Two classic lawyer movies-ruminations-feel free to ignore

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Re: Two classic lawyer movies-ruminations-feel free to ignor

Postby Roald » Mon May 19, 2014 4:05 pm

"Breaker Morant" is my favorite courtroom dramas. It's an Australian film from the late '70s directed by Bruce Beresford (Picnic at Hanging Rock).

Harry "Breaker" Morant was an officer in the Bushveld Carbineers, an Australian outfit during the Boer War. His group committed several atrocities, as did most combat units during that brutal guerilla insurgency. He and a few other officers were charged with murder and court martialed by the British. Their defense was "Sure we committed murder, bit so did everyone else." Somewhat reminiscent of the Nuremburg defenses.

The film is sympathetic to the Australians and suggests that they were scapegoated by the British, which may be true. The acting and direction are first rate, and much of the dialogue is taken from court transcripts. If you enjoy history, this is a great film about a little known colonial war. Good stuff.
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Re: Two classic lawyer movies-ruminations-feel free to ignor

Postby levicoff » Tue May 20, 2014 12:51 am

Well, I might as well make another nomination – Robert Bolt’s A Man For All Seasons, for which the great Paul Scofield, playing Sir Thomas More, won the Tony for the Broadway version and both the Oscar and BAFTA (the British equivalent of the Oscar) for the first film version. (A later made-for-television version would feature Charlton Heston as More.)

The best dialogue in the play, in which Henry VII has imprisoned More, who is cajoled by Thomas Cromwell into supporting the King’s divorce:

CROMWELL: You don't seem to appreciate the seriousness of your position.
MORE: I defy anyone to live in that cell for a year and not appreciate the seriousness of his position.
CROMWELL: Yet the State has harsher punishments.
MORE: You threaten like a dockside bully.
CROMWELL: How should I threaten?
MORE: Like a Minister of State, with justice!
CROMWELL: Oh, justice is what you’re threatened with.
MORE: Then I'm not threatened.

Unlike the other films noted in this thread, this one focuses on British common law, which is the historical basis of much of U.S. civil and criminal law.
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Re: Twelve Angry Men?

Postby mattchand » Thu Jun 05, 2014 6:44 pm

nosborne48 wrote:I read the play in High School then re-read it in law school. I don't think I've ever seen the movie but the play was pretty good. It has only one "flaw" if you can call it that. If I recall, the prosecution produces the murder weapon and claims its a unique knife that the defendant was known to possess. One juror, however, goes out and buys an identical knife and plunges it into the tabletop in the jury room.

We don't actually allow that. Jurors are instructed not to visit the scene or make any investigation of their own. Granted, a juror might disregard that instruction, though in my experience jurors take their instructions very seriously, but if that happened, most likely another juror would say something to the bailiff and the result would be an immediate mistrial.

But it made for good drama!


Fascinating. Struck me as sketchy, but I hadn't realized that it wasn't ordinarily plausible.
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Re: Twelve Angry Men?

Postby SteveFoerster » Thu Jun 05, 2014 7:29 pm

nosborne48 wrote:I read the play in High School then re-read it in law school. I don't think I've ever seen the movie but the play was pretty good. It has only one "flaw" if you can call it that. If I recall, the prosecution produces the murder weapon and claims its a unique knife that the defendant was known to possess. One juror, however, goes out and buys an identical knife and plunges it into the tabletop in the jury room.

We don't actually allow that. Jurors are instructed not to visit the scene or make any investigation of their own.

What's the argument for disallowing jurors from acquitting on that sort of exculpatory evidence? What if a juror already happened to have an identical knife prior to being selected: would he or she still be unable to act on that knowledge or convey it to other jurors?

Granted, a juror might disregard that instruction, though in my experience jurors take their instructions very seriously, but if that happened, most likely another juror would say something to the bailiff and the result would be an immediate mistrial.

Interesting. If a juror didn't like how deliberations were going, how hard would it be for him or her to lie to a bailiff to induce a mistrial?
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Re: Two classic lawyer movies-ruminations-feel free to ignor

Postby nosborne48 » Mon Jun 09, 2014 1:05 pm

No juror needs to lie to induce a mistrial. Any juror in a criminal case can force a mistrial just by refusing to make a verdict unanimous.

The argument against jurors doing their own investigations is that there is no notice to the parties of the evidence being considered and therefore no opportunity to test whether that evidence is legally admissible and reliable. A fair, public trial becomes impossible.

In the exceedingly unlikely event a juror realizes that he already possesses or has seen an identical knife (in this case) for sale, the juror is entitled to take that knowledge into account. The State would have to live with the consequences of its poor investigation.
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Re: Two classic lawyer movies-ruminations-feel free to ignor

Postby SteveFoerster » Mon Jun 09, 2014 2:11 pm

nosborne48 wrote:The argument against jurors doing their own investigations is that there is no notice to the parties of the evidence being considered and therefore no opportunity to test whether that evidence is legally admissible and reliable. A fair, public trial becomes impossible.

Okay. Relatedly, though, under what circumstances should exculpatory evidence not be admissible?
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Re: Two classic lawyer movies-ruminations-feel free to ignor

Postby nosborne48 » Mon Jun 09, 2014 10:01 pm

Exculpatory evidence is admissible or excludable under the same rules as inculpatory evidence. A criminal defendant is entitled to a fair trial but so is the State. Both are entitled to a mistrial if a jury cannot reach a unanimous verdict.

There are a very few procedural trial rights accorded to the criminal defendant that are not allowed to the State. The big ones are the right to silence, the right to appeal an adverse verdict, and the burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt. But in general, evidence is evidence.

So pure hearsay is just as inadmissible whether tendered by the State or the defendant. Both sides must show that their offerings are relevant and material. Both sides must authenticate documents and physical evidence.

Had someone not on the jury gone out after the first day of trial in Twelve Angry Men and bought the identical knife, the defense could have called that person to testify and could have tendered the second knife into evidence. But then, you see, the State would have a chance to cross examine that witness to uncover whether, say, the witness had had the knife specially created or bought it in Hong Kong ten years ago or whatever.

EDIT: a trial Judge would not be thrilled by so late a disclosure of a defense witness. Under the circumstances, however, it would likely be reversable error to exclude the evidence. So the State would be offered a chance to investigate the new evidence either in the form of a brief continuance or a mistrial for manifest necessity. Such a mistrial does not trigger double jeopardy.
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