The Biggest ‘Oh Crap’ Moments That Have Ever Happened in a Courtroom

Share on Facebook

If you’ve ever been in a courtroom, you know that most of the time, the process is pretty boring. Scenes like the one from My Cousin Vinny don’t happen that often– rarely at all, in fact. The reality is that it’s a lot of talking and shuffling papers and hearing words you don’t understand.

Of course, every once in a while, something amazing happens. I assume that if you’re a lawyer, those are the things that make going to law school and having to sit in court all the time worth it.

A recent AskReddit thread asked people — specifically, lawyers — to share the stories of their “oh crap” moments. The moments could be good or really, really bad. Many people replied (including some non-lawyers) with stories that might make you look forward to the next time you get summoned for jury duty.

Where’s the romance?

Represented a woman charged with multiple very serious felonies. She insisted that in the months before the offense, she’d been seriously dating one of the detectives who ultimately wound up investigating and testifying in her case. For a variety of reasons, I trusted this client and believed her, even though the detective never disclosed the relationship in his report. So, during his testimony, I ask “Detective Smith, you had a romantic relationship with Ms. Defendant, correct?” He goes “What? No!” and is visibly offended. The judge Iooked at me like I’ve lost my mind, the commonwealth attorney audibly says “what?”, I’m freaking out because a large part of my cross and argument was focused on the bias formed by the prior relationship, and now I’ve got nothing and I’ve lost all credibility. I try again, “Detective Smith, have you had a sexual relationship with Ms. Defendant?” As the Commonwealth rises to object and the Judge starts to scold me, the detective goes “Oh, yea. We’ve had sex, it just wasn’t very…romantic.”Fictional_Idolatry

Telling the whole truth.

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. OP was playing lots of stupid games and kept requesting continuances. I requested a drug test, which the judge ordered. However, the OP didn’t show up for it (to clarify, he did show up, he just stood in front of the toilet for literally 2 hours and claimed he couldn’t pee). I was representing the plaintiff so the burden was on me. I called multiple witnesses that testified to the defendant’s drug use. So, opposing counsel decides to call their client for direct examination and asks, “you don’t use heroin 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 drug 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 drugs.” 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.TurkeyOfJive

Yep, that’ll do it.

I think this qualifies, though it wasn’t me that was the lawyer. Got called for jury duty. Was at the jury selection phase, and they asked if “anyone here thinks they should not…” blah blah. 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”. Lawyer’s face went “oh crap.” A little ommotion and a wait while they looked up records. Yep; verified. The whole jury was now “tainted.” Everyone goes home, and they start over.SuspiciousChicken

Good luck with that one.

I was representing a plaintiff in a hit and run case. Plaintiff is testifying and is, despite me preparing them for several hours the previous day, an absolutely terrible witness for her own case. Like, she couldn’t even identify the street she was crossing when she was hit by the car. (It was a major highway and we had gone through the sequence of events countless times the day before the hearing) The “oh crap” moment came during cross-examination. Defense counsel pulls out a picture of my client dressed up and ready to hit the club which was posted to Facebook the day after the alleged accident. I, thinking quickly, object because the timestamp refers to when it was posted, not when it was taken. Defense counsel shows the picture to my client and asked her when the picture was taken. Sure enough, they say it was taken the day after the accident when she was supposedly in unbearable pain. Oh. Crap.DoctorTargaryen

A lesson in anatomy.

Sat in on a personal injury case where the plaintiff broke their leg in an accident and had a doctor on the stand as an expert. The woman’s lawyer begins questioning the doctor about their experience with leg injuries (he was a well known orthopedic surgeon in the area). She asks if he’s ever treated a tibula fracture (the leg bones are tibia and fibula) to which he only answers “no” then she starts grilling him with questions about the tibula. After about 6-7 questions she asks “how did you get a medical license and have been able to practice medicine this long if you’ve never treated a tibula fracture?” And begins a small rant about going after his credentials and those that gave it to him, to which he simply responds “there is no bone named the tibula”. The lawyer became beet red and everyone in the room tried their best to keep from laughing including the judge.bang-a-rang47

The truth will not necessarily set you free.

Not mine but my boss’s story: She had to defend a small-time delinquent as duty solicitor. Before going to court he asked her what he should do; she explained to him if he was cooperative and truthful his sentence would be milder. After hearing the case the judge asked him if he wanted to add something. He got up and explained to the judge: “my counsel told me to be truthful, so I wanted to tell you that I not only did the robbery I’m being heard for but also several others in the region”. He continued to admit to several robberies that had been unsolved yet and everyone, even the state attorney was facepalming.ComradeCatilina

Sometimes, being boring is a strategy.

