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Unconventional Courtroom Tactics

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Perhaps the ancestor of another Wright?note 

"If the facts are against you, pound on the law. If the law is against you, pound on the facts. And if both are against you, pound on the table!"
Legal aphorism

Generally, lawyers handle court proceedings in a conventional fashion. However, sometimes handling things the usual way isn't good enough, so they shake things up when trying to win a case, so their tactics range from merely unorthodox to outright silly. The more desperate the case, the more likely the defense attorney is to resort to unconventional methods.

Perhaps he's stalling for time while an associate tries to find the evidence that will show who the real killer is, or maybe he's finally just flipped under the strain of the case.

Either way, expect him to be allowed to go on making a mockery of the legal system for far longer than any reasonable judge in real life would allow without having him jailed for contempt. To say nothing of the high chance he would be severely disciplined if not disbarred as soon as the nearest Bar Association ethics panel heard about it. Expect the Stern Old Judge to tell them they're "on thin ice" and "looking at contempt" if they don't get to the point.

See also Courtroom Antics, which applies to unconventional or silly court proceedings in general.

Specific Types of Unconventional Courtroom Tactics:


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    Comic Books 
  • New Warriors: In the trial of Vance Astrovik for killing his abusive father, the prosecutor takes out what turns out to be a cap gun and fires it at Vance in court, to make the point that if he can freeze a gun he has more than enough control to have stopped his father without killing him.
  • In one issue of The Simpsons, Homer and Comic Book Guy are on trial for indecency, because Homer used horror comics he bought from the Android's Dungeon as the basis for a report Bart was making. Things look bad for the men, until Bart happens on an idea; in court, he moves that Homer and Comic Book Guy are not being tried by a jury of their peers because the jury does not have any comic geeks. Judging from Bart's reaction to the judge's response, he was probably moving for a mistrial. Of course, this has mixed results; the geeks get Homer and Comic Book Guy off the indecency charge, but convict the two of charges the geeks themselves cooked up — namely, price-gouging and giving the jury wedgies. The men are sentenced to a public hanging...which amounts to holding up a sign for a comic book convention while being suspended in the air alive.
    Judge Snyder: In accordance to the Springfield "Play it by ear" Act...okay, we'll give it a shot with the geeks.
    Bart: Buh?
  • In Legion of Super-Heroes, Matter-Eater Lad gets assigned as the lawyer for former teammate Polar Boy's trial on Earth. Polar Boy was held in jail for two years after inciting a small rally in a pizza parlor against the corrupt Earthgov. ME Lad tries all kinds of antics to get the charges dropped, from calling in witnesses to assert Polar Boy is such a wuss he'd be more of a danger to his own friends than to Earthgov to dressing him up in a stupid costume and claiming he has identity issues. The judge finally gets pissed off with these attempts at stalling and declares any attempt to disprove Polar Boy's competency or sanity is a self-evident mistrial. This backfires badly when ME Lad then correctly points out Polar Boy was in jail for years waiting for his trial because they were determining his competency, which of course leaves the judge stammering and the prosecutor happily dropping all charges.

    Comic Strips 
  • One Gahan Wilson comic has a lawyer pulling two sets of Groucho glasses out of his briefcase and telling his client they're going to go with an insanity defense.

    Fan Works 
  • Better Bones AU: During Bluestar's StarClan trial, Lizardstripe does some unusual things to defend her, like making Bluestar herself testify. This makes Bluestar feel she's been betrayed and Lizardstripe is trying to get her sentenced to the Dark Forest, but it is in fact a tactic to make Thistleclaw and his supporters rant against her and prove just how horrible and nonsensical their ideology is.

    Films— Live-Action 
  • In Interstate 60, when Neal realizes that the whole town is in on the sham trial, and that everyone is conspiring to defraud him, he calls in a character witness: Bob Cody, a dying ex-advertising executive who always has dynamite strapped to himself. If Cody ever discovers someone lying, he starts the countdown timer on his body bomb. Needless to say, when Neal's witness discovers that the whole town is in on the courtroom con, he threatens to blow everyone up.
  • Justified in Miracle on 34th Street in that the proceeding is a judicial inquiry, not a criminal trial, and Judge Harper was fearful of the political fallout of committing Kris Kringle to a mental institution, so he gave Fred Gailey considerable leeway to allow him to make a reasonable argument to let Kris go. Presented with Bags of Letters addressed to Santa and delivered to Kringle, he ruled that the Post Office recognized Kringle as Santa and that was good enough for him.

