It's best to keep your mouth shut and not do anything, as any quality lawyer will tell you, but some people just can't help themselves and manage to look foolish in front of the judge.
Below are stories of the dumbest things that lawyers have seen people say or do in front of a judge. Check them out!
(Content has been edited for clarity.)
“My favorite moment in a courtroom ever:
Attorney: When was the last time you did illegal substances?
The defendant on the stand checks his watch.”
Driving The Judge To Insanity
“A guy in traffic court had this interaction:
Judge: ‘In the case of speeding, how do you plea?’
Guy: ‘I refuse to plea!’
Judge: ‘What do you mean?’
Guy: ‘Texas driver’s code of conduct is not a legislative law of the land; it’s a contractual agreement that does not apply to me for I am not a driver as defined by the state of Texas as ‘a person who operates a motor vehicle in a commercial capacity.’ I am a traveler operating my private conveyance on a public road, and I do not need your permission to do so, nor am I subject to you commercial code of conduct.’
Judge: ‘Ordinarily you’d be correct, however, YOU HAVE a drivers license and in that voluntary contract, you agreed to abide by our codes and policies and be subject to our jurisdiction, and since you offer no evidence in your defense and instead want to argue legal semantics, I find you guilt in the amount of $255.’
Guy: ‘Thank you, your honor, may I discharge my debt to the state with yet another obligation?’
Judge: ‘I beg your pardon?’
Guy: ‘Can I pay you with an I.O.U, or script drawn upon a private bank?’
Guy: ‘Thank you, your honor, then what am I to pay you with?’
Judge: ‘Cash, you get it at the bank.’
Guy: ‘I’m sorry your honor, but I’ve been to the bank. And they don’t have dollar bills. All they have are Federal Reserve notes, which legally are instruments of debt and carry with it an equity attachment. Since I can’t discharge my debt to the state with yet another paper obligation, with what am I to pay you? Gold and silver?’
Judge: ‘YOU CAN PAY ME WITH EITHER!’
Guy: ‘Thank you, your honor, can you please explain to the court how one is equal to 38?’
Judge: ‘I beg your pardon?’
Guy: ‘Well you see, your honor, it takes 38 of these green dollars to buy one of these silver dollars, and you said that I could discharge my debt to the state with 255 of either. So can you please explain for the court record, and my benefit, how you consider the two are equal?’
The judge stands up and bangs the gavel and yells ‘you go sit down with the prosecutor and whatever he comes up with, I’M GOING TO SIGN!'”
Always Check The Name
“This is a personal story. I was once on the receiving end of a lawsuit. Well, someone meant to sue me but sued my uncle. We have the same career, and they named him in the documents and served him.
Me, being young and clueless, thought I should go to the trial just in case. My uncle told me I absolutely should not.
Now here’s where the opposing attorney messed up. They never once tried to interview or talk to me, or my uncle or they would have realized their mistake.
The day of the trial, my uncle made it to the stand. From the way I heard it, the questioning was hilarious. ‘Were you working on this day?’
‘Please read this payroll statement. Doesn’t this payroll statement say you were working?’
‘Look at this highlighted line. Isn’t your name [his name]?’
‘Then you were working.’
‘No. This says [my name] was working.’
My uncle said even the judge was laughing as he immediately tossed the case.”
That’s Some Type Of Protest
“A lot of clients want to speak up ‘but judge, you don’t understand,’ but giving them the look of death and a jab in the ribs usually shuts them up pretty quickly. They’re usually pretty okay. I found this gem doing some research one day (quoted from the case):
‘As is evident from the foregoing excerpt from the transcript, the judge would not permit the appellant to speak to the issue of judicial bias. The appellant was agitated. The judge was, no doubt, frustrated. This exchange culminated in the appellant choosing to disrupt the proceedings by commencing to disrobe. The appellant described her actions to the judge as ‘a form of non-violent protest’ which would continue until the judge would hear her motion for judicial bias.’
I wish I were there for THAT one!”
Slam Down The Gavel
“People finding religion in front of a judge at sentencing.
The judge would always respond with, ‘God may have forgiven you, but the State has not.’
That judge was a boss. He was firm, fair, and cool.”
No Further Questions, Your Honor
“I saw one defense attorney demonstrate twerking during closing arguments of an assault with intent to kill trial.”
Got Away With Near Murder
“A friend of mine was working at the public defender’s office while in law school. He was tasked with coming up with something to give a client a good faith defense. The problem being that the accused was caught on video beating a corrections officer nearly to death and permanently blinding the officer in one eye. Dead to rights.
The district attorney decided to throw the book at the guy and charged the defendant with ‘Riot in a penal institution.’ After duly checking the chain of evidence and making sure there wasn’t even the barest hint that the defendant had reason to believe he was defending himself, my buddy thought, ‘Well, it’s just one guy? Is that a riot?’ But yes, one person can indeed be a riot.
A county jail, in the statute of that state, is not considered a penal institution. So the dumbest thing he’s ever seen someone try to get away with in a courtroom was something he did. When the date of the trial came, he and the public defender stood up and demanded that the charges be dropped.
