23

[The horror] On the stand

I sometimes think that everyone has a pretty unique balance of normal fears (like being sick, losing someone they love, or getting attacked by a swarm of spiders) and also seemingly random fears that belong only to them. While Normal Person Fears are pretty understandable and relatable, the other smaller, weird ones usually come to us in interesting ways.

Sometimes they’re based on past traumas or experiences, sometimes they’re learned or forced onto us by people or circumstances, and sometimes their root is in our personality. More often, though, I think it’s just an amalgamation of all of these. Our life experiences come together to form a neural pathway (how’s that for science!) that makes us behave irrationally when faced with certain events or situations. Here’s one of my weird fears: having to testify at a trial.

I have absolutely no explanation for this fear, but just the thought of it makes me break out into a cold sweat. I’ve never been in a courtroom during a case, I’ve never been subpoenaed, I’ve never served as a juror on an active case — heck, I’ve never even gotten a speeding ticket.

I might not know where the horror of being on the stand came from, but I do know what horrifies me about it, and a lot of that is thanks to K-dramas. Because really, throw a rock and you’ll hit a drama with a courtroom scene, and plot that centers on a trial. It doesn’t have to be a courtroom drama, either — the bulk of dramas have, at their core, some brush with the justice system.

K-dramas have taught me being on the stand means trauma. Think of the early courtroom scene in I Hear Your Voice, where Lee Bo-young’s character (in the shape of Kim So-hyun) testifies as a murder witness. Not only is this court scene pretty scary, but the ramifications of testifying follow her for her entire life. While I love that this story was about courage and justice and forgiveness, when I think about giving that kind of testimony in real life, I get the heebie jeebies.

K-dramas also taught me that testifying means you’re going to be sitting in a small cage chair and everyone in the entire room will be looking at you. Okay, I didn’t need a drama to tell me that one, but as a pretty strong introvert, this is one situation I would like to avoid like the plague. Is there a way to stand up for truth and justice without being put on display?

Finally, completing the trial fear trifecta, K-dramas have shown the pressure of thinking and speaking on the spot all too real. I’m a writer, not an orator. While I can communicate face-to-face like an average human, I really don’t consider myself very good at thinking on my toes, or being clever with my words (especially when I’m nervous!). So, testifying with an attorney or prosecutor trying to trip me up? The horror.

Recent crime thriller Justice, with Choi Jin-hyuk in the lead as an attorney, embodied this exact fear. In an early case, he effectively tripped up a defendant, getting her to admit to all sorts of things accidentally, and flipped the case against her. In this scenario, someone who has done their homework and has a mean game plan faces off with someone who’s without a plan at all, and is most likely emotionally compromised. It doesn’t seem quite right. In fact, it’s downright upsetting. But then again, it’s satisfying to watch a baddie get caught in this exact kind of web, so maybe it’s just a matter of where you’re sitting in the courtroom?

I don’t actively avoid dramas with courtrooms and attorneys (like I do ones with terminal illness and Alzheimer’s), but I don’t exactly enjoy endless streams of court scenes, either. However, sometimes watching these scenes is like staring at a spider that you can’t tear your eyes away from. I guess this is because on the other side of fear is awe, and I really am in awe of people who are smart and adaptive and sly enough to get others to say things using just the right words, and in just the right way.

That’s when I realized this fear of mine is really the fear of having to be on the stand. It’s not about all the eyes looking, ears listening, and every word you say being recorded. Rather, it’s the fear of inadequacy. Of not being quick-witted enough, sharp enough, or astute enough, to catch the game that’s going on around you. This exists in other capacities, of course (in life and in dramas), but it never rings quite so loudly as when there’s a lone soul on the stand, struggling to hold it together. I feel you.

 
RELATED POSTS

Tags:

23

Required fields are marked *

Just think how worse it is for children. I study psychology and one of my lecturers' career is focused in issues with child witness in court. Being in an unknown, scary place, adults staring at them, etc. I realize sometimes they have methods like putting the child in a different room and have it videotaped, but still.

