Mary Louise Gilman, the venerable editor of the National Shorthand Reporter has collected many of the more hilarious courtroom bloopers in two books - Humor in the Court (1977) and More Humor in the Court, published a few months ago. From Mrs. Gilman's two volumes, here are some of my favorite transquips, all recorded by America's keepers of the word:
Q. What is your brother-in-law's name?
Q. What's his first name?
A. I can't remember.
Q. He's been your brother-in-law for years, and you can't remember his first name?
A. No. I tell you I'm too excited. (Rising from the witness chair and pointing to Mr. Borofkin.) Nathan, for God's sake, tell them your first name!
Q. Did you ever stay all night with this man in New York?
A. I refuse to answer that question.
Q. Did you ever stay all night with this man in Chicago?
A. I refuse to answer that question.
Q. Did you ever stay all night with this man in Miami?
Q. Now, Mrs. Johnson, how was your first marriage terminated?
A. By death.
Q. And by whose death was it terminated?
Q. Doctor, did you say he was shot in the woods?
A. No, I said he was shot in the lumbar region.
Q. What is your name?
A. Ernestine McDowell.
Q. And what is your marital status?
Q. Are you married?
A. No, I'm divorced.
Q. And what did your husband do before you divorced him?
A. A lot of things I didn't know about.
Q. And who is this person you are speaking of?
A. My ex-widow said it.
Q. How did you happen to go to Dr. Cherney?
A. Well, a gal down the road had had several of her children by Dr. Cherney, and said he was really good.
Q. Do you know how far pregnant you are right now?
A. I will be three months November 8th.
Q. Apparently then, the date of conception was August 8th?
Q. What were you and your husband doing at that time?
Q. Mrs. Smith, do you believe that you are emotionally unstable?
A. I should be.
Q. How many times have you comitted suicide?
A. Four times.
Q. Doctor, how many autopsies have you peformed on dead people?
A. All my autopsies have been performed on dead people.
Q. Were you aquainted with the deceased?
A. Yes, sir.
Q. Before or after he died?
Q. Officer, what led you to believe the defendant was under the influence?
A. Because he was argumentary and he couldn't pronunciate his words.
Q. What happened then?
A. He told me, he says, "I have to kill you because you can identify me."
Q. Did he kill you?
Q. Mrs. Jones, is your appearance this morning pursuant to a deposition notice which I sent to your attorney?
A. No. This is how I dress when I go to work.
THE COURT: Now, as we begin, I must ask you to banish all present information and prejudice from your minds, if you have any.
Q. Did he pick the dog up by the ears?
Q.What was he doing with the dog's ears?
A. Picking them up in the air.
Q. Where was the dog at this time?
A. Attached to the ears.
Q. When he went, had you gone and had she, if she wanted to and were able, for the time being excluding all the restraints on her not to go, gone also, would he have brought you, meaning you and she, with him to the station?
MR. BROOKS: Objection. That question should be taken out and shot.
Q. And lastly, Gary, all your responses must be oral. O.K.? What school do you go to?
Q. How old are you?
Q. What is your relationship with the plaintiff?
A. She is my daughter.
Q. Was she your daughter on February 13, 1979?
Q. Now, you have investigated other murders, have you not, where there was a victim?
Q. ...and what did he do then?
A. He came home, and next morning he was dead.
Q. So when he woke up the next morning he was dead?
Q. Did you tell your lawyer that your husband had offered you indignities?
A. He didn't offer me nothing; he just said I could have the furniture.
Q. So, after the anesthesia, when you came out of it, what did you observe with respect to your scalp?
A. I didn't see my scalp the whole time I was in the hospital.
Q. It was covered?
A. Yes, bandaged.
Q. Then, later on.. what did you see?
A. I had a skin graft. My whole buttocks and leg were removed and put on top of my head.
Q. Could you see him from where you were standing?
A. I could see his head.
Q. And where was his head?
A. Just above his shoulders.
Q. What can you tell us about he truthfulness and veracity of this defendant?
A. Oh, she will tell the truth. She said she'd kill that sonofabitch - and she did!
Q. Do you drink when you're on duty?
A. I don't drink when I'm on duty, unless I come on duty drunk.
Q. ...any suggestions as to what prevented this from being a murder trial instead of an attempted murder trial?
A. The victim lived.
Q. Are you sexually active?
A. No, I just lie there.
Q. Are you qualified to give a urine sample?
A. Yes, I have been since early childhood.
Q. The truth of the matter is that you were not an unbiased, objective witness, isn't it. You too were shot in the fracas?
