Consequences Part 6

September 30th, 2011 by Wordsman

Any good lawyer knows that the ordering of your questions is crucial.  The exact same set of responses can, when arranged differently, tell a completely different story, or no story at all.  Usually you have to build it up, starting by setting the scene with mundane facts until arriving at the climax, sometimes tossing in quiet harbingers of things to come among the seemingly meaningless trivia.  Anyone who says cross-examination isn’t an art isn’t doing it properly.

But preparing this sequence of questions takes time.  Even veteran trial lawyers spend hours and days directing the flow of information like a pack of engineers preparing to set a river on a new course.  If you try to wing it, as the rookies so often do, you end up telling the wrong story, or your story doesn’t make sense.  Sometimes you even repeat yourself, which can be used as a technique to trip up a not particularly bright witness for the other side, but it’s not recommended for general use.

Peter was in no mood for a slow build-up.  He was in no state to spend time preparing.  He wanted an answer now.

“What the hell did you do to me?”

The woman, on the other hand, was quite well prepared to answer.  She had spent much of the morning thinking about what she had done, what she could have done differently, how it had affected her already bothersome existence.  She hadn’t even been asking people the Question.  It was an unusual day for her.

“I yelled at you and I hit you,” she replied calmly.  As a matter of fact, they were both calm, though one was a before-the-storm calm and the other an after-the-storm calm.  “But that doesn’t seem to explain why you’re back.”

In court, people swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.  Most people assume that two out of three ain’t bad, and if they’re going to skip one, it might as well be that one in the middle.  Peter had been familiar with this popular strategy since long before he started law school; anyone who grew up with a sibling knows all about it.  He had employed it himself, and he definitely knew when it was being used on him.

“I’ve been yelled at before, and I’ve been hit before.”  Not often, but two can play at the lie of omission game.  “I’ve never been through anything like this.”

“So tell me about it.”  It was nice for once not to have to be the one trying to lead the conversation.  She found it strangely comforting, a nice reprieve in a life that had given her so many sources of discomfort lately.

Peter recounted the tale of his day thus far, trying not to think about the fact that it was only half over.  He continued to omit certain facts that other people might have considered especially relevant.  She didn’t need to know about his rude awakening.  She didn’t need to know about the Speech.  It was a tale of trials and tribulations, but he had narrowed it down to the ones that he felt he could link directly to her.  Given more time, he might have been able to come up with a way to pin the alarm clock on her as well, but he was doing this on the fly.

As he delivered his saga of woe, he kept close attention on the woman’s face.  It is a common rookie mistake to only watch witnesses when they’re responding to your questions, thinking the most important thing is to try to tell whether or not they’re lying.  An experienced lawyer, however, knows that most witnesses have practiced their speeches before coming in and have been coached about how to deliver them without showing signs of falsification.  It is in their responses to what you say—the part of the script they haven’t heard before—that they are most likely to let something slip.

Listening to the story of the maddening mystery tune, the old woman first registered shock, and then she shifted to a look of understanding.  At the end of the tale, her face showed mild bemusement.  This told Peter . . . not much of anything, actually, but keep in mind that by this point he was very tired.

The woman couldn’t help but smile.  Like everyone else, she didn’t like to admit it, but, like everyone else, she was helpless to resist the power of schadenfreude.  “You’re under the effect of the Beherrschunglied.”

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