Ever caught yourself in the middle of a good Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and thought the perpetrator was going to escape justice? Then all of a sudden, during some grilling cross-examination in court, the perpetrator slips up in their defensive and ends up outing themselves as the criminal they truly are? I know those moments might seem a little too good to be true, or made for TV. However I assure you that those moments actually do happen from time to time!
Don't just take my word for it though. Check out these stories from lawyers who turned to Reddit to share their best "gotcha" moments in the courtroom! Content has been edited for clarity.
“Her Little Admission Cost The Company About $500k”
“My client’s house burned down from an explosion in the fuel oil tank used to heat the house. It was clearly the oil maintenance company’s fault, but his homeowners insurance (from a very reputable company) still refused to pay out, citing a ridiculous technicality in his policy.
Essentially, the policy covered damage caused by the oil heater but they claimed that it was the storage tank that exploded and wasn’t part of what was covered.
So they deny his claim, which was about $1.2 million, and then I get involved. During a deposition with the claims adjuster, I ask how she came to the conclusion that the storage tank was not a part, or at least connected to, the heater. She states that she relied on her ‘expert witness’ who was an engineer. Little did she know I had already checked this person’s background. He had zero engineering experience or education.
As most of you might know, you don’t get attorney’s fees in most cases. However, when an insurance company denies your claim in ‘bad faith,’ now you do. Her little admission cost the company about $500k in fees, on top of the original claim for $1.2 million.”
One Mans Trash Is Another Treasure
“I worked as Paralegal/investigator for a few years. This is one of my favorite stories to tell folks.
Company A was a small family owned manufacturer but made the best product on the market from a small factory in the middle of nowhere. They sold massive amounts of product because of quality. Its location was remote enough and the owner paid employees so well, the employees stayed there FOREVER. All of them had worked there for 30+ years. When the founder of Company A died, it was sold to International Company B because the kids and grandkids had no interest in the company. Company B then closed the old factory and tried to use company A’s formula at their facilities. Company B couldn’t make the formula work…
Now enters Company C… Another international company who lost the bid on buying company A.
When company C heard about the problems Company B was having, they bought the old factory facilities and then rehired the old staff to restart production. All the employees of old Company A were delighted to have their good paying jobs back and went straight to work. Producing the better quality items once again and Company C’s product worked.
Company B sues Company C for trade secrets violation. When you buy a company, you buy their trade secrets. And this company had a bunch. This product was just one part, but it just so happened to be the most profitable part of their operation. Thus, Company C, because of their action, was accused of violating the laws governing trade secrets. Company B even managed to get a temporary restraining order against Company C in Federal Court, and Company C had to stop manufacturing at the old plant they now owned.
This is when I enter the picture.
Our firm represented Company C and I was assigned to interview all the employees. I was in the living room of this delightful older lady in her late 50’s that offered me snacks, asked me if I was married and wanted to set me up with her granddaughter, you name it…BEST AND FUNNIEST INTERVIEW EVER…
Then she drops the bomb. I asked her how she knew how to make the product. All my previous interviews said so and so taught them. She said…. ‘From the directions on the wall.’ Total moment of silence.
‘Directions on the WALL?’
‘Yes,’ she said, ‘No one ever looks at’m. But there is a board on the wall with the directions.’
I call the janitor of the facility from her phone (yeah, this is before cell phones) and had him meet me there. He unlocks the place and yep, covered in probably 40 years of dust making it just part of the background, is a board with the entire process on it.
Thus, when company B sold the factory, which was eventually purchased by company C, company B accidentally sold the trade secret to company C because they abandoned it on the wall.
I did serious evidence sourcing on this. My best pictures were of this 65-year-old former janitor knocking the dust off the pages, taking the entire board off the wall, putting it in paper bag, and sealing it so I never touched it. Every picture, he smiled for the camera… His expression was priceless in every picture. They were so freaking funny.
The judge in Federal Court was laughing his tail off when he heard the details of what I found to reverse the restraining order. When he opened the bag, he laughed even more.
The factory reopened immediately. Company B and C settled by agreeing that they both got to use the trade secret but couldn’t sell it to anyone else.
What they really figured out was… Those little old ladies had slightly changed the formula over the years and slightly made them better over time. Even the formula on the wall didn’t work as well as these little ladies did.”