A. No, sir. I was shot midway between the fracas and the naval.
Q. What is the meaning of sperm being present?
A. It indicates intercourse.
Q. Male sperm?
A. That is the only kind I know.
Q. (Showing man picture.) That's you?
A. Yes, sir.
Q. And you were present when the picture was taken, right?
Q. Was that the same nose you broke as a child?
Q. Now, doctor, isn't it true that when a person dies in his sleep, in most cases he just passes quietly away and doesn't know anything about it until the next morning?
Q. Was it you or your brother that was killed in the war?
Q. The youngest son, the 20-year-old, how old is he?
Q. Were you alone or by yourself?
Q. How long have you been a French Canadian?
Q. Do you have any children or anything of that kind?
Q. Were you present in court this morning when you were sworn in?
Q. So you were gone until you returned?
Q. She had three children, right?
Q. How many were boys?
Q. Were there girls?
You don't know what it was, and you don't know what it looked like, but can you describe it?
Q. You say that the stairs went down to the basement?
Q. And these stairs, did they go up also?
Q. Have you lived in this town all your life?
A. Not yet.
A Texas attorney, realizing he was on the verge of unleashing a stupid question, interrupted himself and said, "Your Honor, I'd like to strike the next question."
Q. Do you recall approximately the time that you examined the body of Mr. Edington at the rose Chapel?
A. It was in the evening. The autopsy started around 8:30 p.m.
Q. And Mr. Edington was dead at the time, is that correct?
A. No, you stupid, he was sitting on the table wondering why I was doing an autopsy.
A defending attorney was cross examining a coroner. The attorney asked, "Before you signed the death certificate had you taken the man's pulse?"
The coroner said, "No."
The attorney then asked, "Did you listen for a heart beat?"
"Did you check for breathing?"
"So when you signed the death certificate you had not taken any steps to make sure the man was dead, had you?"
The coroner, now tired of the brow beating said, "Well, let me put it this way. The man's brain was sitting in a jar on my desk, but for all I know he could be out there practicing law somewhere."
Q: Did you see the defendant bite off the victim's nose?
Q: Then how do you know he bit off the victim's nose?
A: I saw him spit it out.
"You seem to have more than the average share of intelligence for a man of your background," sneered the lawyer at a witness on the stand.
"If I wasn't under oath, I'd return the compliment," replied the witness.
A diminutive lawyer, appearing as a witness in one of the courts, was asked by the opposing attorney, who was a giant 6'8", what he did for a living.
The witness replied that he was a lawyer.
"You? A lawyer?" said the huge attorney. "Why, I could put you in my pocket."
"Very likely you could," replied the other. "But if you did, you'd have more law in your pocket than you ever had in your head."
"Your Honor, in the first place, as they say, I am going to say it. I was going to say what you said and the reason I am going to say it, is not because you just said it. If you had not said it, I was going to say it first." --A lawyer speaking to a judge.
A lawyer cross-examined the adversary's main witness.
"You claim to have stopped by Mrs. Edwards' house just after breakfast.Will you tell the jury what she said?"
"Objection, your honor," shouted the other lawyer.
There then followed a long argument between the lawyers as to whether the question was proper. Finally, after 45 minutes, the judge allowed it.
"So," the first lawyer continued, "Please answer the question: What did Mrs. Edwards say when you went to her house after breakfast on December 3rd?"
"Nothing," said the witness. "No one was home."
The Judge admonished the witness,
"Do you understand that you have sworn to tell the truth?"
"Do you understand what will happen if you are not truthful?"
"Sure," said the witness. "My side will win."
A true story from a prospective jurist, who writes that it occurred during her stint of jury duty:
The first lawyer questioning us began right off as an intimidating showman. When he came to his question, "Do any of you here today dislike lawyers?"
Before the pause became too long, the judge announced, "I do."
