Accuse The Witness

aka: Accusing The Witness
Judge: Mr. Wright, are you indicting the witness as the real murderer?
Phoenix: Of course! That is precisely what I am doing!
Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney: Justice For All, Case 1

A Courtroom Antic which involves accusing an unlikely or controversial witness of being the perpetrator of the crime—particularly the accused's spouse or other close family member. Whether or not this accusation is true is immaterial. The point is to cloud the issue and raise reasonable doubt.

An unscrupulous cousin to The Perry Mason Method.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Variant: Kurt Godel in Mahou Sensei Negima! claimed himself to be behind the attack on Negi's village. But he was lying. It really was apparently the senate.

    Comic Books 
  • One story arc in Astro City is about a lawyer who defends an obviously-guilty murderer by invoking superhero tropes. He suggests that his client was being mind-controlled, that the murderer was a shapeshifter or an evil twin from another dimension, even that the victim was still alive before the coroner cut her open. Because these things do really happen in Astro City, it works. In the epilogue it's established that if anyone tried that today the prosecution could tear them to pieces any number of ways, like demanding evidence that there's anything strange going on, but he got a pass because he was the first to do it. Also, the jury was terrified of convicting an innocent person because the state had recently executed an innocent superhero who was framed in exactly the sort of super-sciencey way the defense attorney was suggesting.

    Fan Works 
  • In Turnabout Storm, Phoenix Wright, as a last ditch effort to save Rainbow Dash from a sure guilty veridict, raises suspicion on Fluttershy of the murder in order to buy more time to investigate. Neither Twilight nor Phoenix himself are amused.
  • A similar thing happens in Phoenix Wright Devils Attorney as well, although it isn't as heavy on the Tear Jerker part. Mostly because Flonne is capable of looking after herself and understands why Phoenix had to do it, the new laws in the Netherworld of 'guilty until someone else is proven guilty' forcing him to do this to extend the trial less Laharl would convicted on the first day. However, she did say it stung a little, and Laharl is none too happy about it either.
  • The last witness is the real perpetrator in four of the four cases in Aya Shameimaru: Touhou Attorney, a fangame based on the Ace Attorney games.

  • In the climactic trial scene of New Jack City, Nino Brown stands up and dramatically accuses one of his lieutenants of being the real head of the gang, Cash Money Brothers. This works and he gets a ludicrously small sentence in exchange for testimony - despite every piece of evidence, including eyewitness testimony from an undercover cop - saying Nino was the boss. Or at least, it worked for a few minutes. (As a side note, the real-life drug lord Nino Brown was modeled on tried the exact same stunt and failed)
  • In Legally Blonde, the climax of the movie involves Elle Woods getting the murder victim's daughter to incriminate herself on the stand, by using a clever line of questioning that seems unrelated, thereby proving the innocence of Elle's client (the deceased's ex-wife).

  • The climax of Rumpole and the Penge Bungalow Murders by John Mortimer. Rumple, having established that the witness was the last man to be seen with the murder weapon, had a motive, and could have shot the men, accuses him. He does not confess, but his denial is kind of weak — and before the prosecution can examine the witness again, he bolted. The judge's summation is very favorable to the possibility, and reminds them that if they think it's a real possibility, they can't be sure the guy on trial did it.

