Everybody Lies

My first court case is over, with another one starting next week, so I'm free to talk about it.

I was going to write up all the conflicting evidence, dishonest lawyer tactics and legal quirks but...I honestly don't have the strength. The whole case was depressing, and swimming in unknowable minutiae.

So here's the short version.

Nearly a year ago there was a wedding reception at a hotel, which ended in at least five simultaneous fights in the car park, one of which is the subject of this case. Yes, it's a wedding punchup.

The defendant was accused of punching the female victim once, hard in the eye. She and her family had been picking arguments with his pregnant wife and a friend for most of the night, and eventually he lashed out.

Throughout the three days of evidence, one thing became abundantly clear to all. Everyone was lying about something.

The victim claimed she'd been drinking moderately and was trying to break up a fight when she got hit. But she changed her story at least twice, and CCTV showed her threatening the defendant's wife. The injury was real and undeniable, but it was obvious she had no memory of how she got it, or of much else that night.

Her daughter claimed the defendant had ripped her dress and bitten her face some time before - this was the other charge. But details of when and where the dress got ripped kept changing, and CCTV showed it almost certainly wasn't ripped long after she said it was.

As for the ergonomically improbable face bite, the photo of her in the ripped dress showed no bite, the police took no photo of the alleged bite mark, nor a DNA swab. Typical police thoroughness there.

The defendant and his family spun an elaborate story about how the victim's daughter had threatened to slash his wife's throat with a smashed beer bottle. No one else saw any of this.

There were a total of six witnesses (hotel staff) who say they saw the punch. They were all standing in the car park, watching this particular incident instead of the five or so others, all with a constant uninterrupted line of sight, in spite of all the people milling around. They all clearly saw a man in a pink shirt swing a punch with his right fist, connecting with the victim's left eye - which they couldn't see because she was facing away from them. X-ray vision and eidetic memory, but only for one thing - convenient.

There were details which hint at other cases. The defendant's wife lost her child in hospital a few days later - she says as a result of being knocked to the ground and kicked by a group of women including the victim's daughter. The grainy 1-frame/5-second CCTV ambiguously suggests this may be true.

There's also the other punchups, seen by different cameras. Presumably other juries will see these, and I wonder whether the hotel staff also saw these clearly. But all this was outside our remit.

So we've got three kinds of lies.

(1) The victim and her family piecing together tiny fragments of memory from an alcoholic haze, into a vague and shifting story. Call it amnesiac lying.

(2) The defendant and his family not trusting the court to give them a fair trial, inventing a melodramatic narrative casting themselves as victims. If they'd told more plausible lies, it'd probably have worked. Defensive lying.

(3) The witnesses telling the police what they want to hear. Guided lying.

It took us in the jury about five hours over two days to come to a decision. The dress-ripping charge we threw out in ten minutes.

One juror had to drop out because he discovered he knew some more distant relatives of the defendant. Of the remaining 11, 9 quickly settled on a guilty verdict. One had previously admitted they thought he might be innocent, but he looked like a criminal, so maybe the police had protected decent citizens by fitting him up.

The remaining 3 jurors, including myself, held out. As expected, the other two eventually folded because they realised they couldn't win the others over - there was no point in fighting. As for myself...

I have to admit, I thought the defendant had done it. He'd been goaded by the constant bickering through the night, and finally by his pregnant wife being threatened and bullied by a drunken madwoman. He could have pushed her away a second time but she'd just carry on, he could have walked away again but she'd just follow him again.

He could have called hotel security but from his testimony and that of his family, it was evident they didn't trust goons in uniform. So he shut her up. Somewhat too hard.

Would a jail sentence achieve anything - beyond further messing up the lives of a man, his wife and three children? No. But the punishment is not my call.

When we read the verdict, the defendant seemed entirely unsurprised. His wife was devastated. When I left the courthouse, he was standing outside, waiting for something, but he didn't see me.


  1. The court is never the place for justice. They uphold the law--and the law isn't always fair.

    I'm a big believer in karma--what goes around, comes around.

    Still, it is a jolting experience to know that you and a small group decide someone's fate, and you're bound to see if a law was violated based on the available evidence. The hardest thing to do is figuring out the right way from the lawful one.

  2. It wasn't a pikey bash, was it? Maybe the muslims have the right idea - separate the man and women at weddings!