The prosecution's case depends on certain key witnesses' testimony in order to get a successful conviction. Or, all the evidence is already in place and all that's left is for the jury to say that the person is guilty. But—out of nowhere, a witness changes his/her testimony or refuses to testify at all, or the jury either gives an unexpected verdict or becomes deadlocked on what's supposed to be an open-and-shut case. What just happened?
Turns out the witness was approached outside the courtroom by the defendant, or a representative of the defendant, and was coerced into changing his/her story or not showing up to testify, either through monetary offerings
or threats to the witness or their loved ones
. In the case of the jury, it may be that at least one member was similarly approached and "persuaded" to sway his/her fellow jurors in a direction more favorable to the defendant.
What we have here, then, is Jury and Witness Tampering, a convention that's common in many a Police Procedural
and Law Procedural
show, with subsequent investigation by the police involved in the case revealing that this trope was in effect outside their (and the viewer's) knowledge till well after the fact.
A Common Nonsense Jury
may be created because of this. A Rogue Juror
may have this as his/her reason for going against the grain (not all the time, though). If this trope results in a witness testimony being changed, or is part of a larger Frameup
plot, that may result in an innocent person going to jail
In real life, witness tampering is a criminal offense which falls under obstruction of justice; plus, when witnesses lie about crucial details or outright change their testimony while on the stand, in legal terms that's called committing perjury, and can likewise result in jail time regardless of the reason. Where juries are concerned, this trope is why prospective jurors are warned not to discuss the case outside the courtroom for the case's duration, why their identities are kept secret, and why they're warned not to utilize any information other that what's presented to them in court for the purpose of deliberation. (If outside information is given to a juror to help influence a verdict, the case will result in a mistrial.)
Compare He Knows Too Much
, when the defendants or their associates take the direct route and kill the witnesses as opposed to merely bribing or intimidating them. Contrast Kangaroo Court
, where everything
about the case—including the witnesses and the jury—is deliberately geared toward convicting a defendant regardless of his/her innocence or guilt, and Joker Jury
, where the jurors deliberately consist of the hero's enemies.
Note: witnesses perjuring themselves or backing out of testifying, or jurors initiating the swaying of their fellow jurors, for any reason other than previous outside provocation, is NOT this trope.
Film - Live Action
- The 1996 film The Juror, starring Demi Moore and Alec Baldwin, has Baldwin's character, a mob boss, try to sway Moore's character, a juror in his trial, through his enforcer pretending to be her suitor.
- Happens at the end of The Untouchables, when Al Capone bribes all the jurors in his tax dodging trial to acquit him—Elliot Ness smells something fishy with the trial, and asks the judge to switch the juries. He even puts some pressure on the judge, on a hunch that he's also been bribed, and the gambit pays off.
Live Action TV
- The John Grisham novel The Runaway Jury, and the movie based on it, has this as part of its main plot, to coerce or incapacitate the jurors in a lawsuit against tobacco companies for the plaintiff's husband's death from lung cancer (in the film, it's a lawsuit against a gun manufacturer for gross negligence leading to the plaintiff's husband's death from an office shooting).
- In the third book of The Rami Johnson Trilogy, "A Time to Say Goodbye," Big Bad Jake Hibbertson tries to coerce a key witness in his brother's assault trial to recant his earlier police statement that he saw the brother attack a young boy unprovoked. It doesn't work, though, as the witness gets served a subpoena that'll essentially force him to be at court to give his testimony anyway.
- In the Honor Harrington book Field of Dishonor, three of the six the officers serving as panel judges (the military equivalent of a jury) during Pavel Young's court-martial are either invested in his father's political faction or present in said father's voluminous blackmail files.
- Both types happen very frequently throughout the different Law & Order series.
- A noteworthy instance of witness tampering from Season 4 of the original series is in the episode "Old Friends," where a witness commits perjury while testifying against a member of the Russian mob, then later refuses to testify to the truth because she's been threatened. She eventually does tell the truth but shortly afterward is murdered. This causes prosecutor Ben Stone to quit the DA's office.
- One example of jury tampering is the episode "Hubris," where a defendant, acting as his own lawyer at his trial for killing a woman, kept zeroing in on one of the female jurors every time he stood up to give an argument. It's later revealed that he'd actually approached her outside the courtroom prior to the verdict, and he'd sweet-talked her and convinced her of his innocence. He really was guilty, and later dumped the juror after being acquitted...and she was later forced to kill him in self-defense.
- The Sopranos: Corrado Soprano Jr. persuades a juror not to deliver a guilty verdict against him by hiring someone to threaten the safety of the juror's family.
- Sherlock: Moriarty blackmails several jury members in a court case by hacking into their hotel television systems to threaten their families.
- Grimm: Both types take place in the episode "One Angry Fuchsbau," because Amoral Attorney Barry Kellogg is influencing both the witnesses and the jury via Mind Control.