    Live Action TV 
  • The prosecuting attorneys on Law & Order have occasionally filed charges against a family member of their real suspect in order to pressure them into a confession, plea bargain or other "short-cut" resolution to the case.
    • They'll also occasionally threaten to expose personal information that the defendant would rather go to jail than have made public (which seldom raises any questions as to whether they might be innocent and confessing just to keep their secret hidden), to achieve the same end. In both instances, the DAs will lampshade the desperation nature of the ploy, plus the likelihood that if the defendant doesn't bite, the presiding judge may not even let them follow through on their threat.
  • Subverted in Homicide: Life on the Street: in an antic taken from the book which inspired the series, in a murder for which the body was not found, the defendant's lawyer insists that the whole case is nothing more than a publicity stunt, and that the "victim" is going to walk into the courtroom... Now! He doesn't, but, as the laywer points out, the fact that everyone looked proves that they have a reasonable doubt. Once the defendants have been convicted, the thunderstruck prosecutor and defense attorney ask a jury member why the antic didn't work: one of the jurors noticed that the defendants hadn't looked — they knew darned right well that the victim was dead.
    • A further subversion in an earlier episode of Homicide. Kay Howard and Ed Danvers, while going over trial strategy on the Pony Johnson case, argue over the use of one of the victim's sons (and Pony's friend and drug mule) as a witness. Danvers notes that the son was at the scene, knew the victim and provided the bullets used to kill the victim and would thus make a terrible witness as the defence counsel would simply take all of that information and use it to set up the witness as the perfect alternative murderer, gaining them an acquittal.note 
    • The first episode of Matlock uses this same scene almost exactly, except his client was innocent (his clients are always innocent), and so, also looks.
    • It's also used in the 1987 film From the Hip, with Judd Nelson as the defense attorney and John Hurt as the accused; this time, it's Nelson who notices his client didn't look, and Hurt defends himself by scoffing at it as being too obviously theatrical a stunt to take seriously.
    • And again in Boston Legal, even the prosecutor remarks that he saw it in the aforementioned Judd Nelson movie. In this case Alan Shore sees that his client doesn't look and thus blackmails her into taking a plea bargain offer.
    • All of these are likely based on an urban legend commonly attached to the 1959 trial of Leonard Ewing Scott (one of the more notable "no body" murder trials).
  • Bones: In "The Verdict in the Story", the defense at Max Brennan's murder trial establishes reasonable doubt by showing that the murder could've been committed by Temperance, who, working with the defense, is the one who came up with the idea of pulling a Plan B on herself.
  • The Practice employed this as a deliberate tactic enough to be the former Trope Namer. One notable example is when in which Lindsay actually accuses the defendant's wife of conspiracy to commit murder out of the blue as the first question in her cross-examination! Then again, the accusation was true; Lindsay had a Eureka Moment through an action the wife took while being questioned by the prosecutor. The suddenness and accuracy of Lindsay's accusation caused the wife to panic and plead the Fifth, leading to the judge directing a not guilty verdict and saving the defendant.
    • In one episode, Eugene and Bobby try this in a murder trial, and Bobby gets chewed out over it by Ally McBeal herself, who asks him whether he really believes that the witness did it (Bobby doesn't). It takes a very strange turn when the guy they accuse commits suicide. Then it turns out that Bobby's theory was entirely correct.
    • One plot involved the firm being sued on charges of slander over one particular instance of them trying this. In his closing argument, Jimmy says that there was honour in them doing this, not because the guy they accused probably did it, but because he probably didn't; it was a soul-destroying thing to accuse him, but they did it anyway, because it was their duty to give their client the best possible defence.
    • In one episode, they defended a woman charged with murder. Prosecution claims she ran over her boyfriend. Seven years ago, she was charged with the murder of another love interest by a similar fashion but prosecution wasn't allowed to mention it in the trial because she was never convicted for that murder. In the time between the closing statements and the verdict (she was found guilty), the defense found out one of the witnesses was the wife of the previous murder victim.
  • Alan Shore of Boston Legal is defending a woman whose much older husband died in mysterious cirmcumstances, leaving his entire fortune to her. Their housekeeper is on the stand, and giving a fairly damning account of the defendant's behaviour. While she does this, Alan is stretching his arms and limbering up. He thanks her, then spins around and points at her in the most dramatic way possible:
    Alan: Didn't you kill him?
    • Another example is when Jeffrey is defending a young man accused of killing a judge he was in a relationship with. He, seemingly spontaneously, accuses the man's mother, currently testifying, of being the actual murderer. It's later revealed that this was actually the mother's idea to take suspicion off her son.
      • In this particular example, the mother is revealed at the end to have actually committed the murder. She and her son were in an incestuous relationship and as a result she got jealous when the son started having an affair with the judge.
  • Sort of referenced in The Defenders, where Nick knows that his client's alibi witness is the real killer, but can't tell anyone. He says that the jury never buys "the other guy did it", even when the other guy did do it. And this is enough for the real killer to confess to Nick, knowing he would just lie on the stand if asked. Then Nick pulls out a tape recorder.
  • One of the last episodes of The Closer inverts this: Brenda is called as a witness in a rape trial and is certain the defendant is just the legman for the real rapist, his lawyer Phillip Stroh. Stroh gets her to admit that she thinks the wrong man is on trial, and eventually provokes her into confessing that Major Crimes is investigating him, Stroh, for the crime. Naturally, as Stroh was no doubt hoping, the judge immediately declares a mistrial, and because of weak evidence the D.A. doesn't plan on refiling.

