“How can they lie like that?” The answer is: “They force air over their vocal cords.” Some lie for personal advantage. Some lie for revenge. Some lie out of the belief that whatever suits their purpose must be the truth. Some people lie because the truth has never been their friend.
I once cross examined a memorable prosecution witness. One of those persons who are incapable of telling the same story twice. He was testifying against my client in order to reduce his own sentence for perjury. It was the most fun I have had in thirty-three years of practicing law. The Court took a break after his direct testimony. My cross began:
“Did you speak to your lawyer during the break?”i
“I saw you.”
“Oh . . . yes.”
I could have closed with the benediction right there but spent an enjoyable hour confronting him with inconsistent statements blown up to poster size and looking like tombstones. I had a few extra lined up behind the defense table; so he would wonder what else I had. We won.
A lawyer’s sense of outrage is calloused by constant lies; frequently by our own clients. Clients find this difficult to understand. The legal system is inundated with false statements made under oath. Some of these falsehoods are sincerely believed. A Missouri man was convicted of carrying a handgun into a school.ii The evidence was that he used an old rifle barrel as a replacement gear shift. When he went into the school he unscrewed the barrel and put it in his pocket as a way of securing the vehicle. The barrel protruded from his pocket and alarmed witness reported seeing features consistent with a revolver and an automatic pistol. These features were inconsistent with each other but the state Supreme Court upheld the conviction. The witnesses saw what they expected to see and sincerely believed their testimony.
The brain will fill in details the witness believes should be there but may not be. In a radio debate over a proposed concealed carry law my opponent accused me of “waiving a gun in my face, trying to intimidate me.” I asked members of the media there present to report that I did not have a gun. They just sat and looked at me; a lie by omission. My opponent may actually have believed she saw a gun and acted on this superstition. However, I noted that she made this claim in other radio debates but not elsewhere.
Calling someone a liar is a tricky business. They immediately circle the wagons and defend their falsehoods. Juries don’t like to call people liars the accusation forces them to make that decision. Without evidence on the level of DNA it is best to suggest that the person is mistaken or misinformed. I have had success with suggesting that “Whoever told you that, I would put him down as unreliable.”