34

Let's say I am in a court proceeding, and then make swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. I tell the judge I would like to make an opening remark, he says yes, and I say "My opening remark is a false statement." What happens to me?

If they claim that my statement is false and try to prosecute me, then it is in fact not false, and they cannot prosecute. If they claim my statement is true, then it is in fact false, and they cannot not prosecute me.

What happens?

  • 10
    "they cannot not prosecute me" -- that's not correct: nobody is obliged to prosecute every offence. You could stand up and say "the capital of Germany is Paris", and you aren't guaranteed to be charged with perjury even if it's relevant to the case and even if you could be charged. – Steve Jessop Oct 27 '15 at 10:59
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    I think the starting point would be "what an idiot". – PJB Oct 27 '15 at 22:51
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    @PeteBecker But it isn't wrong (or is it?). – PyRulez Oct 27 '15 at 22:52
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    There is no paradox. You could instead have said, "My opening remark is in Japanese" and then go on to make the remark--in Japanese. If you say, "My opening remark is a false statement." then that is not itself the opening remark, it is a commentary on or description of the opening remark that is to come. The paradox occurs only in the mind of logicians who have too much time on their hands. Therefore you would actually be saying under oath that, "What I am about to say is a false statement." Maybe that's valid--say if you intend recounting a statement that can later be refuted by evidence. – chasly from UK Oct 28 '15 at 8:06
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    is this courtroom in a place like this? xkcd.com/246 – user17915 Oct 28 '15 at 10:51
59

See 18 U.S.C. s. 1621 (a). Perjury only relates to material matter.

In my opinion, your little logical paradox isn't material. You might be scolded by the judge to stay on point. If you keep doing it, you'll be held in contempt of court.

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    @PyRulez Nope. Because the contempt isn't based on lying, it's based on wasting everyone's time. – cpast Oct 27 '15 at 0:08
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    I feel a little troubled that there is actually an answer to this one... I was so hoping it'd be a huge fiasco that ends with lines being stricken from the record. But no, it will just be a single "shut up, PyRulez" and that's the end of it. Russel would be appalled at how little attention such paradoxes are given these days in legal proceedings =) – Cort Ammon - Reinstate Monica Oct 27 '15 at 5:16
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    Maybe try this once we have robotic judges 8) – BlueWizard Oct 27 '15 at 7:06
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    @CortAmmon: That's because Russell wanted a logical calculus in which every statement can be assigned a truth value (and statements that can't be so assigned are not well-formed). He didn't get it (cheers Kurt!), but that was the goal. In a court of law, paradoxical or meaningless utterances do not need to be rigorously dealt with provided it's clear to those who matter (judge and jury) that they aren't important to the case. But I suppose it's still useful to have on record that a particular witness was gibbering. – Steve Jessop Oct 27 '15 at 10:55
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    @SteveJessop "I swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, nothing but the truth and only well formed statements with a result of truth." – IllusiveBrian Oct 27 '15 at 16:01
7

Your hypothetical contains a false premise. Witnesses are not allowed to make "opening remarks."

Witnesses are only allowed to answer questions (while under oath) — not make remarks. Any "remarks" or statements that are not responsive to a question will most likely either be the subject of an objection and, therefore, not allowed. Or otherwise ignored completely.

In both cases, the judge will likely direct you (the witness) to follow the rules of court procedure and stick to just answering the questions. If your non-responsive conduct continues, the judge might give you a series of warnings to be followed by a finding of contempt and jail time (in the most extreme result on the continuum of possible outcomes).

The only people allowed to make "opening remarks" are the litigants and their attorneys.

6

I think most people in the courtroom would roll their eyes, and, if you were lucky, your foolishness would be ignored.

Quite probably you would receive a little lecture from the Judge to the effect that legal proceedings are serious and you ought not trifle.

My $0.02? Don't screw around while under oath or, in fact, at any time while in a courtroom. Judges can be kinda humorless that way -- they can get pretty grouchy about people who appear disrespectful to the court.

  • Not to mention, it would completely make a fool of the lawyer who called you up, and if you had valuable information to provide, such a statement would bring large opportunities to discredit your testimony. Not exactly an ideal situation for the witness, and the case. – Zizouz212 Mar 30 '16 at 21:50

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