What “The Wire” Teaches Us About the Justice System

Michael GrossmanOctober 09, 2015 2 minutes

When a client brings us a case, our first impulse is to investigate, while their desire is to get into a courtroom, hop up on the witness stand, and tell their side of the story. Their thinking goes that the quickest way to resolve a case is to get in front of jury, explain what happened, and show how they were injured. They think of themselves as an honest person with the truth on their side. The only problem is that the wrongdoer who hurt them is often perfectly willing to lie in court. As such, going into court with only your good word is a flawed strategy. Your good word carries a lot further when you're saying it from the top of a mountain of evidence.

Without evidence to support a client's statements, it just turns into a he-said, she-said battle, and as much as I hate to admit it, the bad guys can often lie more convincingly than the good guys can tell the truth. There is perhaps no better example of this than in the fictionalized prosecution of corrupt senator Clay Davis in the HBO show The Wire. When backed into a corner, Davis spins one of the most incredible yarns a courtroom has ever seen. What starts out as man who is dead to rights, ends up with Davis walking out the door a free man. The amazing part is that the viewer knows from the beginning that Clay Davis is guilty of everything he is charged with and that everything he says is a total lie. Here, give it a watch:

While Davis is a fictional character, real-life people get on witness stands and lie in court proceedings every day. Even if you fancy yourself every bit the charmer that Davis is on the stand, you may find that your opponent is equally as compelling, so your testimony and a real life Clay Davis' testimony, at best, amounts to a draw. To win a civil case in Texas, you must prove that the defendant is more than 50% responsible for the damages. When you add up the testimony of the client and the Clay Davis-like defendant, you get a tie, and in Texas, a tie goes to the defendant.

That is why when a client brings us a case, we start with an investigation. We know that there are people who will lie on a witness stand; The only defense against people willing to lie on the stand is evidence; And the only way to get evidence is by conducting a careful, thorough investigation. A clear understanding of how an accident happened, reinforced by strong evidence gathered by a professional investigation, fortifies your claim against the Clay Davises of the world.

If you recall our scenario earlier, with the client and defendant who testified to a draw, if we bolster the client's testimony with strong evidence, then what was a draw, and ultimately a loss for our client, is reinforced by the evidence and the scales tip in our client's favor. It is evidence that makes the difference.

While it is completely understandable to want to resolve a situation as quickly as possible, once that situation has reached a point where it can only be resolved through legal action, doing things the right way becomes more important than getting things done quickly. A winning legal strategy does include your testimony, but it is just a single piece in a larger legal puzzle.