  • In A Lone Star Christmas, witness Tom Whitman conducts a Quick Draw experiment to show that the dead man had won a previous gunfight unfairly. Tom also insists that another witness wasn't even in the saloon during the shooting and proves that his memory is reliable by having the courtroom temporarily emptied and then pointing out all of the people who weren't in it earlier or are sitting in different places.
  • Used in the Forgotten Realms novel Tantras. Storm Silverhand, the prosecutor against the protagonists who stand accused of murdering Elminster, makes an absolute mockery of the court. She uses horribly leading questions, badgering of witnesses, whipping the audience into am emotional frenzy with screamed accusations, and claims the defense attorney has been magically charmed by his clients when he protests this behavior. In the end her behavior is not only allowed, she actually wins the case without a shred of solid evidence.
  • The climax of The Luck of Brin's Five is a court case to prevent the government confiscating the alien visitor and tucking him away somewhere to study him. Moruian law and tradition being what it is, the good guys' strongest argument is that, because the alien was adopted into Brin's family, taking him away would constitute breaking up the family in a way the government is barred from doing; the First Elder's counterargument is that the adoption is invalid because otherworldly beings can't be family members. The good guys' lawyer wins by citing as a precedent the First Elder's own family, which has always claimed to be descended from a god.
  • Mickey Haller the wily defense attorney sometimes does this, especially when a trial is turning against him.
    • In The Fifth Witness, when it was obvious that his client would get a guilty verdict, Mickey actually had his client punch him in the middle of the court room — using hidden blood packets to make the punch look worse than it was. This was all to get a mistrial (as the jury had been prejudiced at this point) and to scare the witness so that she wouldn't testify in the retrial. Manipulative Bastard indeed. (Note that this does not work in real life - the judge will generally just instruct the jury to ignore the goings-on and make you represent yourself. Otherwise a defendant whose trial was going poorly could just deck their lawyer and hope the next jury likes them better.)
    • In Resurrection Walk he's in a habeas hearing, trying to vacate the conviction of his client, and he needs to stall for time so a crucial DNA test can be performed. So he deliberately throws a tantrum in the middle of court, leading the judge to throw him in jail for contempt, just so he can stall the hearing for a day. It works.
  • Star Trek: The Lost Era: Deconstructed in The Buried Age with Picard's court-martial for losing the Stargazer. It's supposed to be a routine trial, S.O.P. for any captain who's ever lost a ship to ensure there was nothing they could've done, but the lawyer for prosecution sees Picard as a pompous ass who needs to "be taken down a peg" (this after the severe trauma of losing his ship and crewmates and spending several weeks limping back to civilization). Her extremely unprofessional behavior, including using things she overheard from Picard having night terrors, nearly nukes the whole case and her career, and she's reprimanded for it... which just prompts her to Rage Quit. Once she's gone, things proceed far more smoothly.

