After months of hearing about it, I finally got around to watching the movie Wonder Woman the other night. It reminded me of a question that came up over our Facebook page, “Could testimony obtained by Wonder Woman’s Lasso of Truth be used in court?” As always when you ask a lawyer, the answer is: “it depends.”
There are generally two ways in which testimony is introduced into evidence. The first is that a live witness takes the stand, swears to tell the truth, and answers questions. The second is when the live witness talks about testimony someone else gave outside of the courtroom setting. We call this hearsay evidence. Let’s take a look at each scenario.
Pretend you are an attorney questioning someone on the stand. You want to compel this witness to tell the truth, so you ask Wonder Woman to lasso the witness. As an initial matter, the judge may not allow it. Intimidating witnesses is generally frowned on. Attorneys must ask the judge for permission before they even approach a witness to show them a document. Hovering over the witness, raising your voice to the witness, pounding the witness stand, or other bullying methods of forcing the witness to answer may all lead to a reprimand from the judge. Asking for permission to tie the witness up? That may not fly. However, if the judge allowed it, there is no reason why testimony given under oath by a present witness compelled to tell the truth by Wonder Woman’s lasso would be inadmissible.
Much more complex is whether evidence of what a person said while tied up with the lasso of truth but not on the witness stand would be admissible. Often times it would be. First, any statements of “admission” made by a “party opponent” can be introduced via someone else’s testimony. So, if Wonder Woman has Dr. Evil tied up and he admits he planted a bomb, Wonder Woman or anyone else who overheard the statement can testify as to what Dr. Evil admitted. Second, if one of Dr. Evil’s co-conspirators or underlings says Dr. Evil planted the bomb, that statement can also be admitted against Dr. Evil.
Third, there are a number of hearsay exceptions that fall under multiple categories. What all the categories have in common, however, is that the statements were made in “circumstances guaranteeing trustworthiness.” Certainly, to a comic book geek like myself, I know that Wonder Woman’s lasso of truth “guarantees trustworthiness.” But, as a skeptical lawyer, I would argue that without thorough scientific analysis conducted by experts in the field and published in peer-reviewed journals, any claims that Wonder Woman’s lasso magically forces people to tell the truth is just so much hogwash.
In short, any testimony that would be admissible in court anyway, would also be admissible under the compulsion of the lasso of truth. But, the lasso of truth itself would not make any testimony admissible.
Thanks for the great question, and keep them coming!
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