People Share Their Funniest Stories From Inside The Courtroom
What happens in court stays in court... unless it's so funny it needs to be shared with the world.
These people shared their stories of courtroom moments where the scales of justice were tipped in favor of comedy!
[Sources listed at the end of the article.]
Every time I go to court there is a funny story:
I was waiting for my speeding ticket to be adjudicated. Most of the cases were for drunk driving. Someone was arrested for a .17% blood alcohol which was about twice the legal limit. He was driving his friends car. The judge said, Why were you driving your friends car after drinking so much?
The defendants reply was: He was even drunker.
Long ago, it was my first divorce trial as a young attorney.
All morning, the other side testified that the husband was an adulterer, and that the wife knew he cheated on her because she saw his truck at the Catalina Motel. On cross-examination, the wife told me that she peeped in the motel window, saw a human shape that she thought was Sam. I dont know who the woman was, that my husband was cheating on me with, but I know the room had orange upholstery, she said.
My client, Sam, would take the stand first thing after lunch. So during the lunch recess, we drove to the Catalina Motel to see if the upholstery was orange— then gulped down our lunch and arrived just in time. My first question was, Sam, have you ever been to the Catalina Motel except when you and I were there?
You couldve heard a pin drop. The Judge asked, Counsellor, would you like to rephrase that question?
Oh and by the way, yes the upholstery was orange.
This was at a small court in Markham, Ohio years ago. We were there for my wife's minor traffic offense. In a preceding case a farmer was there for running an unlicensed slaughterhouse. He had recently immigrated from Greece, had limited English skills, and was using an interpreter.
People would go to his farm and pick out a goat. He would kill the goat, drain, and clean it. People would then take the meat home.
The judge said he had no problem with him raising or selling the goats, but rather with killing them. After the translator relayed it to him, the poor man got very frustrated because he couldn't believe what the judge was asking.
So in very broken English he said directly to the judge, I can't put the goats alive in their cars. These people drive nice cars and the goats would make an awful mess in their back seats."
The courtroom broke out laughing at the visual image.
I was testifying as a civilian witness for the prosecution in a drunk driving case. At the time of his arrest (~4:30 am), the obviously intoxicated accused man had loudly proclaimed to everyone at the scene that he was returning home from his girlfriend's place. This was an utterly irrelevant detail, but he was so adamant about it that all the police officers made a note of it, as did I in my written statement.
The accused took the witness stand on a motion to exclude much of the evidence against him, which gave the prosecutor the opportunity to cross-examine him about his activities in the hours leading up to his arrest. The prosecutor established that he had been at a dinner party at his girlfriend's the previous evening, where he had consumed only a very modest amount of alcohol (if his evidence was to be believed). He also testified that the dinner party had ended relatively early, and he had spent the rest of the night in bed with his girlfriend.
The prosecutor went on to ask him why he had gotten up so early to drive home, rather than just stay in bed at his girlfriend's until breakfast.
The accused replied that his wife was overseas on business, and he had to get home by 6:00 am as he was expecting her to telephone then.
The entire courtroom erupted in laughter, as the accused had now more or less confirmed he was an unfaithful husband aside from being accused of drunk driving. He pled guilty after speaking with his lawyer over the lunch break.
I think Ive literally only been in a courtroom in session once (except for traffic court and civil marriages). It was on a high school trip, and we were there for about 10 minutes. And yet this actually happened.
Defense attorney (using an annoyed voice, like a stereotypical TV defense attorney picking on the police): So after [something happened involving two police officers and the defendant], when you got back to the station, did you file a report?
Officer: (flatly) No.
A: Did your partner file a report?
O: [slight pause] I'm a K9 officer. My partner is a dog [laughter].
A: (Trying to still sound annoyed, rather than embarrassed) Did Officer [name of the dog] file a report?
Judge to Policeman: Did you see him turn around? Maybe a helicopter came and picked him up. I dont care how he turned around, I only want to know if you saw him turn around.
That is how I avoided paying a traffic ticket for making a U-turn while on a motorcycle attempting to cross the Brooklyn bridge.
It was one of those warm summer New York City evenings and I was headed back from Wall Street on my new Honda 750 during rush hour. I had a pile of stuff balanced on my fuel tank as I was leaving for a business trip.
However, being new to NY and riding a motorcycle in traffic, I suddenly found myself in a no-turn lane taking me up and across the Brooklyn Bridge. I tried to make a left turn to stop going over the bridge, but the traffic officer pointed at me with instructions to continue straight.
Have you ever tried to drive a motorcycle across the Brooklyn Bridge? It is like riding a bike on ice. The bridge has steel panels instead of asphalt and is like being on ice skates for the first time and this was not helped by the precariously balanced stuff on my fuel tank.
So, I slowed down, waited for a gap in the on-coming traffic and I turned around and drove back.
The traffic policeman was surprised to see me again within about 60 seconds. He pulled me over and gave me a ticket for making a U-turn on the bridge, despite my protestations.
I had my day in court though. I told the judge my story and I guess he felt sorry for me. Turns out that under NY law, a traffic officer must see your moving violation.
