My mind is still ruminating around the idea previously written concerning truth versus whole truth and how many things are shades of gray.
If you have ever given a deposition, either as a witness or as a named party, in any type of legal proceeding, signed an affidavit, or testified at a trial or hearing, before you spoke, you were sworn by oath to “tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God”, or something to that effect. The oath is a solemn declaration and, if not followed, can result in legal liability for the person testifying. Depending on whether the legal proceedings are in a federal or state court (laws vary), the person testifying may be fined, imprisoned or both for not following the oath.
When being prepped for the witness stand, you will be reminded by the counsel for whose side you are testifying to answer the questions without embellishment. And then you take an oath that you will tell the whole truth. You answer your counsel’s questions, which have been discussed during your preparation, so that you know what answers are expected and can answer them without adding additional information. Then the opposing counsel gets to ask you another set of questions, for which you have not been prepared. If you go beyond a simple answer and the information could be damning to their side of the trial, then that counsel will cut you off and ask you to just answer the question, often repeating it so that they can get the simple “yes” or “no” answer they want on record.
So, you take an oath to tell the truth, the WHOLE truth, and nothing but the truth, and counsel on both sides get to encourage you either during trial preparation or by cutting you off while you’re on the witness stand so that you don’t have a chance to do so. Is that the whole truth you’ve vowed to tell when you responded to the oath? I mean, there are seldom black and white answers to why we take the actions we take in a crisis situation. The moment you answer and include the word “but”, you will be cut off by opposing counsel. Does that mean that opposing counsel does not want the whole truth of those moments known to the jury? Quite possibly.
A crime doesn’t happen inside a bubble. It happens in real life moment in a real life world. Often there are extenuating circumstances in those moments that cause the perpetrator to act in a fashion not planned in the original intent and idea of committing the crime. Weapons meant only to instill fear get used by reflex. Others, be they victims or abettors in the crime, will react in a way unknown until the event unfolds, causing other reactions to occur.
But my point is more about being sworn to tell the WHOLE truth and then not being permitted to do so. Does that mean that sometimes justice turns out not to be fair? And how does a witness accept that they have not told the whole truth that they have sworn to tell?
A conundrum, for certain….
2 thoughts on “A Conundum about Truth”
To believe that our legal system is rampantly interested in the “whole truth” may be a bit idealistic. So is the presumption that it is explicitly interested in seeing justice served. I am sure we could find supporting examples for both, when it works well and when it fails miserably, to provide either the truth or justice. Even the legal system itself does not believe that all testimony given is complete and truthful, which is why criminal proceedings require proof beyond a reasonable doubt. You can say whatever you’d like on the stand, led one direction of the other, but any testimony will require collaboration from physical evidence or additional testimony. I wish our system was the way you envision it should be, and maybe that is the start of demanding more for ourselves. Great entry!
Points well taken. Thank you for them!
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