From The Courtroom
As a Supervisory Deputy U.S. Marshal I found myself in the courtroom from time to time. Those individuals who testify at a trial do so under oath. Therefore, they usually tell the truth. However, every once in a while a witness will become reluctant, or the defendant will take the stand doing his best to deny he committed the crime. This usually provides us with some interesting statements.
"All I can say is we did not talk about selling drugs."
When the witness says "all I can say" he is telling us he can only share limited information. However his limitation is not bound by his knowledge. He did not say "All I know." His limitation is bound by the fact that he does not want to incriminate himself or someone else.
"I don't recall dealing with James Mason."
The witness wants us to believe he has never dealt in drugs with James Mason. However, he does not tell us that. He only states he does not "recall" dealing with James Mason. Perhaps if the prosecuting attorney refreshed his memory he may give a different answer.
"I have tried my best to avoid trouble."
The word "tried" means "attempted" or "failed." The witness is telling us that although he gave it his best, he still got in trouble.
"I didn't really talk to them about any drugs."
The witness denies talking to them about drugs. However, he adds emphasis to his denial by including the word "really" which is one of the words that indicates untruthfulness. This is similar to saying that he didn't "truthfully" talk to them about drugs. We see the same use of the word "really" when another defendant was asked if he had ever robbed a bank. "I've never really done those types of things.
Q. "Did you sell drugs to Bradshaw?"
A. "Bradshaw? No, no."
The witness answered the question with a question. This means he was asked a sensitive question. He is stalling for time to think about how he should answer the question. He gave a good answer with "no." However, his hesitation in answering is reason to suspect he did sell Bradshaw drugs.
Q. "How often did you use cocaine with Bobby Bryant?"
A. "I can't say."
Q. "Was it more than once?"
Q. "Was it more than five times?"
A. "I can't say."
The witness wants us to think he does not remember how many times he used cocaine with Bryant. However, that is not what he is saying. His language indicates he is refusing to tell us. He is probably thinking "I can't say or I will be in trouble."
Q. "Who was the source of the cocaine you were using?"
A. "Who was the source?"
Q. "Who provided it?"
A. "Well sometimes it was already there when I arrived"
The witness answered the question with a question which means he is stalling to think about how he should answer the question. The word "sometimes" tells us that at other times the cocaine arrived after he was there. Therefore, he should know who delivered the stuff on those occasions.
"I've told them everything I know. There is not much more that I can do."
"I've told them everything I know" is a very strong statement that the person has disclosed all information. This would lead one to think that the person has fully cooperated. However, in the second statement the witness tells us that while there may not be "much more" there is a little more that he could do.
Q. "Have you answered all of my questions truthfully?"
A. "I believe so."
The best answer to this question is "yes." "I believe so" leaves room for the possibility that he did not answer all of the questions truthfully.
Q. "How many feet were you behind the car?"
A. "Maybe 30 to 40 feet."
Q. "In car lengths?"
When it comes to numbers, people who are being deceptive or do not know the specific number will often use the number "three." When asked how far he was behind the car the first number that popped into his head was "30." He then added that he could have been up to "40 feet." When asked how far in car lengths, he responded "one." 30 to 40 feet is a pretty long car!
This last statement has nothing to do with detecting deception but it is one of the funniest things I ever heard in the courtroom. On trial was a man accused of selling drugs on a street corner at night. The prosecutor's star witness was an old man who lived across the street from where the defendant was allegedly selling drugs. The old man testified that through his living room window he could see the defendant hand people something and in return the defendant would receive money. Under cross examination, the defense questioned the old man's eye sight. They wanted the jury to believe the old man could not possibly have seen what was going on because he was old, it was dark outside and he was about 75 yards away from the corner where the alleged dealer was standing. The old man insisted he could see very well. This led the defense attorney to ask, "How far could you see that night?" The old man replied, "I could see the moon!" That's pretty far.