The district attorney and the very visibly crippled for life corrections officer contained their incredulous outbursts of outrage, and the judge asks why. ‘Your Honor, the jail is not a penal institution.’
My friend says what followed was an hour-long ‘IN MY CHAMBERS! NOW!’ session where both prosecution and defense were given a thorough talking to by the judge for the gross miscarriage of justice, but the charges were dropped.”
Did You Learn Nothing From School?
“We once had a client who was arrested for fraud. The problem was his arrest warrant was riddled with errors; half the time his name was changed to someone else’s, the dates were wrong, and it ended by declaring the arrest warrant on the basis of robbery, not fraud.
The client was actually (egregiously) guilty of committing fraud, but he walked a free man because here the arrest warrant has to be written with the accused’s full name, the exact crime he is being accused of and the date and place of said crime.
Lesson to district attorneys and Judges: don’t copy and paste without proofreading.”
Taking Credit Where It Wasn’t Due
“Husband and wife are going through a divorce and are having a custody hearing. The attorney is representing the father who wants to be able to have some rights to see his son, but the mother has already been awarded full rights.
The father’s attorney is passive aggressive against the mother’s attorney, and is rubbing everybody the wrong way. Eventually, the mother’s attorney snaps and quips back ‘If he were as good of a father and husband as you claim, we wouldn’t be here, would we?’ The father’s attorney has some dumb reply, and the judge starts losing his cool.
Another few comments later and the judge ends the hearing. No adjudication; just takes the filings and demands that the parties get out of his chambers.
In the hallway, the mother’s attorney loses his cool. He starts yelling at the other attorney. He yells back. They get into a full on yelling match in the courthouse! Then the father, who is 230 pounds, steps between them to entreat them to chill out. He starts telling both his lawyer and the wife’s attorney that they are acting like children.
People in the courthouse are giving them looks, assistants peaking out of doors, and the wife takes over. ‘You’re both acting like a couple of kids. He and I can handle this on our own.’
Then the couple who is in the middle of a vicious divorce step aside, talk for a few minutes and walk back. ‘He’s going to take my son Tuesday night. YOU TWO’ she points at the attorney’s ‘do whatever you need to do with the judge.’
I don’t know what happened with that case, but it warmed my heart to see a father step between the two trained legal professionals and impress his wife so much that they were able to work things out.
The sad part? The husband’s lawyer saw it as a win for him because his conduct put his client in a position to ‘break up the fight, and show her that he is a great guy.'”
Ah, The Ol’ Disguise Trick
“When I was a public defender, I represented a woman in a felony driving under the influence trial. It was a felony only because her license was already suspended when she got the charge. Her BAC was 0.30, and empty bottles were rolling around her car. I found case law that said the state must prove she received notice that her license was suspended to charge it as a felony. On my motion after the state’s case, again after the defense’s case, and again after the jury verdict, the judge grudgingly had to dismiss the felony part because the state couldn’t prove the woman ever received notice that her license was suspended. The judge made a very clear record, however, that the conviction for driving while under the influence was solid and unaffected by dismissing the felony. Whatever, we beat the felony, which was the difference between four months in prison and 24 hours in county jail.
That’s not the dumb part. This woman was off her rocker and swore she hadn’t had too much to drink, and no one would dismiss her case. She filed a lawsuit against the Public Defender’s office, my supervisor personally, me personally, the County Superior Court, and the judge personally. She would show up at the courthouse every day to ‘read her file’ and harass the court staff. The judge eventually barred her from coming to his court without written permission. She started wearing wigs and big hats and sunglasses to skulk around his court unrecognized. No idea what happened to her after that.”
Joke Gone Wrong
“I got called in for jury duty one time. There was a couple dozen of us in the trial room being vetted to choose 12 of us for the case. They come up to one kid, had to have been just 18 years old. The prosecutor is going through the same questions she’d asked everyone else, then she comes up with an unexpected question.
‘Do you recall what you placed on your jury summons form for your occupation?’
He replied that he didn’t recall. It turns out that he put ‘Pimp’ as his occupation. She raked him over the coals about it, talking about how it was perjury to falsify the information. Talked about the fines and jail time he could face, the whole nine yards, she closed with:
‘Therefore I wish to dismiss Fred Smith from this jury. He either knowingly perjured himself on the juror forms, or is engaged felonious activities by coordinating prostitution, which is illegal in this state.’
The kid was either dumb or had some large jewels to do that. He’s lucky he didn’t end with a fine or something, or maybe he did after the fact. Ultimately 12 jurors were selected before my number was called, and I decided to go back to work rather than sit and watch the case.”
At Least You’re Honest
“I was in front of a judge for an argument, and the other side failed to show up. The judge called him and made him argue against our motion while driving and on his cellphone. The judge spoke for a minute setting up the arguments for the guy (basically leading him to the core argument and what he should be saying if he wanted to get our motion denied).
After a few moments of silence, the guy responds: ‘Judge, I’m too stupid to understand what you just said.’ That ended the argument quickly and in our favor.”