“Case Closed, You Just Saved Us Tens Of Thousands Of Dollars”
“I’m a legal videographer. This gentleman was claiming injuries/seeking damages against his employer after a fall at work. He claimed he couldn’t raise his right arm above his shoulder because of the fall. First deposition comes along and I am hired by defendant’s attorney to videotape deposition of the plaintiff. Anyone know THE FIRST THING a court reporter asks you to do in a deposition?
‘Please raise your right hand and repeat after me…’
Plaintiff raises his right arm above his shoulder with ease and no sign of discomfort, does not occur to him what he has just done. Both attorneys were looking down at their notes when this happened and neither of them caught it. The plaintiff himself didn’t catch it. The court reporter looked at him and then looked at me and her eyes went wide with realization at what just happened.
Four hours of deposition proceed where in the plaintiff is instructed (multiple times) to show his range of motion and precedes to pretend like he can’t raise his arm above shoulder level which he did at the very beginning of his deposition. Deposition ends, plaintiff’s counsel leaves, I call defense (hiring party) counsel over and show him the first two minutes of the tape.
Counsel excitedly whispers to me, ‘Case closed, you just saved us tens of thousands of dollars.’ I got a $5,000 bonus and plaintiff’s case was dismissed with prejudice.”
“I Could See The Color Draining From Dad’s Lawyer’s Face”
“I was representing a mom in a bitter custody fight. The dad wanted full custody and argued mom was an unfit parent. Mom wanted full custody because Dad had a history of domestic violence towards her and the kids.
Dad’s lawyer was doing a good job of painting her in a bad light during his cross-examination, and I was starting to get worried. His lawyer brought a close family friend as a character witness for Dad, who said the usual nice things about Dad. Then he said something about them owning chickens. I thought that was odd so I asked more questions. I was able to get the friend to spill the beans that the Dad owned chickens for illegal fighting, and he’d take his minor children to these fights. Not only that but when the children were acting up, he’d punish them by forcing them to feed the chickens, during which they would get pecked and scratched by the chickens. And obviously, the children were terrified of those chickens.
I could see the color draining from Dad’s lawyer’s face. Mom got full custody.”
“The Jury Bursted Out laughing”
“I served on a jury that was deciding a medical malpractice case.
The plaintiff’s common bile duct was cut during a gall bladder surgery (a risk she was made aware of beforehand). She was suing the surgeon who performed the operation.
The plaintiff’s lawyer called as a witness a surgeon who had performed this surgery thousands of time. Speaking from his breadth of experience, he told us this mistake was ‘entirely unacceptable,’ and something that no competent surgeon would do.
The defense lawyer got up and grilled him for a while to make it clear that this guy made bank by traveling around the country testifying against other surgeons.
Right before he sat down, the defense lawyer asked, ‘By the way, have YOU ever cut the common bile duct during this surgery?’
The case was decided (and the jury bursted out laughing) when he answered, ‘Yes, I have.'”
“I had a problem with my cell provider and my cell phone wasn’t receiving a signal where my cottage is located even though it was clearly marked as an area that would receive a full signal on their map.
I went back to provider and told them of my problem and they gave me a different phone with the same results.
I then took back the phone and charger because they were useless to me at the time (this was over 20 years ago.) They then sued me.
In court, I had a picture of the phone screen showing no bars while standing on my dock. Their lawyer argued that the picture could have been taken anywhere.
Then the judge piped up, ‘I know where your cottage is, I have a cottage nearby. I switched providers because I could hardly get a signal where I am, there’s no way you’ll get a signal from x provider.’
Then the judge ripped into the representative from the cell company and their lawyer. It was a good day.”
“My Life Is My Life”
“I represent tenants in eviction proceedings. Landlords being landlords, I have lots of ‘gotcha’ stories. The most recent one was last week, in a classic ‘he-said, she-said’ case. That is, the entire case depended upon whom the jury believed.
When the landlord was sworn in prior to testifying, she unnecessarily said, ‘Yes, on the bible,’ when asked to tell the truth, the whole truth, etc. Her testimony, however, was evasive. She avoided answering almost every one of my questions. She even avoided answering some of her own lawyer’s questions. During a recess, but still in the middle of her testimony, she was seen outside the courtroom, in full view of the jury, whispering with her lawyer and a family member about what she was supposed to say on the stand.
When she got back up, the first thing I did was ask her what she was talking about with her lawyer and her family member outside the courtroom. I demanded to know whether they were telling her how to answer my questions. Her lawyer objected. The judge overruled the objection and ordered the witness to answer. The witness responded, ‘My life is my life.’