Prosecutor: Did you kill the victim?
Defendant: No, I did not.
P: Do you know what the penalties are for perjury?
D: Yes, I do. And they're a hell of a lot better than the penalty for murder.
A witness was called to stand to testify about a head-on automobile collision:
"Whose fault was this accident?" the lawyer asked.
"As near as I could tell," replied the witness, "they hit each other at about the same time."
The following quotes are from: Disorderly Conduct--Verbatim Excerpts from Actual Court Cases, selected by Rodney R. Jones, Charles M. Sevilla, and Gerald F. Uelmen.
The Court: In this case the request is made for the appointment of the psychologist for the performance of an IQ test. The court does not see the need for an IQ test since it appears to me that he is dumber than a fencepost.
Counsel: Has the court stated it in numerical terms?
The Court: His IQ is less than zero.
Counsel: What device do you have in your laboratory to test alcohol content?
Witness: I have a dual column gas chromatograph, Hewlett-Packard 5710A with flame analyzation detectors.
The Court: Can you get that with mag wheels?
Witness: Only on the floor models.
Counsel: Now, in your report under "Foundation" you indicated that there is a minimum of cracking and no signs of settling.
Counsel: When you say there is a minimum of cracking, I take it that you did find some cracking.
Witness: No. Because if I said there was no cracking, I would be in court just like this answering some stupid lawyer's questions. So I put minimum in there to cover myself, because somebody is going to find a crack somewhere.
The Court: I could say I would like to shake your hand, but I won't.
Counsel: Move to strike -
The Court: No. We are not going to strike it.
Counsel: Move to strike the word "stupid," Your Honor.
The Court: The most appropriate word you want stricken? It is worth the whole trial.
Judge: Why did you kick Mr. Smith in the crotch?
Defendant: How was I supposed to know he was going to suddenly turn around?
[From Houston, Texas...]
Attorney: At the scene of the accident, did you tell the constable you had never felt better in your life?
Farmer: That's right.
Attorney: Well, then, how is it that you are now claiming you were seriously injured when my client's auto hit your wagon?
Farmer: When the constable arrived, he went over to my horse, who had a broken leg, and shot him. Then he went over to Rover, my dog, who was all banged up, and shot him. When he asked me how I felt, I just thought under the circumstances, it was a wise choice of words to say I've never felt better in my life.
Q: You say you had three men punching at you, kicking you, raping you, and you didn't scream?
A: No ma'am.
Q: Does that mean you consented?
A: No, ma'am. That means I was unconscious.
From the Dallas Morning News:
A prospective juror in a Dallas District Court was surprised by the definition of voluntary manslaughter given the panel:
"an intentional killing that occurs while the defendant is under the immediate influence of sudden passion arising from an adequate cause, such as when a spouse's mate is found in a 'compromising position.'""See, I have a problem with that passion business," responded the jury candidate. "During my first marriage, I came in and found my husband in bed with my neighbor. All I did was divorce him. I had no idea that I could have shot him."
The defense attorney was hammering away at the plaintiff. "You claim," he jeered, "that my client came at you with a broken bottle in his hand. But is it not true, that you had something in YOUR hand?"
"Yes," he admitted, "his wife. Very charming, of course, but not much good in a fight."
Lawyer says, "Now, isn't it true that on the 5th of November last year, you rode naked through the streets on top of a dustcart, letting off fireworks, and singing 'I did it my way' loudly?"
Defendant asks, "What was the date again?"
"The stolen car fairy?"--judge to a lawyer who said his client didn't know how a number of stolen cars had ended up on his property.
"Fortunately for you sir, there's not a section for gross dumbness in the Criminal Code."--judge to a man who reluctantly obeyed police orders to leave an area, yelling "Sieg heil!" and goose-stepping away.
"He is a consumer of judicial services."--judge explaining the politically correct way to refer to a criminal.
"So how old is your twin brother?"--judge to a man who had stolen a car with his twin brother, and who had just identified himself as being 18 years old.
"This isn't Let's Make a Deal. Do you see any doors up here?"--judge to a man who, when asked to choose between a large fine and a short jail term for an impaired driving conviction, wanted to know the range of each to compare them and then decide.