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Cross Country: Unpacking the Many Deceptions Inside a Single Lie

By Larry Pozner

Read more Cross Country columns.

The hostile witness has admittedly lied: “Yes, I gave the detective an alibi, but really I was with the defendant committing the crime.” Or perhaps the lie goes like this: “I had no idea he was coming over that night. We had no relationship.”

Lawyers tend to boil down an admitted lie to “You said something, and you knew at the time that it was untrue.” They mistakenly believe that the payoff is the admission of the untruthful statement. The big payoff is something deeper: the work it took to construct the lie. The use of real events or people to make the deception more believable and the motivation to make oneself look better are the building blocks of a lie. Lawyers expose these additional elements of deceit as they tell the jury more about the character of the witness.

Initially the witness gives a false story: “I was eating pizza with my cousin Ronnie. We were at his house — 7154 Jackson. Peperoni pizza. From Dominoes. He picked it up.”

But now the witness says that the truth is he was

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