Given he was directing traffic, he could not see my U-turn. Thus the question.
The court room full of other citizens trying to have their tickets thrown out, collapsed in laughter when the officer admitted he did not see me make a U-turn! My ticket was thrown out, and I even got a few high-fives on my way out of the courtroom.
(1/2) This is a My Cousin Vinny moment. Hope you enjoy…
While driving eastbound on 34th Street in NYC, I stopped at a traffic light behind three or so other cars - all of whom were turning right, as I was. It was early morning, and the sun was low on the horizon, blinding everyone — even with the visors down. The light turned green and the traffic officer in the intersection whistled and motioned his arm to encourage traffic to proceed.
The cars in front of me all turned right, as I did, and we were all immediately pulled over by a garrison of NYPD who were waiting around the corner. Apparently, there was a small sign posted way up high on the sign post to the right that said, No Right Turn - 7AM to 10AM (or something). Everyone who turned got a ticket, and we were all upset. I decided to fight it, and thanks to some super-sleuthing on my wifes part, I thought I had a pretty good chance of winning…
I arrived at a packed courthouse, where at least 30 other people in the room were attempting to fight the same ticket. My case was fourth on the docket. Everyone who went before me pled not guilty on the grounds that they could not see the sign because of the sun. In each case, the arresting officer presented his case to the judge that the sign was not obstructed in any way, and the judge sided with the officer in all cases. Then it was my turn…
I pled not guilty because I could not see the sign. The police officer gave the same speech as before. I asked the judge if I could call upon the police officer as a witness — which surprised both the judge and officer. I asked the PO if the traffic officer (TO) who was in the intersection was present in the court (He was not). Since I was unable to question the TO, I asked the PO if he had observed the TO in the intersection (He did). I asked the PO if he could accurately recreate the arm movement the TO made when the light turned green (He did). I then turned to the judge and motioned that my case be dismissed.
(2/2) When the judge asked me why, I presented the NY State Drivers Manual, which stated when a TO is present in an intersection, his/her directives supersede any and all posted signs, including traffic lights.
When asked what was my point, I explained that when the light turned green the traffic officer motioned the cars to move forward. He did NOT try to stop any of the cars who were turning right — which he could and should have done (i.e., preventing an illegal activity). By not stopping the three cars in front of me, the TO created a pattern of permissible activity. Essentially, by not stopping us, the TO gave us permission to make the turn, and so the traffic stop was illegal.
The judge asked the stunned PO if he had anything to say (No, your honor). The judge smiled, said well done under his breath, and dismissed my case. Now it was the POs turn to be angry.
I was feeling pretty smug, but before I could turn and walk out of the courtroom, somebody else said, Hey! Thats exactly what happened to me! This was followed by a chorus of Yeah! Me, too! Me, too! Moments later, the whole courtroom erupted in angry voices, saying their cases should be dismissed. The judge had to bang his gavel to restore order. When they all sat back down, he asked everyone if this was the same situation with all of them, and they all shouted YES! The judge smiled again and said, Cases dismissed! Clear the Court! The POs mouth dropped open. The whole room erupted in cheers!
I was the first one out of the courtroom, and as I walked down the hall I passed the three other motorists waiting on line to pay their fines. Imagine their faces when they saw the entire courtroom emptying out, with everyone getting off scot-free — except for them.
In a small town in Missouri a witness was asked if he was related to the defendant. The witness, who was the husband of the accused woman, answered No, sir. The court house full of people began murmuring. The judge pounded his gavel and the witness explained, If I was related to her then I couldnt have married her.
The judge literally had to cover his face to conceal the laughter.
This one was relayed to me by an attorney friend. Hes a lawyer for the crown but only litigates at the appellate level (I.e. academic points of legal interpretation.) There was a serial murderer under prosecution and his crimes were so numerous the crown lawyers were overwhelmed. My friend was drafted to fill their place doing some low-end criminal prosecutions.
Two crooks had done a burglary/home invasion. The old lady was in bed in the house. She became the prime witness. (She also phoned the cops from her bedside table.) She was elderly and English was not her first language.
The prosecutor asks her if she can identify the men she saw in her house. (My friend is very well-spoken but tends to a rather high-level vocabulary.) The witness seems confused so the Judge says to her, Madam, he is asking you if the gentlemen who broke into your house are here in the court today.
At this point, the two guys behind the defense table stand up and say Were right here your honor.
My friend: Motion to approach the bench your honor…
I was representing myself in a traffic violation. I had moved to have the ticket dismissed because it did not meet all the requirements as set forth in the Missouri Rules of Court--the ticket did not have the address of the court house.
The prosecuting attorney pointed out that obviously I had found the courthouse so he didnt see any reason to dismiss the ticket on that account. The judge agreed. I waited a moment (timing is everything) and then picked up the Rules of Court and told the judge that I was new at this and asked him if he could highlight all the other rules that he did not consider worth abiding by. He quickly realized that he was bound by law to dismiss my ticket. The prosecuting attorney was rather put out and had the ticket re-issued. It took them three times to get it right.
