A True “War Story” From the Courtroom
Being a good trial lawyer involves skill and experience, but sometimes a little luck helps, too!
My first jury trial as a young state prosecutor involved the armed robbery of a south Georgia convenience store. The store had been held up by a lone gunman at about 7:30 one evening. The store clerk and a customer had positively identified the defendant as the gunman. The customer had even gotten a good description of his vehicle, along with a partial tag number.
The defendant offered an alibi defense. He contended that he couldn’t have robbed the convenience store, because he was at home at the time of the robbery. He claimed that he and his family were all gathered around the television set, watching the old game show, “Name That Tune.” The defense attorney also put the defendant’s sister on the stand. She likewise testified that her brother had been at home, with the rest of the family, watching “Name That Tune.”
As a struggling young trial lawyer, I had no clue about how to cross-examine the defendant’s sister. Law school had clearly not prepared for this situation. I stood up and, as I approached the lectern, I still had no game plan for my cross-examination. Then the idea hit me. Throwing caution to the wind, I simply asked her, “Ma’am, you say that your brother was at home at 7:30, can you tell this jury whether he robbed the store BEFORE or AFTER “Name That Tune?” Incredibly, before she could think it through, the defendant’s sister stupidly blurted out, “Before!” I was shocked. The defense lawyer was shocked. Everyone in the courtroom was shocked. Then the laughter began. First, it was just a few scattered giggles. But then it spread, like butter on a hot biscuit. Soon, everyone in the courtroom, including the jurors, was laughing! Everyone laughed, that is, except the defendant and his attorney! The jury promptly “named the defendant’s tune” in one note, with a guilty verdict! I won my case! I was so happy that I could have jumped a stump backwards!
I learned from this case that God looks after not only drunks and fools. God also looks after inexperienced trial lawyers! But if I try cases until I am one hundred years old, I will never again be this lucky in cross-examining an alibi witness!