    Live-Action TV 
  • A Law:
    • James Earl Jones guest-stars as Attorney Lee Atkins in two episodes ("Chariots of Meyer" and "Victor/Victorious"), a lawyer who flusters Grace Van Owen by, among other things, playing the race card and attempting to cause a mistrial by gaming the system.
    • Michael himself is occasionally guilty of antics (he's jailed for it more than once). In his passionate defense of Earl Williams throughout Season 4, he bends and sometimes breaks just about every rule of courtroom procedure. In his defense of Brian Chisholm, a white cop accused of murdering a black teenager, he tries to cause a mistrial by calling the politically skewed judge a "big chicken bastard." When the judge orders Michael's co-counsel, Jonathan Rollins, to take up where Michael left off before being hauled off to a holding cell, Jonathan says, "I believe Mr. Kuzak left off by calling you a big chicken bastard worried about reelection. But he forgot to call you stupid, and ask you who you bribed to get that robe!" Jail for Jonathan and a mistrial ensue.
  • Often happened on Amen whenever Deacon Frye was featured in his day job as an attorney. In particular, in one episode, he's defending a man accused of killing his employer. Frye genuinely believes the man is innocent, but needs to stall the trial to find the evidence necessary. He proceeds to make a complete ass out of himself in court, prompting the judge to declare a mistrial.
  • In Angel's sole courtroom episode, Gunn defended an arms dealer who threatened to detonate a bio-weapon over Los Angeles if he was found guilty. Gunn's unique strategy was to ask the judge to recuse herself, as she owned stock in a shell company owned by the defendant. Check and mate.
  • In The Big Bang Theory, Sheldon gets called to traffic court for running a red light. He tries to get out of it by concocting an elaborate defense that hinges on the fact his accuser, the traffic light camera, is not present at the trial. The judge refuses to tolerate this nonsense, and Sheldon gets locked up for contempt of court after insulting the judge.
  • In Brooklyn Nine-Nine, three characters are asked to stall while giving evidence at a disciplinary hearing for Peralta. Boyle derails every question to Wangst about his recent breakup, Diaz doesn't say anything different but puts painfully long pauses between every word, and Gina starts expanding irrelevantly while dropping emoji-speak into her sentences. It probably doesn't do his hearing much good, but fortunately, he ends up needing to get fired on purpose.
    Gina: Look I've known Jake forever, our friendship is little-boy-holding-little-girls-hand.
  • In the Here Come the Brides episode "Loggerheads," Jason, representing himself against Aaron Stempel, stalls for time by reading from a book of poetry. Judge Weems allows it as long as he sticks to American poetry, but finally tells him to stop when he tries to read from Richard II.
  • One House episode sees Dr. House in court for violating a Do Not Resuscitate order. His lawyer tries using a clever, albeit spurious legal ploy, which would be promptly shot down by the other party's lawyer. House stands up and explains that, while it's utterly irrelevant to the case at hand, he suspects the judge has a medical condition he should get checked for ASAP; which distracts the worried judge for the rest of the proceedings, including (presumably) the part where House's legal argument is torn to pieces.
  • JAG:
    • In "Heroes" (season 2), a key piece of evidence in the case was a submachine gun that allegedly failed to fire due to a malfunction. Harm proceeded to pick up the gun, which had evidently never been unloaded, and fired it into the ceiling. This did get him an epic ass-chewing, and the judge would continue to hold this against Harm for at least 7 more seasons.
    • In "Killer Instinct" (season 6), the defendant is a petty officer on an Aircraft Carrier suspected of murdering a subordinate (by throwing overboard at night), because they were incompetent at their jobs. One crucial piece of evidence is not admissible in court because the ship's CO did not have probable cause for issuing a search warrant, and this necessitates a different strategy from the prosecution. Harm does the standard Perry Mason Method, knowing beforehand that the defendant will not fall into the trap and make him overconfident. And when Bud later has his turn to question him, he begins by asking the defendant several questions that Harm had asked earlier, then proceeds to make several other basic errors before dropping his notes in mid-question, and finally drives the pedantic defendant into a rage (and incriminating himself in the process), before revealing that he was Obfuscating Stupidity and it was all part of a plan.
      Petty Officer Duell: Some people don’t belong in the United States Navy.
      Lieutenant Roberts: No, but the Navy won’t kill them.
      Petty Officer Duell: No, but somebody has to.
      Lieutenant Roberts: Somebody has to, sir.
  • Judge John Deed: The series has many moments of these.
    • In the episode "above the law", a trio of young men accused of gang murder try everything to avoid conviction: hecking and jeering from the dock, bringing large numbers of family and friends to court to do the same, threatening the witnesses and having one killed, intimidating the jury so that they go off sick, almost causing the trial to be abandoned. John puts the dissenters very firmly in their place, sending them to the cells one by one; and when the trial is over, he orders all of them to apologise. Most of them refuse to do so, and are all sent to the cells.
    • In a family case, a mother tries to bring the wishes of her dead son into the court, by sifting through his ashes, even after John has stated that it would have no bearing in court.
      John: How would your son feel about my lifting the order entirely?
      Mother: (sifting through the ashes) He's not very keen on that.
