Think before you speak….

Spending my days wandering through the dim – but majestic – corridors of the Solano County Hall of Justice, I’ve learned that there are just some things you should never say in court.

Some phraseology is in bad taste. Some is bad luck. And a lot is simply bad grammar.

“Good morning, your honor,” is, for example, an acceptable way to greet a Superior Court judge (unless, of course, it’s evening).

“Hey, you – robe guy,” is not an acceptable way to greet a Superior Court judge (particularly if he’s hearing your case).

It’s, like, a decorum thing…

Since almost all of us can expect to find ourselves in a courtroom some day, whether it be for jury duty or as the defendant in a multimillion-dollar walnut swindle, it’s always a good idea to know what, and what not, to say within earshot of the judge, bailiff or the guy you swindled out of 18 tons of black walnuts.

Here are a few phrases you might want to avoid.

– “What have I got to lose?”

Believe me, once you’ve stepped into a courthouse, you’ve probably got something to lose, so it’s better not to tempt fate – or a judge who’s finally gotten fed up after several hours of goofy, rhetorical questions posed by goofy, rhetorical attorneys.

Believe me, there’s always something to lose, even if it’s only your Swiss Army knife or crack pipe at the security checkpoint..

.- “I only had two beers.” As Superior Court Judge Allan Carter recently told a bewildered drunken driving defendant in Vallejo, “The two-beers defense doesn’t work here.” Actually, it hasn’t worked since 1879 when Farnsworth Knipfiffle tried to use the two-beers excuse before a circuit judge in Goshen, Ind., after running a wagonload of barrel staves into the town reservoir following an ill-conceived saloon sortie.

(Hey, this is righteous. I checked my case law…)

Face it, amigos, even if you really only had two beers, nobody’s going to believe you. Too many defendants – many of them still seemingly intoxicated – have used it before you. You’d be better off telling the judge that the space aliens who abducted you the night before injected alcohol into your bloodstream as part of a fiendish experiment just before you managed to escape and flag down the misguided highway patrolman who arrested you.

– “He needed killing.” Whether it’s true or not, this is not an acceptable excuse for homicide in California. Judges frown on it and it makes even the most composed of defense attorneys start sobbing uncontrollably if you’re dumb enough to say it in open court. On the positive side, I think this is still considered an acceptable explanation in some parts of Texas and Arkansas (please check local regulations before shootin’ some low down, snake-in-the-grass…).

– “But your honor, duuuude…”. It’s hardly ever a good idea to argue with the judge, but never follow “your honor” with “dude” while pleading your case. This happened once in a San Mateo courtroom. It has never been known to happen again. Really.

Originally published February 4, 2004

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