Every now and then, a judge will declare that a trial is “a search for the truth,” or, in one drunk driving case, a sober search for the truth. The judge continued, “In the search for truth, no man has yet been harmed,” quoting a Stoic philosopher who was evidently never a criminal defendant, or if he was, had no priors.
What would a trial look like if everybody had to search for the truth?
Prosecutor: Ladies and Gentlemen, the truth is we really don’t know whether the defendant is guilty. Oh, sure, he’s been indicted, but we all know that a grand jury will indict a ham sandwich. It’s just that somebody has to pay for this terrible crime.
Defense counsel: Objection!
Judge: Overruled. Ladies and gentlemen, the truth is that when I overrule an objection by defense counsel, it’s because I don’t like her. She’s as charming as a porcupine on a bad hair day. Plus, I have an opinion about her client’s guilt. How could I not, when I presided over the suppression hearing?
Prosecutor: (continuing) I had to spend days rehearsing my witnesses, a pathetic bunch of crybabies and losers, to make them get their stories straight. My police witnesses, of course, don’t remember a thing about the incident except that every gun is in plain sight, every defendant has glassy eyes and emanates the odor of alcoholic beverages, and every hassle with a civilian results in substantial pain and physical impairment to the cop, forcing him or her to take three years of paid leave.
Defense counsel: Ladies and Gentlemen, the truth is my client is a truculent hooligan who thinks he knows more about the law than I do because he has 49 misdemeanor convictions. The rest of my opening statement will be taken verbatim from “Mauet on Trial Technique.”
Judge: Ladies and Gentlemen, remember how we spent two weeks on jury selection because we had to kick off everyone who couldn’t accept the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard? The truth is that nobody in their right mind ever asks for that kind of certainty. “Beyond a reasonable doubt,” what does that even mean? (collapses with laughter).
Defense counsel: (joining in) And you know why my client doesn’t testify? Because he did it! Yes, he took up two seats in the subway!
Prosecutor: Ha, ha, ha, truly a bullshit crime. Your tax dollars at work. But you’d better convict, or my boss won’t get re-elected.
As Alan Dershowitz explains, there’s truth. . . and then there’s truth.