Fact Check

Witless for the Prosecution

Dozing juror mistakes note containing rape victim's testimony for a personal communication.

Published Jan 25, 1998

Legend:   A

Cartoon of the legend

young woman testifying as the complainant in a rape trial is asked to describe what her attacker said and did to her. When she is unable to bring herself to describe her assailant's actions out loud, the judge suggests that she write them down for the jury to read privately. The witness's written statement is handed to the jury foreman by the bailiff; the foreman reads it and then passes it on to the next juror. Eventually the statement reaches an attractive female juror, and when she is finished scanning it she nudges the male juror sitting next to her and hands it to him. The male juror, who has been napping, takes the note from her with a slightly confused look on his face. He reads it, looks up at the female juror who passed it to him, blushes slightly, and hurriedly stuffs the paper in his pocket. When the judge asks him to remove the note from his pocket and pass it along, the juror replies, "Your Honor, this note is a private matter between this lady and myself."

Origins:   This courtroom embarrassment tale teeters between joke and legend, with no real difference between the two versions other than that the latter is presented as a "true story." (It also lacks the "moral lesson" typical of many urban legends, save perhaps a warning to take important duties seriously.) This bit of humor has been used as sketch material for several television comedy/variety shows, most notably the very first episode of Saturday Night Live.

Sightings:   The 29 October 1987 episode of L.A. Law (Cannon of Ethics) opened with an enactment of this legend: When assistant D.A. Grace van Owens pokes a sleeping juror awake and passes him the distraught witness' note, he reads it, looks shocked for a moment, then grins wildly, looks directly at her, and winks.

Last updated:   13 July 2007


  Sources Sources:

    Brunvand, Jan Harold.   The Choking Doberman.

    New York: W. W. Norton, 1984.   ISBN 0-393-30321-7   (pp. 141).

    Brunvand, Jan Harold.   Too Good To Be True.

    New York: W. W. Norton, 1999.   ISBN 0-393-04734-2   (pp. 152-153).

    Cerf, Bennett.   The Laugh's on Me.

    Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co., 1959   (p. 285).

    Dale, Rodney.   The Tumour in the Whale.

    London: Duckworth, 1978.   ISBN 0-7156-1314-6   (p. 44).

    Emrich, Duncan.   Folklore on the American Land.

    Boston: Little, Brown, 1972   (pp. 327-330).

    Smith, Paul.   The Book of Nastier Legends.

    London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1986.   ISBN 0-7102-0573-2   (p. 109).

    Torgenson, Dial.   "Twice Told: The American Legends."

Los Angeles Times.   6 January 1974   (p. 1).

    Reader's Digest.   "Laughter, the Best Medicine."

    September 1968   (p. 97).

  Sources Also told in:

The Big Book of Urban Legends

    New York: Paradox Press, 1994.   ISBN 1-56389-165-4   (p. 135).

David Mikkelson founded the site now known as snopes.com back in 1994.

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