      John: Well, that's too bad, because that's what I'm going to do. I think you deserve each other, and you shouldn't waste any more of the court's time.
    • When an argumentative lawyer is himself a defendant, he tries everything he can to avoid conviction, including bullying his co-accused sister into pleading not guilty.
    • John himself often intervenes in ways which the lawyers consider improper. He frequently questions witnesses himself; and when several jurors allegedly fall ill, John visits them at home to persuade them to return to court.
    • When John receives a diary belonging to a murder victim, which provides incriminating evidence just after the prosecution has closed its case, he tries to present this evidence discreetly when he questions witnesses himself.
  • In Just Cause, Whit gets a possibly senile court-appointed client who refuses to speak except through a dummy. So he calls the dummy to the witness stand.
  • Law & Order had Jack McCoy go off on an increasingly hostile rant made up mostly of revealing evidence that was inadmissible so he could get a mistrial and try the case again if/when the body was found. He did get in trouble for it (contempt of court) so it was a bit of a falling on his sword moment.
  • Law & Order: Special Victims Unit:
    • A judge orders a child witness in a rape case to testify in person. The prosecutors ask for, and are denied, the option of having the girl testify via closed-circuit television in order to spare her from being in the same room as the accused. Although they tell the girl to keep her eyes forward and not look around when she enters the courtroom to avoid contact with her attacker as much as possible, when she enters, she glances up and sees the defendant seated at his table. She stops and stares for several moments before the prosecutor withdraws any questions she has and ushers the girl away. Immediately after, the defense accuses her of orchestrating this; by letting the girl come out and stare at the defendant, she gives the jury the impression of recognition and therefore guilt, which they feel counts as testimony, while denying the defense the opportunity to cross-examine.
    • ADA Rafael Barba, the regular prosecutor from season 15 to mid Season 19, was usually much less prone to this than his predecessors Cabot and Novak. However, his Establishing Character Moment (of all things!) certainly qualified; he goaded the defendant into strangling him with a belt in front of the judge, jury, and entire gallery in order to prove that said defendant certainly did strangle his victim well beyond the point of Casual Kink. It worked. The defendant went down hard.
  • In the Red Dwarf episode "Justice", Rimmer is arrested for the murder of the entire crew of Red Dwarf barring Lister. Kryten is his lawyer at the subsequent trial, and his defense involves proving Rimmer is too stupid and incompetent to hold enough responbility for any deaths. Rimmer helps in this regard by objecting to his own defense. It Makes Sense in Context, the evidence against Rimmer is that he truly believes he's responsible according to a mind scan; the defense is showing both that Rimmer is the kind of person who thinks it's his fault even when it isn't and he couldn't actually be responsible.
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine:
    • The episode "Rules of Engagement" revolves around this trope. Worf is charged with a war crime for destroying a Klingon civilian transport that had entered a battle zone and decloaked in front of the Defiant, and the Klingon prosecutor's whole case was based on the idea that Worf was acting like a bloodthirsty Klingon warrior instead of a Starfleet officer at the time and therefore should be deported to the Klingon Empire. He questions all the other officers present on the Defiant with a hypothetical "what would you do?" situation to "prove" that only a Klingon would have taken the shot, and intentionally provokes Worf into a physical alteration in the courtroom. Sisko and Odo eventually find out that the whole thing was a Klingon plot and the transport was a fake that they'd used to make it look like a war crime was committed, which gets Worf off the hook, but the question of why and how the judge didn't throw the prosecution's case out well before it got to that point remains.
    • In the episode "Tribunal", O'Brien is put on trial by the Cardassians. Cardassian trials, which are intended more as propagandistic primetime entertainment than a serious form of jurisprudence, are built around the Kangaroo Court model, with O'Brien already found guilty before the trial even begins. Odo, serving as his advocate, opts to stall and raise points of procedure until it's the longest trial in Cardassian history (including demanding to know why a crime allegedly committed by a Federation citizen aboard a Bajoran station is being tried in neither jurisdiction), and thus buys time for Sisko & Co to figure out what's actually going on. In the end, the judge lets the case drop mostly because she's tired of being humiliated on live television in front of millions of viewers. O'Brien's defense counsel is rather horrified to realize he just won a case ("They'll kill me...").
  • Waiting for God: It's implied that Tom Ballad ended up engaging in this; he walks out of a courthouse saying that he got about the outcome he'd wanted, but that he was fined fifty pounds for contempt of court.
  • In the Wings episode "Is That a Subpoena in Your Pocket", Joe is suing Helen for the damages she caused by driving her Jeep into his office. When she shows up late and on crutches, Joe assumes she's pulling a Wounded Gazelle Gambit and promptly engages in antics of his own, kicking the crutches out from under her and prodding at her with his foot when she falls down, angrily demanding that she get up. Until Brian shows up and informs everyone that Helen was in an accident on her way to court and her injuries are REAL. Despite having inadvertently made himself look like a downright abusive ex-boyfriend, Joe still wins the case.

