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Judge: Mr. Wright, are you indicting the witness as the real murderer?

Phoenix: Of course! That is precisely what I am doing!
Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney: Justice For All, Case 1

A Courtroom Antic which involves accusing an unlikely or controversial witness of being the perpetrator of the crime--particularly the accused's spouse or other close family member. Whether or not this accusation is true is immaterial. The point is to cloud the issue and raise reasonable doubt.

An unscrupulous cousin to The Perry Mason Method.

Examples of Accuse the Witness include:


Anime and Manga

  • Variant: Kurt Godel in Mahou Sensei Negima claimed himself to be behind the attack on Negi's village. But he was lying. It really was apparently the senate.


Comic Books

  • One story arc in Astro City is about a lawyer who defends an obviously-guilty murderer by invoking superhero tropes. He suggests that his client was being mind-controlled, that the murderer was a shapeshifter or an evil twin from another dimension, even that the victim was still alive before the coroner cut her open. Because these things do really happen in Astro City, it works. In the epilogue it's established that if anyone tried that today the prosecution could tear them to pieces any number of ways, but he got a pass because he was the first to do it. Also, the jury was terrified of convicting an innocent person because the state had recently executed an innocent superhero who was framed in exactly the sort of super-sciencey way the defense attorney was suggesting.


Fan Works


Film

  • In the climactic trial scene of New Jack City, Nino Brown stands up and dramatically accuses one of his lieutenants of being the real head of the gang, Cash Money Brothers. This works and he gets a ludicrously small sentence in exchange for testimony - despite every piece of evidence, including eyewitness testimony from an undercover cop - saying Nino was the boss. Or at least, it worked for a few minutes. (As a side note, the real-life drug lord Nino Brown was modeled on tried the exact same stunt and failed)
  • In Legally Blonde, the climax of the movie involves Elle Woods getting the murder victim's daughter to incriminate herself on the stand, by using a clever line of questioning that seems unrelated, thereby proving the innocence of Elle's client (the deceased's ex-wife).


Live Action TV

  • The prosecuting attorneys on Law and Order have occasionally filed charges against a family member of their real suspect in order to pressure them into a confession, plea bargain or other "short-cut" resolution to the case.
    • They'll also occasionally threaten to expose personal information that the defendant would rather go to jail than have made public (which seldom raises any questions as to whether they might be innocent and confessing just to keep their secret hidden), to achieve the same end. In both instances, the DAs will lampshade the desperation nature of the ploy, plus the likelihood that if the defendant doesn't bite, the presiding judge may not even let them follow through on their threat.
  • Subverted in Homicide: Life On the Street: in an antic taken from the book which inspired the series, in a murder for which the body was not found, the defendant's lawyer insists that the whole case is nothing more than a publicity stunt, and that the "victim" is going to walk into the courtroom... Now! He doesn't, but, as the laywer points out, the fact that everyone looked proves that they have a reasonable doubt. Once the defendants have been convicted, the thunderstruck prosecutor and defense attorney ask a jury member why the antic didn't work: one of the jurors noticed that the defendants hadn't looked -- they knew darned right well that the victim was dead.
    • The first episode of Matlock uses this same scene almost exactly, except his client was innocent (his clients are always innocent), and so, also looks.
    • It's also used in the 1987 film From the Hip, with Judd Nelson as the defense attorney and John Hurt as the accused; this time, it's Nelson who notices his client didn't look, and Hurt defends himself by scoffing at it as being too obviously theatrical a stunt to take seriously.
    • And again in Boston Legal, even the prosecutor remarks that he saw it on Perry Mason once. In this case Alan Shore sees that his client doesn't look and thus blackmails her into taking a plea bargain offer.
    • All of these are likely based on an urban legend commonly attached to the 1959 trial of Leonard Ewing Scott (one of the more notable "no body" murder trials).
  • Bones: In "The Verdict in the Story", the defense at Max Brennan's murder trial establishes reasonable doubt by showing that the murder could've been committed by Temperance, who, working with the defense, is the one who came up with the idea of pulling a Plan B on herself.
  • The Practice, the Trope Namer, is, of course, known for this trope. One notable example is when in which Lindsay actually accuses the defendant's wife of conspiracy to commit murder out of the blue as the first question in her cross-examination! Then again, the accusation was true; Lindsay had a Eureka Moment through an action the wife took while being questioned by the prosecutor. The suddenness and accuracy of Lindsay's accusation caused the wife to panic and plead the Fifth, leading to the judge directing a not guilty verdict and saving the defendant.
    • In one episode, Eugene and Bobby try this in a murder trial, and Bobby gets chewed out over it by Ally McBeal herself, who asks him whether he really believes that the witness did it (Bobby doesn't). It takes a very strange turn when the guy they accuse commits suicide. Then it turns out that Bobby's theory was entirely correct.
    • One plot involved the firm being sued on charges of slander over one particular instance of them trying this. In his closing argument, Jimmy says that there was honour in them doing this, not because the guy they accused probably did it, but because he probably didn't; it was a soul-destroying thing to accuse him, but they did it anyway, because it was their duty to give their client the best possible defence.
  • Alan Shore of Boston Legal is defending a woman whose much older husband died in mysterious cirmcumstances, leaving his entire fortune to her. Their housekeeper is on the stand, and giving a fairly damning account of the defendant's behaviour. While she does this, Alan is stretching his arms and limbering up. He thanks her, then spins around and points at her in the most dramatic way possible:

