Lawyers Are Sharing The Best Legal Fails They've Ever Seen
"He elected to testify in his own defense, and his defense was, 'I did it, but it was her idea.'"
Lawyers get to watch the best legal fails every day. Because we all love a bit of courtroom drama, u/thecptnswagg asked the question, "Lawyers of Reddit, what’s the worst way you’ve seen a person screw over someone else in court, whether it be criminal, civil, or divorce proceedings?" and the answers will make you stop and think before you say anything ever again.
1. "I represented a guy who stole three trucks from his work. Only two were recovered before trial. He showed up to a motion hearing in the third one."
2. "I'm not a lawyer, but a friend kept meticulous records of how much time his estranged wife spent with their daughter. He used pink highlighter for the mom and blue highlighter for himself. Mom sailed into arbitration demanding full custody and handsome child support and the house. Dad pulled out three years' worth of yearlong calendars. Mom had spent less than a full month with the child in three years. Mom was not happy with the outcome."
3. "Last month we had a huge drug trafficking case (I'm talking about 20 or more people involved, months of investigation, undercover agents, videos, audio, the whole ordeal). The hearing lasted three days."
"When it was time for the prosecutor to read the charges, he told the defendant that he was being accused of selling, trafficking, and carrying x amount of x drugs, with the base of his operation being his house, where he lived with his partner, to which the defendant replied, 'Wait up, I was the one selling the drugs, she didn't do anything.' His lawyer (a state-assigned public lawyer) facepalmed so hard, it's actually recorded in the audio of the hearing."
4. "This was a case another prosecutor in my office had a few years back. A 30-year-old defendant was charged with sexual assault of a child after he got his girlfriend’s 14-year-old sister pregnant. She actually kept the baby, so the police just waited and got a paternity test. No surprise, defendant was the father."
"He decided to plead guilty and have a jury trial on punishment. The victim testified to having consensual (aside from not being old enough to consent) sex with the defendant, getting pregnant, etc.
"Defendant took the stand. His version of events was that he sneaked into the victim’s room at night, covered her mouth, and held her down while he forcibly had sex with her against her will. It seemed like his own lawyer had no idea that’s the story he settled on.
"The jury deliberated about 15 minutes before returning a verdict of 17 years (the maximum possible as charged was 20). When interviewed by the attorneys afterward, one of them said they decided on 17 years so the defendant would never forget the age of consent in Texas again."
5. "Someone I knew had a pro bono case where she had to defend a person who had been charged with a criminal offense (don't know what — confidential and whatnot). Even though the police and DA could pretty much link the crime to her client, there was no evidence to tie him to it; the case was circumstantial at best."
"She had instructed him to shut up and let her do the talking during the trial, since she knew from experience that the client sometimes does not know how to answer a question properly. So she pleads and can show that the court has nothing on her client; she feels that for once, a pro bono case is going her way.
"After her plea, the judge thanks her for her plea and turns to her client. He asks if the client has something to add to the plea. Client looks at her, then back at the judge; tears well up in his eyes and he blurts out, 'I'm so sorry, I'll never do it again!'
"She threw her notes and everything else she had in her hands at the client (now convict), apparently. She basically got screwed by her own client, who screwed himself even worse."
6. "My boss was representing a family who got hit by a car (the two kids and the wife had died, but the father had not) and wanted the college guy's drunk-driving skin to be mounted on a wall."
"So the drunk-driving college kid had managed to get the judge's sympathy during the first part of the hearing by saying he was sorry, haunted, never going to drink again, this was going to ruin his life, etc. The judge seemed to really be eating it up.
"Then comes my boss and immediately burns this kid's remorse to the ground by showing numerous Facebook statuses and photos of him binge-drinking, partying, and even joking about driving drunk from the date of the accident up until a night ago. The kid looked like he was being forced to swallow hot coals, and the judge was absolutely livid."
7. "I'm not a lawyer, but I sat on the jury of a man who was accused of molesting his 10-year-old niece. He elected to testify in his own defense, and his defense was, 'I did it, but it was her idea.' It was his third felony strike, so he will be spending (with luck) the rest of his life in prison."
8. "Kind of a self-screw, but the MPA (Motion Picture Association), as part of their lawsuit, entered [hacker] DVD Jon's code for breaking DVD copy protection into their evidence, which then became public record. The code that breaks DVD copy protection was now available to the entire world, defeating the entire purpose of their lawsuit."
9. "I'm not a lawyer, but my dad is a physician and is sometimes called as a professional witness in cases of malpractice. In one memorable case, a family was suing a doctor for something fairly frivolous, and my dad was a witness for the defense."
"The lawyer representing the family was cross-examining my dad and brought up a chapter in a medical textbook and asked my dad to read a highlighted paragraph. He did, and the lawyer said something to the effect of, 'So, what you just read means...' My dad confidently replied, 'No, it does not mean that.'