During closing arguments, her lawyer tried to argue that she must have been telling the truth because she swore ‘on the bible’ even though she didn’t have to. That meant, according to him, that she took her oath more seriously than the average person (impliedly, my client) who wouldn’t bother swearing on a bible when not asked to do so.
In my response, I agreed with the landlord’s counsel that his client must take her oath to tell the truth seriously. She must have taken it so seriously, in fact, that she refused to lie under oath when her truthful testimony would have sunk her case. So, instead, she just refused to answer almost every question put to her.
The jury came back in about 30 minutes with a 12-0 verdict in the tenant’s favor.”
From The Mouths Of Babes
“My brother is a divorce attorney. One of his most memorable case was when he was representing a guy in a divorce custody battle who was accused of horrific child abuse. Very graphic, very detailed depositions from the young kids against daddy. Things were looking pretty grim.
Then my brother notices the deposition transcript (done by social workers under oath) contains a question at the end from one of the kids: ‘Did I hit my marks?’
My brother had previously tried to make it as an actor in Hollywood right out of high school, failing miserably (and decided to go into law, an altogether different form of ‘acting’)… He wonders how little kids know about acting jargon. Subpoenas the wife’s personal checking account during discovery, and sure enough, the mother had paid for acting lessons.
The findings lead to an extremely sketchy ‘acting coach.’ The panicked coach quickly coughs up DVDs of ‘practice interrogations’ with the kids. Turns out they spent hours coaching the kids on exactly what imaginary things to say about daddy.
My brother says it was his one and only Perry Mason moment in his 20+ years of practice, and Dad got sole custody of the kids.”
“I Thought She Was Going To Throw The Wife And Boyfriend In Jail”
“I was defending this guy against a faulty order of protection petition. It was a first setting so I made what I thought was a tactically good decision to force the hearing, thinking the other attorney wouldn’t be ready to go on the first setting with witnesses. Well, my tactical decision turned out to be a potential mistake when he had his client, her boyfriend and a farmhand, who supposedly witnessed the incident, ready to testify.
My client’s wife was a complete psychopath. My guy was a really good dude, so I strongly suspected it was all fiction.
Their story: Boyfriend and wife were near the front porch of this house when a sniper shot lodged itself into the wall beside the boyfriend’s head. The shot supposedly came from about 500 yards away. They supposedly saw my guy and his truck drive off…. From 500 yards away.
The order of their witnesses was the wife, the boyfriend and then the farmhand.
The wife’s story was obviously a bunch of bull from the get-go. But then the boyfriend took the stand and his story was very similar to the wife’s, lending it some credibility. I made the decision at that point, knowing that they had a third witness, to have the boyfriend draw a map of exactly what happened and where the shot came from.
I had thought the farmhand would be in on the deception and maybe I might be able to trip him up on the details of a fabricated story (the third party witnesses were not in the courtroom when the others testified).
When the farmhand took the stand, I found his testimony to be extremely credible. Obviously, whatever they had done to construct the fiction they had done so to also fool the farmhand so he could eventually be a witness. So I had the farmhand draw a map as well. His map completely contradicted the wife and boyfriend. It was obvious the shots came from the other side of the house. The only person that could have fired the shots would have been somebody directly on the property right beside where the boyfriend and the wife claimed they were sitting.
After the farmhand testified, I asked for an involuntary dismissal of the petition. This meant my client would not even have to testify. Basically you never get involuntary dismissals unless the case is just utter nonsense. The judge gave it to me immediately. She was fuming. I thought she was going to throw the wife and boyfriend in jail. But unfortunately she didn’t have enough evidence to find anyone in contempt. But I did get my attorneys fees and I walked away feeling I might actually be a competent attorney.”
Liars Never Prosper
“Represented a driving under the influence client who swore up and down to me he hadn’t been drinking or doing any illicit substances. The cop who pulled him over was a newbie officer who had his field training officer with him in the car. The rookie pulls client over for a tag violation, walks back to the car with body camera still on. His field training officer says, ‘Get him out for driving under the influence.’
The rookie says, ‘But he hasn’t been drinking.’
The reply from the FTO was, ‘Do it anyway.’ Body cam clicks off and it turns back on 7 minutes later and they’re doing field sobriety exercises on my client. Client sat in custody for 3 weeks until I finally got the tape from the prosecutor and presented it to the judge. The ‘oh no’ looks from the prosecutor and FTO when the judge saw the tape…I’ll treasure that one. Judge wrote the police chief a letter saying the FTO was dead to him and he’d deny every search warrant he tried to bring thereafter for being a liar. Client is hopefully still on track with his civil attorney in a lawsuit.”