8
1
reply

Required fields are marked *

Yes, we sometimes have it videotaped and, even more important, judges will sometimes refuse to hear children's testimony unless there is no real alternative.

1
reply

Required fields are marked *

I have always been scared of testifying. Not only in court. Like when I was a kid and read Agatha Christie novels, Poirot would ask someone when did such and such come back, and they would answer oh at about ten minutes to 3 maybe? While me, would only be able to say somewhere between 2 and 4 maybe? Having to testify in such a way when another person's life might depend on it scares me to death!

4
8
reply

Required fields are marked *

Ooo... I love Agatha Christie! I've never thought of that though. I was only amazed at how Poirot always managed to wring those information out of witnesses. I am with you though, I won't be able to give such detailed accounts. This one time I could have sworn that I heard my coworker in the next cubicle typing. She actually took a sick day that day. 😱

3
7
reply

Required fields are marked *

😱😂

0
6
reply

Required fields are marked *

I'm scared my terrible, selective memory will put someone in trouble too. Witnesses are only supposed to be there to provide evidence, but all these dramas (and sometimes even real news) make it seem like the other side's goal is to destroy a witness. :(

1
2
reply

Required fields are marked *

If they go too far trying to do that they will get an earful from the judge.

1

My friend and I once made an experiment on a whim in restaurant checking how good witnesses we would make (we are avid ID watchers and always in disbelif, how many details witnesses on their shows were able to remember), we tried to describe waiter who just took our order and we both failed miserably.

5

@shach Oh dear! I have sometimes tried it with myself too, and yeah no success! 😂

2
2
reply

Required fields are marked *

Yes! I don't know how some people are able to remember so many details from seemingly mundane day, I can't even describe my most annoying customers the day after.

2

@shach I play that mental game when I'm outside too. One minute later, I don't even remember I'm supposed to be remembering things. XD

2

This is something I should be horrified about in my line of work, but strangely, I’m not. I’m more horrified about the circumstances that would result in me testifying than testifying itself.

3
0
reply

Required fields are marked *

you took the emotions in my heart and said it perfectly! thanks for this wonderful essay! thank goodness i have never had to do that either.

1
0
reply

Required fields are marked *

As a lawyer, I can honestly say that even arguing in Court feels like this. If you don't think everything through or have your wits about you, your words may be interpreted against you (your client) by judges or opposing counsel. The lawyers are needling, testing each other as well. It's...honestly somewhat scary on some days. I understand your fear and I hope you never have to take the stand. But if you do, then worry not - its scary, but as long as you're prepared (something that drama characters never are), you'll be alright.

4
4
reply

Required fields are marked *

Yes, being the lawyer is way more scary than being the witness.

2
reply

Required fields are marked *

Second response- why don’t we talk about the real testimonial nightmare? The one that every trial lawyer has: You have carefully listened to your client or witness and confidently placed them on the stand. But the story that emerges in court is completely different from what you heard in your office. You want the earth to open up and swallow you right then and there.

It is a truly horrible (and embarrassing) experience. Yet, until it actually happens to you in real life you will never be a real lawyer. After it happens you will never again be so gullible- in the future you will listen to the client’s or witness’s story with a measure of skepticism, probing for details and even seeking corroboration when that is possible. The result is a far better prepared defense or prosecution- and in the end a better resolution of the case.

4
2
reply

Required fields are marked *

Oh. My. God. I truly relate!
Filed a case with minimum supporting documentation on the basis of the client's words but when it came time to produce evidence, they couldn't hold back the papers I'd been insisting on any longer. And now the case has fallen apart. Only we know so far, AND thankfully I caught it before it went to an actual day in Court. Now my boss is insisting I go through nonetheless because he wants their fees. If we hold back these papers, we simply lose because we've failed to establish our case. Put them forward, and errr..it'll be revealed that we've misled the Court. *facepalm For me it's either - have no answer to the Court's/opposing counsel's questions or allow the client to face a serious fine for misleading the Court - both of which are incredibly embarrassing for me, as their counsel in the Courtroom.