- The premiere episode of The Wire has Lieutenant D'Angelo Barksdale get acquitted for murder, via witness tampering.
- Continuum: Julian is found not guilty at his trial for Roland's death because of witness perjury and jury tampering and a corrupt judge.
- Bones: A man who is about to testify against big military contracter ends up with his wife dead and son kidnapped in order to keep him from testifying.
- Barney Miller: A man about to testify in a mob investigation is Properly Paranoid when some poisoned sandwiches are delivered to the squadroom. He refused to eat, but Big Eater Wojo is taken to the hospital to have his stomach pumped. Making the best of a bad situation, Barney has Harris check Wojo into the hospital under the witness's name, and Harris leaks to the press that he died.
- In an episode of The Listener the key witness in a mobster's murder trial is shot and seriously wounded. The cops think that the mobster could not intimidate the witness into not testifying and hired an assassin instead. However, they later discover that there was witness tampering but it was done by the prosecutor. The mobster was innocent of the murder and the witness was coerced into perjuring himself. The assassin was hired not to silence the witness but to actually allow him to tell the truth in court.
- Several examples show up on Suits:
- In one episode, Harvey tells his Corrupt Corporate Executive client that there are witnesses who can link her to six murders. She insists that they bribe the witnesses to not testify. Harvey points out that this is legally, ethically and strategically a bad idea but she refuses to listen to him. In the end they use Loophole Abuse to have the witnesses sue the corporation for civil damages and thus any settlement money they are given cannot be legally considered a bribe.
- In another episode, Harvey fears that the opposing lawyer in a sexual harassment trial will try to tamper with a key witness, but at the last minute he realizes that the witness has been tampered with from the beginning. She is a fake and was never sexually harassed by the defendant as she had told Harvey. The opposing lawyer hired her to tell Harvey a bunch of lies, and then on the stand she would tell the truth, embarrass Harvey and torpedo his case.
- On yet another occasion, Harvey suspects that a prosecutor in a murder trial is tampering with witnesses and encouraging them to perjure themselves. He has good reason for his suspicions as the prosecutor has a long history of tampering with witnesses and evidence. However, when Harvey confronts one of the witnesses, he realizes that the witness is actually telling the truth and (in a case of Poor Communication Kills) really thought that Harvey's client ordered the murders. When Harvey investigates the other witness, he discovers that the witness was tampered with, but the tampering was done by another lawyer in Harvey's firm who is trying to hide the fact that he is the one who ordered the murders.
- Blue Bloods has the usual types of attempts to scare off witnesses, but a couple stand out head and shoulders above the rest.
- In one episode, a drug cartel kidnaps Danny Reagan's wife Linda to keep him from testifying (not too bright, to be honest).
- In another, in a courtroom outburst, arms dealer Yuri Denko threatens the children of the man whose wife he's on trial for murdering in cold blood, scaring him into attempting to leave the city so that Yuri's mooks can gun him down. He tries a similar trick on a surviving witness after Danny and his partner Jackie get her to court in one piece, except it doesn't work.
- Subverted in an episode of Matlock. Defense attorney Ben Matlock interviews a potential witness and gets her story, then calls her to the witness stand to repeat it in front of the jury - where she tells a completely different story. Ben thinks that she's been tampered with, but according to her this is the real story and she had been tampered with before when she had talked to him previously (and she wasn't under oath then).
- In Parade, several witnesses testifying against Leo have been coached, coerced, or blackmailed by Amoral Attorney Hugh Dorsey.
- Manfred von Karma of the Ace Attorney series is strongly implied to be involved in witness tampering, as a means of keeping up his spotless conviction rate as a prosecutor. He also seems to have passed on his methods to his daughter and his student; they both have moments where their witnesses admit to having been told to not talk about something.
- In one of Knights of the Old Republic's Courtroom Episodes it's possible for the player character to use Force Persuade to make witnesses perjure themselves. This is considered a Dark Side action.
- In one of the side-quests in Chrono Trigger, Marle's father, the king of Guardia, is put on trial for selling the kingdom's royal treasure for petty cash. During the trial, the player gets to see that the prosecution's star witness was in fact setting up the king on orders from the chancellor. And then it turns out it wasn't the real chancellor, but a disguised descendant of Yakra, the very first boss the heroes defeated to save Marle's ancestor, Queen Leene.
- A Slappy the Squirrel short from Animaniacs has Slappy accused of cartoon violence against Walter Wolf. Slappy's defense consists of describing how she basically blasted Walter to smithereens, leading the jury to find her...not guilty, at which point it's revealed that Slappy rigged explosives under the jury's seats.
- Used as a gag in Futurama: at one trial against the robot mafia that Bender is testifying in, his lawyer claims jury tampering; then we're shown a mobster rewiring members of the (robot) jury.