Lawyer: No, but if you read xyz, the author clearly states...
Dad: No, really, that's not what the author means.
Lawyer: How do you know that's not what the author meant?
Dad: Well, because I wrote it.
Judge basically facepalmed while the lawyer mimicked a goldfish and stared at the author name on the chapter. Basically the best moment of my dad's professional life. (Yes, ruling was in the defendant's favor.)"
10. "This one time, a pro se litigant was suing a wonderful surgeon who had done nothing wrong. One of the attempted arguments was that the surgeon's physician assistant wasn't competent to assist with procedures and follow-ups."
"So the guy asks the surgeon if he HONESTLY thinks physician assistants know what they're doing and if the surgeon knows what's reasonable to expect of one. The surgeon, who was patient and humble up until this point, kindly replied that he founded the entire practice of having physician assistants in the US and that he came up with the idea while serving in combat, where he saw how helpful medics were to him while he was operating on an overwhelming number of casualties. And that, yes, he has a very good one at the hospital."
11. "A wife filed for a restraining order because she wanted the house during divorce. Husband had a good job, making like $200,000 per year. Employer finds out about the restraining order and the husband is fired. He was a very specialized employee, so the only job he can find close to his house, ex-wife, and daughter pays $50,000. Ultimately, the house gets foreclosed. Child support lowers to less than $500 per month. Wife has to get a job as a waitress. Four cars get repossessed."
12. "I'm not a lawyer, but I was a jury foreman on a case about five years back. Guy was accused of attempting to kill his girlfriend. Various charges about the severity were filed. However, victim's testimony wasn't terribly convincing, especially after cross, and there was only evidence that something had happened in the house that night, but not necessarily that the boyfriend had done it."
"Anyway, it's defense's turn to present, and they unexpectedly recess for the day. We come back the next day, and the defendant testifies. He puts himself at the scene and admits to hitting her. We ended up convicting him of everything but attempted murder, if I remember right.
"Afterward, the judge came into the jury room and told us that the unexpected recess the previous day was because the defendant insisted on testifying against his lawyer and the judge's advice. If he hadn't testified, basically no chance we would have convicted him."
13. "I was involved in a custody case where a wife cheated on her husband and had a child as a result. She let the husband believe the child was his until the child was about 5 years old and they were divorcing. To stop him from getting custody, she convinced the biological father to try to get custody, thinking that if he won, she would wind up with the child."
"It became a huge three-way fight, with multiple sets of grandparents involved, and the attorneys' fees skyrocketed because the case would have been pretty quick otherwise. She couldn’t pay her attorney, tried to get the bio dad to, it got even messier, etc. Basically, there still isn’t an agreement all parties will follow. They are in and out of court every year or so. She screwed herself."
14. "Not my case, but still my favorite story. Dude screwed himself over when he went to jury trial for a burglary charge and wore the same distinct sweatshirt he wore the night he committed the crime. Kind of hard to argue that the guy in the video isn't your client at that point. Needless to say, he was convicted and spent a few years in the Department of Correction."
15. "This one is timeless, and I bet every criminal lawyer has seen it."
"Us: We've gotten you an incredible result; just stand up and apologize and DON'T SAY ANYTHING ELSE.
Us: No, seriously, we mean it. DON'T MONOLOGUE, just say you're sorry, and we've convinced the judge to give you a lenient sentence.
Judge: Defendant, do you have anything to say?
Client: [Extended monologue about how unfairly he's been treated]
Us: You dumbass."
17. "My dad was a judge and had someone on trial for DUI. The guy would not stop running his mouth and was trash-talking everyone in the room. He instructed him to stop. Dude did not stop. Dad placed him in contempt of court for 90 days."
"Dude gets out, goes back to trial. First thing, he starts running his mouth again. Boom. Another 90 days in jail for contempt. He does 180 days in jail, when a DUI in our state is only 60 days for his level of DUI."
18. "I spent a summer as an intern doing narcotics work. You’d be surprised how much information defendants and their friends/family share over prison telephone calls, even when the line informs you that the line is being monitored and recorded before the call begins."
"That said, a defendant maintained he was an innocent Uber driver and was not in the business of selling drugs...meanwhile, he was telling his wife over the phone that they needed to figure out how to move 3 kilos of cocaine so they could afford the lawyer to represent him. Needless to say, he was shocked when the recording was played back in court."
19. "So my father-in-law had arrested someone for breaking and entering. During his arraignment, the judge stopped for a moment and asked the defendant where he got his suit from. It turns out that the defendant was also responsible for a previously unsolved break-in at the judge's home and had shown up wearing one of the judge's stolen suits."
Note: Some responses have been edited for length and/or clarity.