In the Judgment at Nuremberg scene, where the German defense lawyer berates Judy Garland's character after she has already answered the question, do judges normally allow this in courts?

The outcome of the film is based on this; it seemed out of place. The prosecutor had a sustained objection about asking the same question that's already been answered before that.

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    I don't really see this as being answerable. Which courts? Are you asking if it happened at the real Nuremberg trials or whether it's just normal in open court cases around the world?
    – Valorum
    Apr 3 at 11:54
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    I agree, I only see this answerable if it concentrates on realism to Nuremberg - since who knows how different court procedure is around the world. Nuremberg was a military tribunal, with a specific charter negotiated between the Allied powers, not a conventional court of a single country. Kind of specialist knowledge though.
    – iandotkelly
    Apr 3 at 18:32

1 Answer 1


I agree with the comments about the specificity of the question, but there is a broader set of courthouse "TV rules" that is commonly understood. It takes inspiration from real courthouse proceedings but it similarly takes artistic liberties when necessary for storytelling purposes. I'm convinced that this question is meaningfully answerable from the perspective of generally accepted TV rules for courts.

In that framework, leeway is given for lawyers to treat hostile witnesses differently that regular (non-hostile) witnesses.

For a regular witness, there is an expectation that the lawyer asks open questions and lets the witness introduce the facts. A hostile witness, however, is presumed to actively steer away from introducing facts, making it very difficult to get them to bring up the thing that the lawyer wants to talk about.
A hostile witness is one who is combative towards the line of questioning and whose inclination is clearly opposed to that of the lawyer's, as opposed to witnesses who side with the lawyer in question (therefore being willing to answer the questions being asked) or witnesses who are merely stating objective facts (and have no vested interest in either side, e.g. scientific experts).

For the purpose of storytelling, a dramatic outburst is a very compelling way for a character to suddenly drop a fictitious claim or facade, instead revealing their true selves.

The combination of the above two points leads to the overall TV rule that when witnesses are clearly hostile or aligned against the lawyer's interest, that the lawyer is given sufficient leeway to badger them into a dramatic outburst that gets them to speak more truthfully than they otherwise would have (or to reveal a character trait that calls the witness' testimony into question).

Irene Hoffmann (Judy Garland) is afraid to provide testimony that may bolster the prosecution's case against the judges. Therefore, she is considered a hostile witness to a defense attorney who is trying to argue the very point that Irene wishes to steer away from.

This, according to the TV rule, affords the defense attorney sufficient leeway to scrutinize the character of the witness, up to (but technically not including) badgering her and attacking her character.

I am not a lawyer, but from what I understand the reality is much more boring, instead relying on tedious semantical traps and beating a dead horse to drive your point home again and again. While these make for effective courthouse practices, they do not make for compelling drama, and therefore artistic license is used to reframe it as being a dramatic outburst where what ends up being revealed is always assumed to be more true than what was said before it.

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