 Alan: Didn't you kill him?

    • Another example is when Jeffrey is defending a young man accused of killing a judge he was in a relationship with. He, seemingly spontaneously, accuses the man's mother, currently testifying, of being the actual murderer. It's later revealed that this was actually the mother's idea to take suspicion of her son.
  • Sort of referenced in The Defenders, where Nick knows that his client's alibi witness is the real killer, but can't tell anyone. He says that the jury never buys "the other guy did it", even when the other guy did do it. And this is enough for the real killer to confess to Nick, knowing he would just lie on the stand if asked. The Nick pulls out a tape recorder.


Video Games

  • Done in virtually every case in Ace Attorney. Overlaps with The Perry Mason Method in that in most cases the witness Phoenix or Apollo accuses is the real killer (or an accomplice, or tampered with the crime scene, or is withholding crucial testimony).
    • In the third case of the first game, Phoenix actually does intentionally accuse a completely innocent party purely to buy another day of investigation. In the process, she reveals that Global Studios Executives which includes the real killer were at the studios that day, purely to save herself, and this enables Phoenix to get closer to uncovering the truth.
      • Given that the innocent party in that case was Windy...er, Wendy Oldbag, that example was kind of funny. A distinctly less amusing instance comes in the fourth case of the second game, where you are forced to accuse Adrian Andrews, who by this point is woobie-tastic, just to buy time.
      • It gets pretty confusing by case 5 of game 3, where Phoenix doesn't even know who to accuse, and in the end isn't even sure what crime has been committed (homicide or justifiable homicide). For fully three days, he doesn't accuse anyone.
    • Used in the last case of Investigations (where it's technically a police investigation rather than a court trial but the procedure is identical) by Shi-Long Lang on Franziska von Karma. His reasoning is that there is no reason. He knows she's innocent and he knows Edgeworth will easily prove her innocent, but in order to prove it Alba would have to let them back into the embassy to investigate--which is where they wanted to be in the first place.
  • In the fifth episode of Umineko no Naku Koro ni, Battler accuses himself of the crimes to prove that Natsuhi needn't necessarily be the culprit. Of course, everyone know's he's lying, but Erika has to accept the possibility because her own rules have eliminated all the evidence exonerating him.


Webcomics


Western Animation

  • This was spoofed on The Simpsons when Bart and Lisa accuse, during Sideshow Bob's trial, obvious Rush Limbaugh stand-in Birchibald Barlowe of being the true mastermind behind rigging the mayoral election. Bob will not stand for this. He immediately produces every piece of detailed evidence proving that he and only he could have effected such a triumph, including monogrammed leather files entitled "Bob's Fraud Log", volumes I-VI.


Real Life

  • Rarely, if ever, done as blatantly as in fiction, but there certainly are cases of one suspect testifying against another. The Troy Davis case is an excellent example of this, as one of the key witnesses (and one of only two to maintain his testimony up until Davis' execution), Sylvestor "Red" Coles, was himself a suspect.
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