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Phoenix Wright is Actually a Pretty Terrible Lawyer

Phoenix Wright is Actually a Pretty Terrible Lawyer published on No Comments on Phoenix Wright is Actually a Pretty Terrible Lawyer

So, there’s this very famous play/movie called Twelve Angry Men. In it, a jury has just finished listening to the cases made by the prosecution and defense presiding over a murder, and they’ve been excused to deliberate on whether the defendant should be declared guilty or innocent. What happens next is something that jurors are not allowed to do:

A poster for Henry Fonda's Twelve Angry Men filmThe titular twelve angry men take a look at all of the evidence and go over all of the things that have been said and over the course of a short play they come to a series of completely different conclusions than either the defense or the prosecution. Effectively, what they do is they, while locked away in a room, investigate a case that none of them were witnesses to. For example, the lead in the play (“Juror 8”) claims that it would have been impossible for one of the witnesses to have heard the defendant say “I’m going to kill you” because there would have been too much noise happening from a passing train, which is speculation. Juror 8 also brings in outside evidence (in the form of a replica switchblade) and does his own research on the case outside of what is presented to him in the courtroom. These things normally would lead to a mistrial and restarting jury selection.

If you’ve played a Phoenix Wright game, you may see where I’m going with this.

The cover art for Ace Attorney Dual DestiniesNow, to be fair, in the wacky wonky world of Phoenix Wright there’s no such thing as juries (which…which is probably not great, actually) and so they’re not in a position to abruptly turn on anybody. Instead that job falls to our titular lawyer (and in the later games his cadre of lawyer buddies.) If any of you have been listening to our Hit Continue podcast you’ll know that I’ve been slowly but surely working my way through Phoenix Wright: Dual Destinies. What I’ve failed to mention in those podcasts is that I’m also on my university’s debate team. This will become important in a minute.

There’s a recurring theme in Dual Destinies where halfway to two thirds of the way through a scenario Phoenix (or Apollo, or Athena) comes to the realization that all the facts as they’ve been presented can’t exist while their client is also innocent. What this means is that you need to “turn the case upside down” so to speak. This plays out as a little minigame where a series of facts and pieces of evidence are presented to you in order and then you’re presented with the conclusion that contradicts those pieces of evidence. Typically this means that the murder didn’t take place where you thought it did, or the timing was off, or the murder weapon was different or something.

At this point, two thirds of the way through a case, Phoenix will halt proceedings and announce that the defense has a new theory—that such and such thing that happened didn’t actually happen. And everyone goes “Whaaaaaaat?!” and then he kinda…well, he kinda bungles his way to a “Not Guilty” verdict.

A shrugging Phoenix WrightSo, here’s the thing about this whole situation: Even if we concede that it’s standard practice for a lawyer to figure out what’s going on after they’ve already stepped into the courtroom, they probably still shouldn’t. The reason being that switching your argument halfway through making it makes both arguments—the one you’re abandoning and the one that you’re jumping to—look really weak. This is why lawyers formulate defenses before going into the courtroom: Arguments that are made on the fly are always going to be weaker than arguments that have, y’know, days or weeks of preparation put towards them in advance.

Phoenix just happens to get lucky and score damning confessions every time he does it his way.

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