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Mia Fey: What's wrong, Phoenix?

Phoenix Wright: Usually... Well, usually, the real killer confesses his or her guilt. And now that I think about it, this is the first time someone hasn't.
Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney: Justice For All

When the only possible way for a lawyer to save his client is to badger a confession out of a witness on the stand in the courtroom. Frequently stems from Accusing the Witness. The result is usually a Motive Rant. The first step is often to Pull the Thread.

Examples of The Perry Mason Method include:


Comics

  • Perry Mason's success rate was parodied in one episode of "Little Annie Fanny". As soon as the police announced that detective "Mason Dixon" was investigating, some random nearby onlooker would scream out "I confess! I confess! I haven't got a chance if Mason Dixon is on the case!"
  • In Youngblood Judgment Day, Toby King's relentless pursuit of the details behind a book missing from Riptide's room after her murder, gradually uncovering an intimate connection between a certain member of Youngblood and that book, eventually causes Sentinel to fly into a fit of rage and attack him. He grabs at the book and curses King for ruining his plan, outing himself as the murderer.

Film

  • The prime movie example: A Few Good Men.
  • Also, Legally Blonde.
  • Subverted in the film Catch Me If You Can -- con artist Frank Abagnale Jr. attempts to use this technique while posing as a lawyer, having seen Perry Mason do it on TV; after his climactic accusation, the judge sternly informs him that he is at a preliminary hearing and neither the defendant nor the jury are present.
  • Atticus tries to do this in To Kill a Mockingbird. He almost succeeds as it's patently obvious that the witness is lying. Unfortunately it fails and the witness just gets herself off the stand by throwing a fit.

Literature

 I have always secretly wanted to be a lawyer. I could picture myself in a major criminal case, getting the best of my opponent through clever verbal sparring and shrewd courtroom maneuvers:

Me: So, Mr. Teeterhorn, you're telling us that you "can't recall" why you happened to bring a flame-thrower to the bridge tournament?

Witness: That's right.

Me: Well, perhaps THIS will help you refresh your memory.

Witness: NO! GET THAT THING AWAY! OUCH! IT'S BITING ME!

Opposing Attorney: I object, Your Honor! Mr. Barry is badgering the witness!

Me (coolly): Your Honor, as these documents clearly prove, Rex here is a wolverine.

Judge (examining the documents): Okay, I'll allow it.

  • In Primal Fear, this is set up by lawyer Martin Vail to prove Aaron Stamplers innocence. The prosecution badgers Aaron in an attempt to get him to confess, which causes Aaron's split personality to show up and attack her.


Live Action TV

  • Almost every episode of Perry Mason ever made. In one of the TV movies (late 80s-early 90s), a middle-aged woman's alibi involved changing a flat tire. Mason has a worker demonstrate how lugnuts are tightened at the shop using an air wrench, and invites her to show the court how she was able to remove them without power tools. (She couldn't, of course.)
  • Matlock almost always proved his client's innocence by interrogating the real killer in court; usually not by getting an actual confession, though.
  • Running Monty Python's Flying Circus character Mr. Bartlett tries this sort of thing sometimes (even on parking offences), but quickly gets sidetracked, as even he has no idea what his point is. He turned out to be right, when one of his character witnesses was revealed not to be Cardinal Richelieu at all, although it wasn't Bartlett who figured this out.
  • Law and Order doesn't usually trigger a simple confession: Mason Moments usually set up either the Mandatory Twist Ending ("Yeah, I did it. But you were wrong about why!") or the Red Herring Twist ("He didn't do it. I did. Really.") Also, more often than not the lawyer will be stopped by an objection before he can extract his confession.
    • Jack McCoy set a witness up to be Perry Masoned by the defense counsel in the episode "Homesick."
    • One particularly memorable three-parter involved a defendant with enough smarts to counter a extradition (from California to New York) in order to avoid a potential death-penalty, as well as the smarts to counter McCoy's infamous legal wrangling, falling because Jack asked him a couple of questions about how his wife (the victim) stopped some of his potential successes. The guy, who has been the paragon of calm and analytical thinking, immediately picks up the murder weapon placed in front of him, stands up and says "That stupid bitch, I could've done something..." McCoy simply points to his aggressive stance for the jury's benefit. It comes out of nowhere!
  • The character Speedo, in That Mitchell and Webb Look, is a parody of this in his prosecuting style: "Did you kill that woman?! Did you kill that woman?! Did you kill that woman?!", which is entirely ineffective until he pulls out a gun and shoots it above the witness' head, at which point he agrees "Yes! Yes whatever you say!"