I was in court listening to the most boring old defense lawyer you’ve ever seen, he was questioning the arresting officer in the case. It was drugs or something like that. Anyway, he’s droning on about every little detail and the magistrate was constantly telling him to hurry along. The arresting officer was getting noticeably annoyed and the room became empty pretty quick. Everyone was very bored and annoyed. Anyway, he went over arrest times and the likes with the officer, time he admitted the suspect and released him. He had bored the officer to the point where he was barely paying attention. “So he was admitted in at 21:45 on the night in question…?” “Yes” “…and released the night after…” “yes” “…and that was what? Just after 10 pm?…” “yes” “What time after 10?” “I don’t know, quarter past 10 maybe” “so my client was detained for more than 24 hours” “erm…wait” The penny dropped. The officer let his guard down and had revealed he kept the defendant for more than 24 hours, which is the max time for detention in the UK. The defense rested and the magistrate threw the case out immediately. Well played sir, well played.War_King_123


I was the plaintiff, suing for wrongful termination. My rep: so you terminated him because he was ill Employer: yes MR: and he was ill because he’s disabled Employer: yes MR: so you fired someone for being disabled Employer: yesviscountsj

Makin’ my job easy!

My former law partner was in court representing a client, I think in a hearing for a restraining order against her soon-to-be-ex-husband. Our client was telling the judge that when they met to exchange the children for visitation, the e-husband had kicked her. He immediately angrily shouted, “she can’t prove it, I didn’t leave a mark!” Thanks, buddy!DaniKnowsBest

Not really a good time to experiment.

Two moments in a DUI trial: First, the passenger is testifying for driver’s sobriety when the DA asks her, “you keep saying he was sober, but are you even TIPS certified (a course for bartenders so they can recognize drunk patrons)?” She was. Second, the head of the county’s blood lab accidentally admitted he cranked the sensitivity of his machines way up because he “was experimenting.”Mah_Nerva

Didn’t quite think that one through.

The person I was representing was on trial for Assault in the Third Degree and DUI. In my state, A3 means you’ve assaulted an aid worker or police officer and 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 wild profanities. We lost that trial.BirdLaw458

One giant facepalm for mankind.

As a teenager, I got busted with a couple of buddies throwing eggs at cars. We were only actually in the courtroom for our sentencing, there was no trial. The judge called each of us up individually to ask us if we had anything to say. One of my friends tells the judge that he is a good kid who doesn’t normally do things like this (lie, we used to do it all the time), and that “I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.” I wish there was a video of my other friend and I sitting in the benches watching this happen. We simultaneously dropped our heads into our hands because we couldn’t believe that idiot just said that. The judge was not pleased, and she took the opportunity to remind him that going to a store, buying eggs, going to another location across town, and then throwing those eggs at cars was not just being in the wrong place at the wrong time.PM_Literally_Anythin

And that’s how you get a bad reputation.

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, 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.”Dbo81

That’s why you do your research.

Medical malpractice defense lawyer here representing hospitals/doctors. This was not my oh crap moment but the plaintiff’s oh crap moment. For context, usually at trial, both the plaintiff and defendant will have an expert physician testify as to their opinion to whether the doctor/hospital performed everything correctly. I thoroughly researched 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, 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. 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.mclarenf1boi

Case dismissed!

Watching a hearing when the defendant said “I mean I did stab her… But it was a gentle stabbing…”SphericalUser07

Well, that’s embarrassing.

Not in court but a deposition. The plaintiff in a sexual harassment case (that was suspected to be paid role play with her boss) kept a very detailed sex 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 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. He ended up leaving on his own after she read that part out and confirmed it was him she was writing about.PerilousAll

He couldn’t find anything else to wear?

 The first thing I ever did, was just a law student intern. Guy has a legit defense on a drug possession case. Drugs found in a jacket, the guy wasn’t wearing a jacket, they were going to have a very difficult time proving the jacket belonged to my guy. Had a long meeting with the client. Explained everything. The client was excited. Day of the preliminary hearing, the guy shows up and sits down directly in front of the officer who arrested him… … while wearing the jacket in question, the exact same jacket we were going to say they couldn’t prove belonged to him.cuthman99

This sounds like a Disney movie scene.

I was a character witness for my childhood dog in a civil trial between our neighbors and my parents. Opposing counsel was questioning me, I wasn’t even out of elementary school at the time, and he asked if our dog was aggressive. She was a rottweiler and very loving and incredibly protective of me and my siblings. His final question to me is one I will never forget. He asked, “Did your father tell you what to say before you came into court today?” I responded “Yes.” Then he asked, “What did he tell you to say?” I said, “The truth.” Now I was too young to remember the courtroom reaction, but according to my father the judge audibly guffawed and the opposing counsel lost all the wind out of his sails.Gortonis

Don’t you wish you could have been in the room when this happened?