  • In Chicago, Billy Flynn the defense lawyer is an expert at this. He likens the court to a three-ringed circus, where your job isn't to tell the truth, but to put on a good show.
    Give 'em the old razzle dazzle
    Razzle-dazzle 'em!
    How can they see with sequins in their eyes?
  • Defense attorney Henry Drummond calls the prosecutor to the witness stand in Inherit the Wind. This was based on the real cross-examination of William Jennings Bryan by Clarence Darrow from the Scopes Monkey Trial in 1925.
  • Brooke Wyndham's trial in Legally Blonde concludes with the entire court relocating into a bathroom to prove Elle's theory. note 

    Video Games 
  • In Mass Effect 2, during Tali's treason trial, one of the options Shepard has to exonerate her is to rally the courtroom crowd against the Admiralty Board, exposing their political maneuvering and bringing both Veetor and Kal'Reegar to her support, culminating in loudly denouncing the Admirals, Kal'Reegar declaring that "you assholes" will have to exile him too, and the crowd getting noisy enough that they're about to start an enviro-suited riot. Normally this wouldn't work in a more formal courtroom for any species other than quarians, but the close-knit nature of quarian society means that the trial is not only fairly informal to start withnote , but that the generally loud and flagrant disapproval of so many people has a much greater effect on the quarian Admirals than it would in any other courtroom.

    Web Original 
  • Oxventure: The Courtroom Episode of the Dungeons & Dragons campaign has basically nothing but these. While Prudence's suggestion of putting the whole damn system on trial isn't used, they do at one point attempt to use Dob's tramp stamp prison tattoo to discredit fake witness testimony, resulting in him mooning the courtroom, and Egbert deploys the "[squidges cheeks] look at their little faces" defence and uses enchantment magic to make the judge suggest acquittal to the jury. Justified in context, though: a) the trial was blatantly a Kangaroo Court, to the point where when the judge does suggest acquittal he is immediately shot in the head and the verdict and sentence are handed down without him, so there wasn't much point trying to use coherent legal arguments anyway, and 2) they were mostly just buying time before the escape attempt could kick off.

    Western Animation 
  • Duckman: Duckman resorts to desperate measures such as accusing a witness of being Japanese and acting generally ridiculous. "A-HA! You ASSUME! But everyone knows that when you ASSUME... (pulls out a chalkboard) uh... wait, there's some kinda trick to this..." Eventually his nonstop insanity causes the real culprit, King Chicken, to confess rather than have to listen to him any longer. What makes this particularly funny was the fact that Cornfed actually got Duckman acquitted before he used these tactics.
  • The Simpsons: While stalling for time in Bart's suit against the makers of Itchy and Scratchy, Lionel Hutz decides to call all his surprise witnesses again, to groans from people in the court; the group includes Ralph Wiggum, a Santa Claus in a cast, and Billy & Benny McCrary, the "world's fattest twins."