    Visual Novels 
  • Done often in cases in Ace Attorney. Overlaps with The Perry Mason Method in that in a lot of cases the witness Phoenix or Apollo accuses is the real killer (or an accomplice, or tampered with the crime scene, or is withholding crucial testimony), but there's also a lot of subverts.
    • In the third case of the first game, Phoenix actually does intentionally accuse a completely innocent party purely to buy another day of investigation. In the process, she reveals that Global Studios Executives which includes the real killer were at the studios that day, purely to save herself, and this enables Phoenix to get closer to uncovering the truth. Given that the innocent party in that case was, Wendy Oldbag, that example was kind of funny.
    • A distinctly less amusing instance comes in the fourth case of the second game, where you are forced to accuse Adrian Andrews, who by this point is woobie-tastic, just to buy time.
    • It gets pretty confusing by case 5 of game 3, where Phoenix doesn't even know who to accuse, and in the end isn't even sure what crime has been committed (homicide or justifiable self-defense). For fully three days, he doesn't accuse anyone.
    • Accusing the witness? Phoenix can do better than that! He goes as far as accusing the prosecutors. And at one point in the second game you have an option to select which strongly implies that the Judge is the guilty party. The Judge goes nuts. The two accused prosecutors in the original trilogy, however, are indeed guilty.
    • Actually, presenting profiles as evidence makes it possible for you to accuse almost anyone at certain points in the game, if openly asked who the culprit is. Don't like Franziska? Go for it! Hate children? Accuse Pearls! Heck, you have Phoenix's own profile in your possession in come cases.
    • Subverted in one case of Apollo Justice. In the flashback of Phoenix's last trial, he starts pushing Valant as the murderer of Magnifi Gramayre because Valant tampered with the crime scene, but it ultimately turns out that while Valant did try to frame Zak, Magnifi's death was a suicide.
    • Used in the last case of Investigations (where it's technically a police investigation rather than a court trial but the procedure is identical) by Shi-Long Lang on Franziska von Karma. His reasoning is that there is no reason. He knows she's innocent and he knows Edgeworth will easily prove her innocent, but in order to prove it Alba would have to let them back into the embassy to investigate—which is where they wanted to be in the first place.
  • In the fifth episode of Umineko: When They Cry, Battler accuses himself of the crimes to prove that Natsuhi needn't necessarily be the culprit. Of course, everyone know's he's lying, but Erika has to accept the possibility because her own rules have eliminated all the evidence exonerating him.


    Western Animation 
  • This was spoofed on The Simpsons when Bart and Lisa accuse, during Sideshow Bob's trial, obvious Rush Limbaugh stand-in Birchibald Barlowe of being the true mastermind behind rigging the mayoral election. Bob will not stand for this. He immediately produces every piece of detailed evidence proving that he and only he could have effected such a triumph, including monogrammed leather files entitled "Bob's Fraud Log", volumes I-VI.
  • Little Lulu: Annie was accused of breaking Eggy's guitar and Lulu managed to prove Tubby, who was testifying against Annie, was the real culprit.

    Real Life 
  • Rarely, if ever, done as blatantly as in fiction, but there certainly are cases of one suspect testifying against another. The Troy Davis case is an excellent example of this, as one of the key witnesses (and one of only two to maintain his testimony up until Davis' execution), Sylvestor "Red" Coles, was himself a suspect.
    • Direct accusation is against the rules of practice in some jurisdictions. However, a competent lawyer should be able to pick enough holes in a genuine murderer-witness's story for what really happened to become obvious to all concerned, or at the very least secure an acquittal.
  • In the retrial of Nat Fraser (his first conviction was ruled unsound by the Supreme Court of the UK), one of the suspects of the murder of the defendant's wife, Hector Dick, was accused on the stand of doing the murder himself. This was not successful, though it did convince the daughter of the victim, though not the rest of her family, that Dick was the murderer.

Alternative Title(s):

Plan B From Outer Space, Accusing The Witness, Or Maybe YOU Did It