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: 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 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.Thedurt

There’s a pretty big difference, here.

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 basically. 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…theTALC

Turns out, this judge knew the laws. Go figure!

I witnessed my ex-wife try to argue with the judge that she couldn’t be accused of kidnapping our daughter because our daughter was legally emancipated (she wasn’t) at the time of the kidnapping. My ex-wife had legal statutes written on small sheets of paper she had torn out of books in the jail library, and she kept arguing with the judge after being told that none of it mattered. After the fifth time my ex-wife interrupted the judge with her nonsense, the judge slammed her hands down, stood up, leaned over her bench, and told my ex that she had been a juvenile court judge for 20 years and was well aware of the statutes. If she interrupted one more time then she would be held in contempt and spend several months more in jail. My lawyer held up his folder in front of his face to hide his grin during this exchange. I walked out with full legal and physical custody of my daughter, court-supervised visitation for my ex, and a full restraining order.windstrider13

You look familiar…

Represented a pro bono client that had just turned 18 and was charged with serious property damage. I walk into 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.Selfdiagnosed

That could have saved a lot of time.

My ex-MIL was crazy. My wife and I had cut her off almost completely. Every once in a while she would give in and let her mom visit, which always turned out badly. Eventually, we got divorced and I got full custody. MIL went nuts and decided to sue me for custody. I looked over the law and for any form of visitation or custody you need to have had contact with in the last 6 months and she hadn’t seen them for over a year. So we go to court. I can’t afford a lawyer but the law was pretty clear. She goes through three lawyers, each of them quit in turn. So she finally winds up representing herself. During the last hearing, she was talking to the judge and said something to the effect of “I don’t want to get custody of them, I just want to be able to visit.” The judge then asked her point blank “this is a custody hearing. Are you telling me you no longer want to get custody?” She said yes and the judge dismissed the case immediately.SgathTriallair

Protip: It still counts if you whisper.

On charges of growing marijuana, the defendant stated he was growing “herbs for medicine” (and gestured air quotes with his hands) And then whispered, I kid you not, “marijuana.” Bro. –ThisISHowItStartss

It’s a pretty basic question.

“Do you see the defendant here in court?” (Witness/victim looks at each jury member then everyone in the audience) “nope.” (Judge hides his face behind file folder) “Are you sure, maybe over on this side” (witness looks confused) “I’m not sure.” (I point at the defendant) “maybe over at this table by that lawyer” . . . “Yeah, maybe.” Keep in mind the defendant/victim knew each other very well…AkumaBengoshi

That didn’t take long.

A kid was being charged with arson in his high school. The first sign of trouble, the prosecutor is trying to get the investigator to say something specific. Note: this was a fire investigator. “What did you see? “ It was a bathroom. “Anything else? “ “Sink? “ “What else did you see? “ “Mirrors. “ “What else? “ Trash can. “Anything in the trash can? “ “Paper towels” “Anything unusual about the paper towels? “ “They were burned? “ “THANK YOU” Then she calls the co-conspirator who has made a plea deal, who according to opening statements will testify that the kid/ defendant started the fire. The kid spoke and acted like a stoner. “What happened? “ “We had some aftershave. We got some paper towels and poured the aftershave on the towels. Then I lit them– I mean he lit them! “ “Your honor, I’d like a recess. “ End of the trial.xubax

You know those are permanent, right?

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.KingHygelac

Most people don’t speak legalese.

I was just interning in court during law school but I’m a lawyer now. Fight in a club, someone had broken someone else’s jaw and had 6 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 a very specific phrasing to the tune of “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. Defense lawyer got busted for instructing the witnesses.Vaaaaaare

I guess that’s a pretty good reason for being absent.

I had a pre-trial conference at 9 am at a court about 2 hours away. So I wake up super early to drive in crappy weather to the conference. I get there and we’re waiting for the other (in-town) attorney. All the while I’m grumbling to myself about how I’m from out of town and I can still make it on time. Finally, the court calls the other attorney’s office and gets a receptionist who tells us through tears that… Other attorney passed away the night before. Needless to say, I was just happy to still be alive and we rescheduled for a few months later.goffer06

That’s the No. 1 rule for lawyers.

Never ask a question to which you don’t know the answer. Prosecutor suggested to my client that the canned goods he had burgled were to be used to trade for drugs. I I, thinking the idea ludicrous, asked my client whether he has ever traded food for drugs. To which he replied that he once exchanged a frozen chicken for heroin. Needless to say, I didn’t win that one.Someluckinvolved Share this with someone who loves a great story!