Video Games

  • The title character of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney ends up doing this in every single case ever, apropos to his role as a Perry Mason stand-in. He misses the mark in case 2-4: the person he badgers is really innocent, and his client was actually a Magnificent Bastard/Sociopath who hired an assassin and was planning to blackmail him. The Perry Mason Method is the only way to clear your defendant in the Ace Attorney universe. This may be an unintended side-effect of the pass/fail nature of the cases (it is still a video game, after all), but the fact remains that even if the 'witness' was in the room, holding the gun, shot the gun twice, with a witness, and a clear motive proven already, flubbing the pronunciation of the witness's name can and will lead to the judge ignoring the entire testimony, and the real murderer refusing to confess. Never mind that the defendant was in another room in another country with fifty million people giving them an alibi, the witness DIDN'T do it, so the defendant MUST have! Infallible logic! The cases do work out in the end as the story intended, but it's a case of gameplay mechanics getting in the way of story. In fact this is directly called out by Godot in the final case of the third game. Even after Phoenix proves that his client is innocent through a very convoluted set of explanations, Godot insists that the trial must continue because they haven't found out who the culprit is yet. And everyone just goes with it.
    • Interestingly, one case has Phoenix concerned that even if he does get his client acquitted, the real killer might still go free, suggesting that it's not always an either/or scenario.
    • Reportedly at least partially Truth in Television in Japan. The seemingly ludicrous success rates of convictions the fictional prosecutors hold aren't as rare as one might hope, and Phoenix's apparent high success rate would be thought just as ludicrous in Japan, and his near poverty is not a far cry from reality.
    • Related: Shu Takumi has said that the MASON System in the fourth game is a reference to Perry Mason.
    • We also get three subversions in Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney. The first case only worked because Phoenix forged some evidence (that Kristoph couldn't reveal without admitting to stealing the original evidence and comitting the crime), the third case only worked because Apollo convinced the accomplice that you can't be killed for smuggling in the US/Japan and so he had no reason not to talk, and the fourth case had to be done as a Jury trial as it was impossible to have enough evidence to pin the crime on Kristoph. The jury trial runs on reasonable doubt, which is enough to save the defendant.
  • In the 1st Degree plays with this trope. Certainly you, the prosecutor, can try to badger the witness into confessing. However, it does not seem to work very much.

Web Comics

Western Animation

  • The Simpsons
    • Lisa and Bart get Sideshow Bob to confess to rigging an election by suggesting he wouldn't be smart enough to do it.
    • Wiggum tries to get Homer and Marge to confess to murder by repeatedly shouting "Did you do it?" at random points in his questioning. After the interrogation, he admits it never works... after Homer uses the same method on him to get him to admit thus.

Real Life

  • Apparently the Perry Mason films were very popular with professional criminals who were amused by how unrealistic the depiction of someone confessing so quickly was.
  • On the other hand, in a Reality Is Unrealistic twist, juries from the '60s had trouble convicting someone if he didn't specifically confess, as a result of the show's success and their idea that things had to happen like on TV.
  • During his 1983 trial for the murder of a Maryland police officer, Harlow Brian Sails broke down on the witness stand during cross-examination and confessed to the killing. News reports at the time called it a "Perry Mason moment."
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