She Shot Herself In The Foot With That One
“I was taking my ex to court over custody of my kid. I had compiled a 150 page dossier complete with a report from child protective services since there was abuse in the household. Text messages and tons of records of contempt of our previous agreement. My daughter has a court assigned lawyer that is normal in these cases, which after reading through all the materials and talking to all the parties sided with my lawyer and I.
The ex decided to represent themselves because…hubris, I suppose. Before the case was heard in the hallway outside of the court room she gave me an agreement she typed up which would grant me custody as well as some generous provisions for herself. I politely declined as we were confident we would be getting a lot more in trail.
Case was called. Testimonies in. She put on the most hilariously insane and embarrassing show for the court. In her closing testimony she attempted to hand the judge the agreement she tried to give us. Judge refused to take it. ‘You can’t just hand me things. That’s not how you submit things into evidence. I’m not reading that.’
She’s arguing with the judge, yelling at him, and losing her mind. In the insane nonsense she was spewing she said, ‘…and this agreement gives him custody which is one of the things he’s after!’ in what I assume was an attempt to show that she’s attempting a compromise.
My lawyer peppers in a quick statement, ‘Ok, so you agree for the father to have full custody?’
She snaps in heated anger, ‘Yes! That’s what I agreed to!’ Our side falls completely silent and the judge after much effort ends her little outburst. Gave his final verdict which started with granting me custody and putting her in court mandated therapy.
She literally gave away custody of her daughter in a heated argument with the judge.”
Can’t Say He Didn’t Warn Them
“I acted for a plumber who ripped up a tile floor to replace a pipe. He installed new tile on top but warned the owners not to walk on it for 48 hours. He emphasized not to let their kids or their dogs walk on it either. They walked on it but alleged the defects were caused by improper install. We had an expert do a report which confirmed that it was consistent with proper installation but people walking on it too soon. Crazy homeowners still went to trial on it.
In their evidence disclosure they included a series of pictures. One of the pictures had in the foreground a tile that was tilted upwards. The background very clearly showed a dog’s paw pressing down on the other end of the tile. That wasn’t so much an I got them situation as they got themselves.”
All Three Witnesses Pointed To The Same Man
“I had a middle aged client who was arrested for a driving under the influence charge based solely off of the testimony of his step dad and the neighbors. My client was arrested in his house, while sleeping in bed, for impaired driving. No police officers saw him driving, no FSTs were conducted, and no BAC was recorded.
The step dad had a falling out with the guy and was really pushing the DAs office to press charges. Like REALLY pushing it. For whatever reason they took it to trial.
Some back story to this: my client was about 5’5 and close to 350 lbs. I am about as opposite as I can be from him, completely different color hair, height, build, etc.
State calls their first witness and asks them to identify who they saw driving wasted the day my client was arrested. The witness pointed to me. Yes, me. The guy in the suit and definitely not the short fat guy in a tank top and shorts. DA re-asked the question, and got the same answer. Needless to say, direct didn’t last very long.
State brought on a second witness, the wife of the first witness. DA asked them to identify the person they saw driving impaired. Again, the witness points to me. I had to stifle a laugh, it was hilarious. The DA kind of pushes back asking questions like, ‘Are you SURE that is who you saw? Have you ever seen them before?’ and the woman started going on and on and on saying things like, ‘I see him all the time getting the mail, and of course I know it is him because he is SO TALL I always have to look up to talk to him!’ When I stood up for cross, she spoke to me as if I was the defendant, even going so far as to say, ‘SHAME ON YOU for driving impaired in our neighborhood!’ Sheesh.
State calls the THIRD witness and asks them to identify the defendant. The THIRD, completely unrelated witness identified me AGAIN as the defendant.
So, at this point, the state had no offered any BAC, FSTs, no police observations, and only three witnesses that had identified the wrong defendant when they had a 50% chance of guessing who was the defendant.
So yeah, it was really 3 ‘gotcha’ moments, but the ‘gotcha’-ness of each statement crescendoing to bigger and better ‘GOTCHAs’.
The DAs office where I was at during that trial was very reasonable and fair, I think I just got stuck with a bad DA. They let her go shortly after that for unrelated things.”