Fiction Turned Reality
“When I was in law school, my school had a mock trial program that took place at the local county court, where the ‘judges’ were actual judges, prosecutors, and attorneys from the local area.
So one day, a mock trial is happening, and one student (who was a law student but not in the mock trial program) is acting as a witness on the stand. This person was getting a little too rude acting in character, so the ‘judge’ who was an actual judge, admonished him to tone it down. The student didn’t listen to the judge took them to a little side-chat and told him he needs to stop.
The student blows up at the judge and tells him that he doesn’t have to listen to a ‘petty state-court judge’ and proceeded to assault the judge verbally. The judge filed an assault charge, student was kicked out of school for damaging the school’s relationship with the local courts, and I would imagine never got admitted to another law school or, if they did, would have a hard time passing the character and fitness test to practice law in that state.”
Almost Got Away With It
“I’m doing jury selection on a civil case in California. It is going to be a long trial (six weeks), so the Judge is giving jurors a lot of latitude if they claim any hardship for serving that long.
After about 30 minutes of voir dire, (which ended up taking three days and several panels) one guy stands up and says in very broken English that he can’t follow. The judge asks him if he speaks English well enough to render a fair verdict and he looks confused and says ‘no.’
The judge thanks him for his service and dismisses him from the panel. In perfect English (the accent now gone) he says ‘Thank you very much, your honor, where should I put my badge before I leave.’
The judge found him in contempt and ordered him to stay on jury duty for the next week.”
No Show Nelly
“It was more what didn’t take place.
I was working for the district attorney’s office, and we had a guy scheduled to appear for a vandalism charge. The guy had a long history of minor offenses, but the judge was in a lenient mood that day, so the guy was probably going to get off light.
At the scheduled time, he hasn’t shown up. His lawyer tells the judge he hasn’t heard from the defendant that day. We wait 10, 20, 30 minutes. At the half-hour mark, the judge is furious. She angrily tells the lawyer to get out and find his client and get him before her, no matter what it took, or she’d bring it down upon the defendant. An hour later, the lawyer slinks back into the courtroom. The judge sees him and interrupts another lawyer to call him up to the podium. The poor lawyer proceeds to tell us that the defendant didn’t show up because he was sitting in jail two counties over, having been caught trespassing the night before.
Needless to say, that defendant got the book thrown at him.”
Trying To Pull One Over On Him
“I never did much criminal defense, but a man, who we’ll call Dennis, came into my office with a Driving While Under The Influence charge and an Aggravated Unlicensed Operation of a Motor Vehicle charge – both misdemeanors. Dennis swore up, down, and sideways that 1) he did not drink and was not under the influence of anything 2) he never drove the vehicle, and 3) that he had a valid driver’s license.
I give Dennis the names of some local criminal defense and driving under the influence attorneys and suggest he try them out. Dennis refuses, saying I’m the lawyer he wants (in hindsight, I should have realized that he probably had already gone to these other attorneys and only came to me after they refused to take his case).
I charge the guy $200 for an intake and record review fee and contact the local court, police station, and district attorney’s office for information and paperwork. I find out that not only did this guy blow a .18 on the breathalyzer, but the cops did a blood test on him after he kept insisting he hadn’t drank. The blood test came back with a .22 BAC. As for driving, the separate squad cars witnessed Dennis’s vehicle run over a mailbox and drive off; he was followed and pulled over on the block. Per the police report, Dennis was the only person in the car and was in the driver’s seat wearing a seatbelt. Oh, and I tracked down his license through the DMV, and it had expired three years ago and was suspended for two years before that.
I called Dennis back into my office and told him he did not have a case that should be taken to trial. Dennis admitted that he probably had one too many to drink, but he wasn’t aware he had been drinking. His son must have put something in his green tea, and he didn’t realize there was fireball in his green tea because he was eating red hot cinnamon candies and had a cold/stuffy nose. Anyways, Dennis retains me, but only after I put a clause in his engagement agreement stating I explained his low chance at trial, and he understood there was no guarantee of a win.
I take the case to trial and, of course, we lose. I was hoping to convince Dennis to take one of the plea offers given to us in advance, but not. Dennis was sure the judge would understand (Dennis wanted a bench trial, not a jury trial – I made him sign another document later on that said he understood the difference between a bench and jury trial and he was opting for the bench trial) and he would be found not guilty and everyone would move on. He was sorely disappointed but only got probation after a trial – I think the judge was taking pity on me more than Dennis.
Dennis later sued me for his retainer because I didn’t adequately defend him. As proof of my inadequate representation, he offered the judge’s verdict rendering him guilty. The case was thrown out quickly.”
A Mess Everywhere
“During the direct examination of the defendant, the public defender kept asking leading questions. After five or so sustained objections in a row, the judge had enough and sent the jury out of the room to yell at the PD.
During the cross, about 10 minutes later, the judge again sent the jury out to yell at the defendant for trying to tell his story instead of just answering yes or no questions (not to mention he was lying through his teeth). Also, the defendant was recorded committing the crime. So yeah, he was later found guilty.”