no chance of beating it, and discontinued against my client without ever having to argue the motion."
"One case, my opposing counsel was a nightmare. Everything late, his work was extremely subpar, and so forth. Accused me of lying multiple times when he had dropped the ball.
During another hearing, in which he did another dumb move, the judge says, 'I’m glad you are the last case on the call, and all of the other attorneys have left the room, so they aren’t here to hear me say that you are a terrible attorney.'"
"The best 'oh crap' moments are when your opposing counsel or opposing client says or does something that wins the case for you. True, in civil cases you usually know what will happen ahead of time, but in my state, discovery in smaller civil cases is more limited, and clients don't always want to spend $30K when we can get the same result for $10K.
One time, in an adverse possession case, the witness only needed to say 'I used that area as my backyard,' and I fully expected him to say this. It would harm my case, but I knew I could get around it. When asked about his use of the area, he said, 'No, I never really went back there, didn't use it at all.' It lost the case for the other side, and I could barely keep a straight face. It was completely opposite of what the witness had told opposing counsel off the record; apparently the 'under penalty of perjury' made him change his story.
I had another case about losing multi-unit dwelling insurance because a guy's place was a fire hazard. I asked him if his personal insurer knew about the fire hazard. 'Yeah, and the jerks canceled my policy!'
I also love it when I have a difficult party on the other side and the judge rips them a new one. I had a convoluted case with a lot of parties about nothing at all. The plaintiff was heinous. The six or seven attorneys were working out calendars with the judge when the plaintiff starts yelling at her attorney from across the courtroom because she didn't like that he had conceded some little non-issue. The judge told her to sit down and shut up. I was sad that the case settled because she would've been amazing on the stand."
"I was a young lawyer in my first year representing the 19-year-old child of some rich people in San Mateo County, CA. My client had gone on a bit of a shoplifting spree and we were cleaning all her cases up with a global plea (meaning we handled them all at once).
Being new, I filled out the plea form wrong swapping the counts she was charged with for the counts she was pleading to. It’s an easy mistake to make. Every court has their own unique form and I was unfamiliar with San Mateo’s.
The judge calls my line, starts reading off the plea form, notices the mistake and then starts screaming at the top of his lungs, 'COUNSEL! WHAT IS THIS?! WHAT IS THIS?! IS THIS YOUR FIRST DAY ON THE JOB? THIS IS A COURT IF LAW AND WE DO NOT ACCEPT MISTAKES! FILL THIS PLEA FORM OUT CORRECTLY OR I WILL HAVE YOU TAKEN INTO CUSTODY FOR CONTEMPT!'
I did not expect a reaction like that. My client, who had clearly just taken a huge weed hit at 8 am and who was wearing an all-pink velvet track suit was looking at me like I was the biggest idiot in the world.
I corrected the plea form. The judge made me wait until the very end of the calendar to take my plea. Afterward, he called me up to the bench. In private, he told me, 'Sorry to ream you like that. Everyone messes the plea form up so I always pick the youngest lawyer to yell at. The older guys will grumble and complain, but if you noticed they all fixed their own forms and we didn’t have any more problems. Keeps the calendar running smooth. Where did you go to law school?'
After that he invited me into his office for coffee and gave me some really good life/work advice. Turns out he likes talking to new lawyers."