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In the Depp/Heard trial one of the lawyers reads headlines to Johnny Depp in the witness stand and then only asks "Did I read that right?"

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ze3gAu8mZLM

The lawyer appears to be using this as a tool to read negative headlines to the jury. The only question asked is about the reading skills of the lawyer himself, which seem entirely irrelevant to the case.

Yet the judge and Depp's lawyers let him drone on and on without any objection, despite the fact that he is not asking any relevant question at all and using this as a backdoor to present emotionally charged information that he otherwise may not be able to introduce.

Question:

  1. What is the purpose of the question "did I read that right"? What is the rationale behind asking this from a witness, instead just reading it? Isn't this a purely rhetorical question ?
  2. What is the witness supposed to answer, other than "yes"?
  3. Why is this question (about the reading skills) not dismissed as irrelevant and as it's obviously a backdoor mechanism ?
  4. Does it make a difference if Depp or someone else on the witness stand? Confirming basic reading skills can be done by pretty much anyone.
  5. How far can this be taken? Could theoretically a lawyer put a random stranger in the witness seat, start reading whatever they want, and ask the witness each time "did I read this correctly?"

EDIT

This question is NOT about what the lawyer is reading and whether tabloids are useful for evidence, it's about the purpose of the question "Did I read this right?" and whether that question would allow the lawyer to read whatever they wanted: the declaration of independence, their favorite book, an opinion from a 3rd party etc.

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    See When is it ok to use tabloid news as evidence in court? and its answers. The video doesn't show what the headlines are being read, but the point is likely to show that Depp's reputation was not damaged by anything Heard said or wrote because it was already bad.
    – phoog
    May 4, 2022 at 14:36
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    Agreed. It's obvious why the lawyer wants to read it aloud. The question is why the court and the opposing team allow this particular mechanism of reading whatever you want and then just asking "did I read this right?" from the witness.
    – Hilmar
    May 4, 2022 at 15:05

1 Answer 1

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There are two points to this question: A) "Reading Skills being entered into evidence" B) "Why do the judge and Depp's lawyers not object"

A: "Reading Skills being entered into evidence" No one's reading skills are being entered into evidence. The contents of the newspaper (specifically its headline) are being entered into evidence.

What this lawyer is doing is presenting the "foundation", establishing certain predicate facts whose existence must be proven before the evidence in question becomes admissible, regardless of how relevant it is. This is seems trivial, because it is a newspaper, but the foundation still must be built before it can be entered into evidence.

B: "Why do the judge and Depp's lawyers not object"

Firstly, a judge usually does not object to the admission of evidence; that is the role of the opposing side and their lawyer. The judge may take action if one side is attempting to admit or reference evidence that they have prior ruled is not to be referenced or admitted.

Depp's lawyers are not objecting, because it is plainly obvious what the other side is doing, and their objection will be likely be overruled, while they likely want to present themselves to jury as having nothing to hide, compared to Heard's lawyers. Main objections to foundational question such as these are irrelevance, lack of authentication, hearsay and a recognized privilege or immunity.

This is not hearsay, and is directly relevant evidence in this trial, because thecae concerns defamation, the presentation of false information that damages one's reputation to a third party, in this case, the general public. As a general guideline, hearsay is when one testifies that one "heard a third party say (or otherwise communicate)" something, when that party should be called to testify as to what they testified instead. The point of this evidence is support for Heard's lawyers theory that Depp did not suffer repetitional damage from this op-ed, because his reputation was already damaged.

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    "*Firstly, a judge does not object to the admission of evidence; that is the role of the opposing side and their lawyer. *": A judge can, and sometimes does, exclude irrelevant or otherwise inadmissible testimony on his or her own motion, without an objection. This is a bit unusual, but fr from unheardof May 4, 2022 at 19:08
  • Perhaps this is speculation, but Depp's responses to the questions were also funny and his lawyers probably thought it was ultimately making him look more likeable to the jury. In a defamation case especially, the plaintiff really wants the jury to like them more than the defendant. May 4, 2022 at 19:46
  • I get what the lawyer is doing, but what is the purpose of asking the witness "Did I read that right?"
    – Hilmar
    May 4, 2022 at 20:44
  • @Hilmar a related question: why don't Depp's lawyers stipulate whatever it is that Heard's lawyers are seeking to prove?
    – phoog
    May 4, 2022 at 20:56
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    @sharur: in the case of the psychologist this makes sense. The question about credentials is relevant and the psychologist is the correct person to answer. "Did I read this right?" is a stupid question that's entirely irrelevant and could be answered by anyone. What would happen if Depp would have answered with "no", or "I think you misread the 12th word"?
    – Hilmar
    May 5, 2022 at 15:28

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