The Whole Truth

“Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?”

“I’m sorry, young man. I affirm.”

“What?”

“I’m a Jehovah’s Witness, sir. We’re supposed to refrain from taking the Lord’s name in vain. Aren’t you supposed to refrain, too? You’re a district attorney, for goodness’ sake.”

“Never mind. Do you swear or affirm to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help. . . . Do you so affirm?”

“I do, young man.”

“You’re not holding your hand up, ma’am.”

“That’s because I’m not taking an oath.”

“Will the witness speak up, please? The stenographer needs to keep a complete record of what’s said, and, to be honest, the Court is a bit hard of hearing.”

“I’m sorry, your Honor, I was just explaining to the district attorney that I have a religious objection to swearing an oath. I don’t see the point, anyway.”

“What’s that?”

“I said I don’t see the point. Isn’t it a crime to lie to a grand jury, Your Honor?”

“Say again, please? Speak a little louder.”

“Sorry, your Honor. I asked if it isn’t a crime to lie to a grand jury.”

“Of course.”

“Even if I haven’t said all this nonsense about the whole truth?”

“Nonsense? Is the witness mocking the Court?”

“Sorry, your Honor, I shouldn’t have put it that way. I just mean, I’d be guilty of perjury if I lied up here on the witness stand, whether or not I took an oath, or affirmed, or in any way promised to tell the truth. Wouldn’t I?”

“Of course.”

“Even if I had my fingers crossed behind my back?”

“Your Honor, the witness is trifling with us. May I get on with examining her?”

“In a moment, Counsel. How old are you, Madam Witness, if you don’t mind my asking?”

“I don’t mind at all. I’ve had a long, full life, and proud of it. I’m 74, your Honor, but you might say that’s not the whole truth.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“I mean, tomorrow is my birthday, and then I’ll be 75.”

“Your Honor, let’s wish this witness a happy birthday and get on with it.”

“Be patient, Counsel. We’re having a little civics lesson here. Madam, you’ve lived long enough to know that appearance before a grand jury is serious business.”

“Of course, your Honor. I ought to know. I went to jail, fifty years ago, because a judge like you thought I was being fresh.”

“How’s that?”

“It was during the Vietnam War, your Honor.”

“Yes, and . . . ?”

“I’d been arrested in a protest, your Honor, and I was wearing a flag that we’d smeared with blood. Draped around my shoulders, I mean. The judge wanted me to take it off, and I wouldn’t. That may have been before your time.”

“Madam, it isn’t your place to be exploring the Court’s age. You risk being found in contempt of court.”

“That’s exactly what the other judge said. Would you put me in jail, your Honor, if I had that flag here in my purse, and draped it around my shoulders right now?”

“That’s enough. The Court is not going to be drawn into a needless controversy. The District Attorney will please proceed with questioning the witness.”

“Thank you, your Honor. Madam, just so the record is clear, do you affirm that you will tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?”

“Sonny, I thought we’d established that already.”

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