Tuesday, July 2, 2013

What Happens When a Witness Lies

First, your insides squeeze together so tightly that you think they might explode. Second, sweat immediately begins to drip between your shoulder blades like a river. Third, you try not to react to any of this in front of the jury.
After the initial shock and dreams of running up to the witness on the stand and screaming in their face, shouting, “why would you do this,” a few things happen, depending on if it is your witness or your opponent’s.
The easy one is when your opponent’s witness lies on the stand. When that happens, you put your pen down on, let a small smile crest your lips, and prepare to slam a truck through the opening the witness created.
This post is about happens when your witness lies. Maybe even your star witness (Many of these posts are created in response to actual events so you can only imagine what happened during my trial last week).
If the witness lies when I’m asking questions, I move on and circle back to the topic. I’m sure my pace and composure breaks slightly, but the main goal is to keep it as professional and ordinary as possible. Never let the jury see that an answer was unexpected. The reason that I leave the topic and come back is for two reasons: 1) I want to see if it was just a mistake and give the witness a chance to correct it, and 2) I don’t want the witness to dig themselves a bigger hole.
After I ask the questions again and am confident the witness is lying as opposed to mistaken, I’ll ask the court for a recess so we can discuss legal issues outside the jury. Once the jury’s gone, I inform the court of what happened. Attorneys cannot suborn perjured testimony and prosecutor’s cannot allow perjured testimony to go uncorrected. Plus, the witness has now transformed himself into a defendant and he needs his rights protected. The court then will assign an attorney to the witness.
If the witness recants the perjured testimony, he must do so on the witness stand in front of the jury and his credibility is probably just below a pedophile who takes the stand. If the witness refuses to recant, I must state on the record in front of the jury that I know the testimony to be false and then the witness is basically cannon fodder for the defense attorney. All I get to do is sit back and writhe silently in my chair as a hope of conviction usually drifts away.

There are many reasons witnesses will lie on the stand:

-Protect themselves from retribution for testimony
-Protect the defendant
-They actually lied the first time and are now telling the truth
-They don't believe they will get in trouble.

What does it all boil down to? I become a witness in the perjury case against the former witness. Turns out I'm a very cooperative witness.


  1. "Turns out I'm a very cooperative witness."

    I bet. That certainly can't be a very good feeling. Hey, do they recommend lawyers take acting classes in law school? I'm only half kidding about that.

    1. That would be an interesting class and probably something that should be offered.

      Most lawyers think they already are as good as Daniel Day Lewis (I'm probably more of a DeNiro) already so who knows if they would take it.

  2. My public defender asked the cop you wouldnt change the times on any documents would you . The cop says no . on the stand under oath . Later I noticed he did change times on the documents in my case .and signed it S.C. were he did the change . I tell public defender he shouldnt be able to be a witness at trial since he just comitted perjury . He says we will leave that to the jury to decide . Shouldnt he be disquafied as a witness . Im Paul at yardgolf27@yahoo.com let me know what you think Please and thank you

    1. People don't get disqualified as witnesses except in extreme circumstances and it is called striking testimony. The job of determining credibility is left for the fact finder.

  3. Hi, I know this is an old post and you are in the USA but I have a question for you if I may? I am due in court accused of harassment and have had the aggrieved's witness statements to review and she has lied or embellished all five of them including one that says we never lived together even though the Police know we did. Do I challenge this before court or wait until the court hearing to discredit her statements? Thanks

    1. Thanks for reading. I'm sorry to say I cannot give legal advice as it is a violation of my ethical responsibilities. The blog is meant to inform and entertain, and cannot be considered on how to handle a case.