I was in court as a witness (to the trial of the woman who pulled out in front of me and caused an accident). The case before us was that of a woman who had passed a school bus with its red lights on and with a police car sitting there (thats very illegal in many/most states).
The police officer testified; then it was the womans turn. The judge asked her why (or perhaps HOW) she could be pleading "Not guilty." Her response: "I didnt see the school bus."
Perhaps unsurprisingly, this did not convince the court. In fact, the judge suspended her license for an extended period, and I suspect she brought that upon herself with her "explanation."
Several years ago, the city of Reno, Nevada was dealing with jail overcrowding, exacerbated by a lack of facilities for homeless and mentally ill subjects. In response, the local courts were making an effort to avoid using the County jail for low-level offenders. When winter approached, however, many of the people who were homeless and struggling with alcoholism preferred to spend time in jail than on the street.
One of these regulars was arrested for public intoxication. It was November, and the man expected (from prior experience) to be given at least 30 days in jail. He was quite happy with this prospect. He was stunned when the judge stated: I do not plan to have you take up space in the jail simply because you insist on abusing alcohol. He was going to release the man on time served.
The man then insisted that he was not a drunk, and that he should be sentenced to jail time. The judge then made the pronouncement: Sir, I do not need to see you with a bottle in your hand to know that you are an alcoholic." Without missing a beat, the old regular looked directly at the judge and replied: And I don't need to see you in your natural habitat to know you're a skunk!"
He was sentenced to 90 days for contempt of court, giving him enough time to get through most of the winter, and smiled as he was returned to the jail.
I was in court and the defendant was read his rights, including his right to an attorney. He said he could not afford an attorney and was asking the court to appoint one. The judge asked, Mr. Smith, do you have a job? The defendant said, Yes, sir. And the judge continued, asking: And do you get paid for that job? Again, the defendant replied, Yes, sir.
The judge continued, So, why did you write on your application for the public defender that you have no income? The defendant replied without hesitation, Well, your honor, I get paid under the table. The judge, shocked to say the least, paused for a moment and then retorted, The rest of us pay our taxes. You can pay for your own lawyer. Application denied!
One time I was in a civil dispute with another party who owed me a considerable sum of money (about $8K, as I recall). He didnt want to pay me, and there was about $10K of his money in police custody, being held until the dispute was resolved. The other party wasnt in court. It was just the other partys lawyer, plus me representing myself, and the judge.
After hearing the brief facts of the case, the judge said something like, If this case goes to trial, it will take a year or more. Am I to understand you would settle the case now for $8,000? I replied, Gladly, your honor. That is more than fair and all I seek. The judge turned to the opposing lawyer and said, Mr. Jones, is your client prepared to settle this matter for $8,000? The lawyer fumbled and said something like, Well, I dont know. My client is very upset and feels that he should be entitled to all the money…blah, blah, blah… And the lawyer goes on for a few minutes more about the facts of the case, which he has clearly lost (the judge basically already saying $8K is a fair settlement).
And the lawyer sputters and says, My client isnt here. Ill have to get in touch with him, and that could take some time…. And the judge says, Mr. Smith, do you have a cell phone and your clients phone number? The lawyer responds, Yes, judge, of course I do. And the judge says, Call him. Ill wait. About 5 minutes later I had the signed settlement to get my $8K.
About a year after I left the newspaper business, I was called for jury duty in a criminal case. (My first call ever, since working newspaper reporters were exempt from jury duty in that state.) I had covered the courts as a reporter and was well known throughout the county.
For some reason, in this case the prosecutor was from out of town. During voir dire (questioning potential jurors), he asked me a typical question: Mr. Moore, he said, sweeping his arm around the room, Are you personally acquainted with any of the people here involved in this case?
Behind his back, I saw the judge covering his mouth to stifle a laugh. Every official realized this attorney had asked a question only a stranger would ask, and most were snickering.
I answered, Yes, sir. I do. I know the judge, both defense attorneys, the court clerk, the bailiff, the court reporter, all the other lawyers observing on the front row — and about half the other people in this room.
While the courtroom rocked with laughter, the red-faced attorney turned to the judge, arms outstretched, as if to say, What? Before he could ask the judge to strike me, the judge laughed loudly, Goodbye, Jesse!
This did not actually happen in the court room, but rather just outside the courtroom where a defense attorney was prepping his client for the testimony in his trial. From what they were saying I could tell the client was accused of dealing drugs, and that they were pleading "not guilty." Not sure why the attorney did not choose a more private setting, but here is the conversation I overheard as they sat next to me on a bench:
Attorney: "Ok, Officer Smith is going to testify that he gave you $20 and you handed him the bag with the pills in it.
Client: (In a very emphatic and impassioned tone) "NO NO NO that's false! He only gave me $10.
Breaking up is hard to do.
And when you get the law involved, it's even worse. But sometimes people don't need the law's help to make things overcomplicated, they just have a grand ole time making that happen themselves.
People on the front lines of human cruelty include divorce lawyers. These are their stories.