“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 – 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.