The Golden Rule is moral of reciprocity that states that a person should treat others as the person would like others to treat him or her.
Trial lawyers think of the Golden Rule a bit differently. For lawyers, the Golden Rule is more like: don’t invoke the Golden Rule, for God’s sake. The Supreme Court reminded trial lawyers why this their Golden Rule last week in Holliman v. State. The Court unanimously reversed a murder conviction and remanded the case for a new trial because the prosecutor repeatedly violated the Golden Rule.
The Court’s opinion quoted the violation:
In the statement that [Brian Holliman] gave on October 29th . . . this defendant admitted – I believe the exact words in the statement are: I purposely pointed my shotgun at Laura-Lee Holliman. He purposely pointed a loaded shotgun with the safety off and his finger on the trigger at another human being. I grew up with guns. And I’m not one to play with them. If I did not have the respect with them that I do, then perhaps it would have been a dramatic thing for me to take that shotgun over there, open the breach, and walk in front of the jury and point it at each and every one of you. What would you have felt if I had done that, Ladies and Gentlemen?
[Brian’s counsel objected and was overruled.]
Let’s change that a little bit. Let’s say that I took a round and put it in the chamber and then walked before you, once again pointing it at each and every one of you, with the safety off and my hand not on the trigger, how would you feel? Would you squirm? You think you might duck? Let’s suppose that I take that loaded shotgun, I point it at you in your face, and I knock the safety off. I still don’t have the finger on the trigger.
[Objection was continued by Brian’s counsel, and again, overruled.]
How would you feel then? Would you feel threatened, Ladies and Gentlemen? Would you think that I was irresponsible or worse? Would you feel the danger and the presence of it? Let’s say that I put the round in the gun, and I take the safety off, and I put my finger on the trigger, and I point it at you as I come down this line. You’d be outraged. And you should be. Because what I’m doing when I do that is creating a situation that fatal consequences may very likely occur.
The Court quoted a 1993 opinion that described violation of the Golden Rule as inefficient, ineffective and unprofessional.
Justice King wrote the Court’s opinion.
I will never forget when I learned the Golden Rule. I was a rookie defense lawyer and started using it in the closing of my very first trial. The plaintiff’s attorney objected and the judge quickly sustained the objection and looked at me like I was a moron. After I finished the closing, a veteran lawyer watching the trial explained it to me. My response: “Really?” Of course I was mortified that I had not known this.
Occasionally, I will talk to a young lawyer who doesn’t know what the Golden Rule is. When I tell them, the response is usually: “Realllly?” Really. As the Supreme Court just reminded us.