(PART I: ODD LAWS IN COLORADO)
In courtroom dramas on TV or in the movies, there’s often a scene where a witness, even after swearing on a stack of Bibles and his dead mother’s grave that he will tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, takes the witness stand and then says something that’s not true.
On-screen, one of the attorneys leaps to their feet, points their finger at the witness, and shouts for the whole courtroom to hear:
In the State of Colorado, however, this can never happen – there are no “lies” or “liars” in Colorado courts.
In Colorado, as the Colorado Supreme Court wrote in the case of Crider v. People, 186 P.3d 39, 41 (Colo. 2008), “it is improper for a lawyer to use any form of the word ‘lie’ in characterizing for a jury a witness’s testimony or his truthfulness.”
That particular word is banned “for a number of reasons. It is prohibited not only because it poses a risk of communicating the lawyer’s personal opinion about the veracity of a witness and implying that the lawyer is privy to information not before the jury, but also simply because the word ‘lie’ is an inflammatory term, likely (whether or not actually designed) to evoke strong and negative emotional reactions against the witness.”
As far back as in 1981, the Colorado Supreme Court has said, as they did in the case of Hughes v. State, 437 A. 2d 559, 571 (Colo. 1981), “In our opinion, ‘liar’ is an epithet to be used sparingly in argument to the jury. It is a flashboard more likely to create heat in a contentious courtroom than it is to illuminate the search for truth. […] We say this because a witness or a party may be mistaken, uninformed, or erroneous in his facts or conclusions in many ways, and yet not be a liar; labeling a witness as a ‘liar’ or to argue that he has ‘lied’ is to say something quite different about his testimony.”
“Some words or analogies by their very nature resonate more powerfully in the heart and minds of the jury,” the Colorado Supreme Court wrote in the case of Domingo-Gomez v. People, 125 P.3d 1043 1050 (Colo. 2005). Such words “evoke strong reactions in jurors and take them down the path towards a conviction where the evidence does not necessarily lead. The word ‘lie’ is such a strong expression that it necessarily reflects the personal opinion of the speaker. When spoken by the State’s representative in the courtroom, the word ‘lie’ has the dangerous potential of swaying the jury from their duty to determine the accused’s guilt or innocence on the evidence properly presented at trial.”
In other words, if a lawyer calls something a “lie,” it is such a shocking curse that a jury may not be able to get over it, and might convict an otherwise innocent person, just because they feel so strongly about “liars.”
Thus, no lawyer is allowed to ever use any variation of the word “lie” in Colorado courtrooms.
While odd laws are entertaining to read about, we know that when you’re sitting in the courtroom, it is rarely fun or entertaining. The experienced criminal defense team at The Law Offices of Steven Rodemer is here to help you navigate the criminal justice system and ensure your rights are protected throughout the process. Contact us today to ensure you get the expert legal representation you deserve.