‘False in One, False in All’ never failed me!

“False in one, false in all.”

That’s the jury instruction I’d request a judge to provide when a witness at a trial said one thing one time and another thing at another time. Also, when one or more witnesses said something different than what the first witness had sworn to tell the truth about while sitting on the witness stand.
I never lost a case during my 20-year career trying criminal cases to a jury in Philadelphia when the jurist agreed with little or no prompting to instruct the jury how it should view the person’s words.


My mentor – a crusty Italian good fellow from South Philadelphia by the name of Rich DiMaio  – said such a witness “talked out of both sides of his mouth.” He also advised me to caution the jury about truthfulness by using the Native American take on falsity, claiming that a witness “Speaks with a forked tongue.”

The instruction was provided to American jurisprudence from the old English Common Law which lawyers in the United States incorporated here. The term is based on the Latin term: “Falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus.” The phrase literally means “false in one thing, false in everything.” It is the legal principle that a witness who testifies falsely about one matter is not credible to testify about any matter.

Such an instruction was devastating to an opposing trial attorney. My opponents were all assistant district attorneys who would relish the action by a judge particularly when they were up against mob bosses and their henchmen.
If a jury came back quickly with a verdict, it was a safe bet that it was in favor of the prosecutor and against the defense lawyer.


I saw it turn completely around when one witness not only denied saying one thing different on a previous occasion but accused a court stenographer of making mistakes in a court transcript. The jury looked stunned when the members gazed at the woman typing the testimony at the current proceeding and it showed in the speed in which they reached its verdict.
In less than two hours, the members acquitted my client of charges that called for a three-year mandatory sentence for his first offense.
False in one proved to be false in all for that witness. It should apply in all matters where the truthfulness of a witness testifying under oath has been questioned.

5 comments on “‘False in One, False in All’ never failed me!

  1. inhiscare753 says:

    Wow…what a twist…
    This was very well written, it was so intensifying as I was reading. I felt as if it was unfolding before me.
    Thank you sharing.


    • contoveros says:

      Jury trials were the best part of serving as an attorney. It took its toll on me a few times but I enjoyed the battle to help my client.

      Impeaching a witness who provided conflicting testimony was key to a not-guilty verdict and I truly believe the system worked in each and every case!

      Liked by 1 person

      • inhiscare753 says:

        Jury trials are wonderful. just had the pleasure of serving jury duty 2 months ago. I have always found them intriguing. Love mysteries, looking for evidence which is visible and stated; then seeking that which is hidden . You are a man of many hats, gifts ,talents, and God is with you.
        InHisCare 🙏


  2. wolfshades says:

    I was going to ask you what happens when a key witness from both sides is shown to have lied, but I think I know the answer. The burden of proof is on the accuser not the accused. Therefore by default, the accused would win.

    Do I have it right?

    Liked by 1 person

    • contoveros says:

      It would have been a wash and the accused would be given the benefit Wolf.

      I hardly ever recommended that my client testify. so I never faced such a predicament. The closest I came was when I placed an alibi witness on the stand and she was visibly shaken under cross-examination by not only the assistant district attorney but also the prosecutorial-oriented judge.

      The witness was the mother of my client who was found guilty and I shied away from using alibi witnesses after that debacle.

      Liked by 1 person

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