    Real Life 
  • Temple Lea Houston fired two pistols into the ceiling, scaring the jury and causing them to flee the courtroom. He said to the judge that he did it to "prove his client's fear of the victim's 'incredible speed' of gunfire". He then successfully argued for a mistrial, as the jury wasn't sequestered.
  • Attempted during former Governor Rod Blagojevich's corruption trial for attempting to sell Barack Obama's Senate seat when he became President. Despite the judge already having ruled that the minutiae of the FBI wiretaps was irrelevant, the defense attorney asked the very first witness several times how many hours of wiretap footage they'd collected, trying to plant the suggestion to the jury that what they were allowed to hear was heavily edited to cast his client in the worst possible light. After the third or fourth time, the judge dismissed the jury for a while and lambasted the defense for trying to play a Chewbacca Defense.
  • Defense attorney David Sotomayor pulled a fast one when the prosecutor was running a case relying on in-court ID. He brought someone who looked like the defendant to his table while the defendant sat in the back of the courtroom, and when asked to identify the perp, the police officer pointed to the ringer. The judge immediately dismissed the case, but gave Sotomayor a wrist-slap fine for contempt because he didn't let the judge in on the switch beforehand.
  • Some defendants will claim that the court has no jurisdiction over them, due to some ostensible peculiarity of law. In one such case, judge John Hurley took the loophole the defendant was using and turned it around on him, resulting in a sentence being leveled against him, his advocate, his physical body and his person.
    John Hurley: If you see David Hall, let him know he's also under arrest.
  • Rodney Alcala was tried in 2010 for seven confirmed murders of minors between 1977-1979, along with dozens of other unidentified victimsnote . During this trial, Alcala chose to represent himself, and acting as his own defense attorney, he called himself up to the stand and proceeded to "interrogate" himself — speaking as "Mr. Alcala" in a deeper-than-normal voice — for five hours. During the closing argument, he proceeded to play the entirety of Arlo Guthrie's "Alice's Restaurant Massacree" (which is 18 minutes long) on a boombox. Unsurprisingly — especially given how his "defense" of the murder charges were that he couldn't remember them, so therefore he couldn't have committed them — he was convicted of first-degree murder on all charges, and the death penalty stuck this time (he died of natural causes in 2021 while on death row).
  • The famous trial of Gaius Licinius Verres by Marcus Tullius Cicero is a brilliant example of a corrupt Roman court. Verres was being tried for extortion, and contracted the finest lawyer in Rome, Quintus Hortensius Hortalus, to represent him while the citizens got help from an unorthodox but rising star of the Roman bar, Marcus Tullius Cicero. Verres and Hortensius used all sorts of procedural tricks in order to delay the trial. These delaying tactics gave Cicero only nine days (nowhere near enough time) until the trial would be adjourned for the upcoming holidays and games of Pompey the Great. After that, the current judge, the honest Marcus Acilius Glabrio, would be replaced by an ally of Hortensius', who would be sure to throw the case out. Furthermore, Hortensius and Verres had the support of the optimates, the patrician wing of the Senate. Just to make doubly sure, they also bribed the entire jury to find in Verres' favor. However, Cicero was also capable of getting the advantage. He journeyed to Sicily, and with the help of a mob of angry Sicilians, stole and copied all of Verres' records. He used his own money to bring over a hundred witnesses, and, on the day of the trial, brought every single one of them into the courtroom to intimidate the patrician jury and impress the praetor. Before the trial began, he had them go into the winesinks and bathhouses of Rome and spread stories of Verres's sliminess before the plebeians. Hortensius was infamous for using the "Asiatic style", a long thrilling Large Ham performance lasting several days. Cicero would be expected to do the same in his opening speech, thus using up a large chunk of his available time. Thus, Verres and Hortensius had pulled off a Xanatos Gambit: either Cicero tried to fight the case, ran out of time and humiliated himself, or bowed out and let Verres off. Fortunately, Cicero was better at the whole intrigue game. He took a third option: he made no speech at all and simply presented his case without any introduction. He ruthlessly cross-examined Verres, who, not the sharpest tool in the box, ended up incriminating himself. Cicero's legal beat-down was so severe that at one point the plebeians stormed the courtroom in fury, and the bribed jury was so shamed by this and so appalled by Verres' corruption that Verres elected to go into exile rather than try to fight the charges. Tropes Are Not Bad indeed.


Video Example(s):


She-Hulk At Court

Jennifer plays up her charms in court to try to win over the jury.

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4.6 (10 votes)

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Main / HelloAttorney

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