0
1
reply

Required fields are marked *

This is where you need to have a serious heart to heart talk with your client, although I suspect that you already did so.

0
reply

Required fields are marked *

Hey there missvictrxi, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone, “Whaaa??” watching courtroom scenes in kdramas. Or a police station inquiry, or an interrogation. Like when the person stopped a break- in but then that person is booked for injuring the criminal! Huh? Anyhoot, keep up your stellar record as a model citizen which, we can only hope, will prevent any personal experience in the court system -Korean or otherwise!

0
0
reply

Required fields are marked *

Thank you for sharing this with us, Miss Victrix. These things you have noticed in these dramas are largely the products of literary license and do not represent reality. They are also the reason why I do not watch courtroom dramas- they simply make me cringe.

Anyone can, through shear random chance, be a witness to something. Shortly before I went to law school I was a witness to a motorcycle accident. I certainly did not start my day with the intention of being a witness to anything, but did end up in a courtroom on the witness stand.

Good news- it is not that scary in real life. You worry that you not be able to think quickly enough- but that assumes that you have assumed responsibility for someone else’s life. You have not done so. The dramas represent testimony s a battle of wits between lawyer and witness. This is totally false: It is not the job of a witness to think at all. The responsibility of the witness is to simply remember what happened to the best of his or her ability and to give as truthful an account of that memory as possible. If there is a detail that you cannot remember it is perfectly OK to say “I don’t remember”. As long as you do not lie and recount what you saw as accurately as you can then you have done all that the law expects of you- you will not get into trouble.

You do not have to be clever with your words nor think on your feet- that is the lawyer’s job.

You worry about the lawyer trying to trick you. As long as you testify truthfully that really cannot happen. And do not forget that the trial is always being supervised by another man or woman called a judge- who possesses the power to shut down any real attempts at trickery- and they do not hesitate to do that.

Remember that it is not your testimony that changes another person’s life. It is their actions, or the actions of someone who did something to them, that has changed their life. I was a witness to that motorcycle accident- I had no part in causing that accident.

The reality of being a witness is that it is really just a huge hassle. You have to talk to the police who are preparing the report. You talk to the lawyer or lawyers. You have to go to the courthouse because of this piece of paper called a Subpoena (literal translation from the Latin “Under {the threat of} Punishment”). There you have to sit and wait until you are called to the stand. Mercifully, once your testimony is done the judge will excuse you- that means you finally get to go home. You are more likely to suffer from frustration and boredom during this ordeal rather than terror.

So relax- and enjoy the dramas secure in the knowledge that they do not represent reality - at least as far as the courtroom.

5
1
reply

Required fields are marked *

*nods in total agreement* It's only when one is giving false testimony that they need to worry about things. Otherwise, as a witness just be prepared for what they'll ask (in the sense, that you've thought through the whole thing and don't leave anything out) and it's fine.

3
reply

Required fields are marked *

I was interrogated once by police and had my testimony out on paper, and that was pretty embarassing too, because the way policeman wrote it up made me look like someone with only half working brain, but it was my first expirence with police so I didn't know what to do in such a case, I just insisted that he have to correct all the spelling mistakes before I sign it, but still shiver with embarassment that this paper is somewhere in the archive with my name on it.

0
0
reply

Required fields are marked *

Thanks @missvictrix for your interesting essay. I don’t think I have any fear or phobia about testifying in court other than the fact that I would probably be a terrible witness. I consider my memory to be average to lousy. So I would definitely have to be “led” which would subject Counsel to:
“OBJECTION! Counsel is leading the witness!” Which would get the reply: “Yes, because that is the only way we are going to get any information out of him”.

2
0
reply

Required fields are marked *

Currently Airing

Prime-Time Shows This Week
Monday-Tuesday (June 1-2) Wednesday-Thursday (June 3-4) Weekend (June 5-7)