In The Trial of the Chicago 7 (2020) movie, assistant federal prosecutor Richard says:

Richard: The witness can't present them [with] testimony that would assist in making a determination of guilt or innocence.

Why shouldn't the witness present the jury with testimony which would assist in making a determination of guilt or innocence?

  • Which witness? There was one "witness" that was fully forbidden to be taken into account...
    – Trish
    Commented Dec 2, 2020 at 16:54
  • 7
    "can't" = "is unable to"
    – OrangeDog
    Commented Dec 3, 2020 at 11:04
  • 8
    You might want to keep in mind that not only are movies about court cases usually dramatizations which skip over some legal details, but even the real version of the Chicago 7 trial was a clusterfuck of judicial misconduct. The YouTube channel LegalEagle recently made a synopsis (framed as a review of the movie, but mentioning a lot of the real-world events)
    – Philipp
    Commented Dec 3, 2020 at 12:09

4 Answers 4


Alternate explanation:

Richard is saying that the witness has no "testimony that would assist in making a determination of guilt or innocence", and therefore should not be allowed to testify.

  • Exactly correct.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Dec 3, 2020 at 0:31
  • 49
    Or, to spell it out, "can't" here means "unable" rather than "disallowed". Commented Dec 3, 2020 at 0:33
  • That is certainly possible, meaning that the witness had no relevant testimony to offer. I thought of that after writing my answer and was goign to add it. Now there is no need. As I have not seen the film, I can't judge the context. Commented Dec 3, 2020 at 1:13
  • That reminds me of the Timothy McVeigh trial, where the prosecution, over defense objections, called countless witnesses to testify about how the loss of their loved ones affected them. Although the fact that the people Timothy McVeigh was accused of murdering died on the day of the bombing might not have been established absent the testimony of those witnesses, and McVeigh could not have been guilty of the accused murders if the people in question were not in fact dead, the prosecution's conduct there struck me as deliberately intended to make the jury want to convict someone, rather than...
    – supercat
    Commented Dec 4, 2020 at 18:07
  • ...facilitate an honest and meaningful inquiry into whether those people were killed by Timothy McVeigh rather than someone else. While I don't particularly doubt McVeigh's guilt, I think the defense should have been entitled to move for a mistrial given the prosecutor's outrageous conduct.
    – supercat
    Commented Dec 4, 2020 at 18:12

Why shouldn't witness present Jury a testimony which assist in making a determination of guilt or innocence?

They should. That's why Richard was pointing out that this one can't.


I strongly suspect that the movie dialog is a misquote at best, or is simply inaccurate. All testimony in a criminal case is supposed to help the jury (or judge) in making a determination of guilt or innocence. Testimony that does not help is irrelevant and should not even be heard. However, in general, in US courts at least, a witness is not supposed to testify to the witness's own opinion nor conclusion about the guilt or innocence of the accused. A witness is supposed to testify to facts (or opinions in the case of an expert witness) which the finder of fact may use in forming an opinion about guilt vs innocence. It may be that some statement to this effect was simplified for dramatic impact.

Edit: Given the additional context now provided in the answer by @Ross Presser, it seems thst the statement "The witness can't present them testimony that would assist in making a determination of guilt or innocence." was intended to mean that the witness could not offer any relevant testimony. Whether that claim was correct as a matter of law is, of course, a very different matter.

  • 3
    I don't think it is inaccurate. It is just an awkward construction that can be misunderstood if you aren't in the flow of the discussion.. @DJohnM correctly interprets what that phrase means as used here. I've said similar things at trial with that meaning.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Dec 3, 2020 at 0:30

Adding this answer, agreeing with the others that "can't" was meant as "is unable to", but providing some more context from the subtitles. (Unfortunately I only have dialogue, not attributions.)

And, Mr. Clark, did your counterintelligence division make a report as well?

They concluded that there was no conspiracy by the defendants to incite violence during the convention.

And then what happened on the first Tuesday, after the first Monday, in November of that year?

Richard Nixon was elected president.


Nobody objected...

We do.

It's well-known there's no love lost between the witness and the sitting attorney general.

This witness was called to wage a political attack and should not be allowed before the jury.

Mr. Kunstler.

Your Honor, you cannot possibly be considering not allowing the jury to hear what we've just heard?

The witness can't present them testimony that would assist in making a determination of guilt or innocence.

He just testified his own Justice Department came to the conclusion...

The current Justice Department, the one that matters, came to a new conclusion. Therefore, motivation of the prosecution has to be called into question.

The motivation of the prosecution is not an issue in a courtroom.

In any courtroom I've ever been in, except this one.

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