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I wasn't sure which forum to post this on, but I think it belongs here as I believe it relates to the screen more than to the actual law, so here it is.

There's a weirdly specific trope that you often see in U.S. courtroom dramas, where, after the witness gives their testimony, the conversation would continue with something like...

Prosecutor: "Is the person you saw in this courtroom today?"

Witness: "Yes"

Prosecutor: "Could you please point them out for the court?"

Witness points at the defendant. (Sometimes the crowd gasps)

Prosecutor: "Let the record state that the witness has pointed at Mr. Gill Tea."

Does this really happen in American courts?

It seems really strange, surely it would be better to ask the witness to name the culprit, or to confirm verbally that it was indeed the defendant they saw, leaving the stenographer and everyone in the court (including the judge and jury) in absolutely no doubt. Besides the fact that the prosecutor has to say, "let the record state... ", there's also the slight problem that the witness is usually a good distance from the defendant, and really they could be pointing at anyone in that general direction!

Before, I would have written it off as just another silly "dramatic moment" cliché from Hollywood, but then I saw Marcia Clark ask a DNA expert to do this very thing on The People vs O.J. Simpson! (Drawing much rolling of eyes and guffaws from our couch) Was this really done in the O.J. Simpson trial?

And if it doesn't actually happen, who started it?

  • 1
    Here is an example, from The Goodfellas. – Silver Bebs May 29 '17 at 16:25
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    I love this question! I've often wondered the same thing. One reason I could see this actually happening is if a witness doesn't know the name of the person. You were walking down the street and saw a person snatch a purse, or whatever. Though, you'd think it would be the name of the case "So-and-so vs. Whats-her-name", so maybe that's not realistic? – user1118321 May 29 '17 at 16:34
  • I guess witness could point to the lawyer instead and that would be generate a bigger crows gasps – Juan Carlos Oropeza May 29 '17 at 18:38
  • @JuanCarlosOropeza - that appears to be exactly what happened in dvaeg's example below! – colmde May 30 '17 at 7:24
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The answer is yes.

To be certain there was no confusion, the judge asked the woman to leave the stand and point to the person.

Here is just one example of it happening in reality. Does it happen often? Probably not. I've sat on more than one criminal jury and have always seen it stated as:

Can you identify the one who did the crime?

Yes. It was the defendant, Bob Loblaw.

In these cases the witnesses are prepped to be clear for the sake of the jury and judge.

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    I served on a criminal jury yesterday. The witness was asked to point to the person who committed the crime. This happened in Wisconsin. – Joel Rondeau Jun 1 '17 at 18:16

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