Thursday, March 13, 2008

Why Phoenix Wright is the Greatest Fictional Attorney Ever

I can already here the groans from people who know the greatness of Perry Mason or even like Ben Matlock but in playing Phoenix Wright: Trials and Tribulations lately (I can't Super Smash Brothers Brawl on the road) I have been reminded why Wright is undoubtably the greatest lawyer ever.

Other great fictional lawyers overcome incredible odds, unravel plotting and trickery and even occasionally deal with a corrupt judge or prosecutor. They have it easy compared to Wright who has the entire legal system of his fictional world stacked against him. It makes the system in Kafka's The Trial look downright fair. And Phoenix Wright regularly beats it. No other fictional lawyer comes close to that.

The makers of the game try to justify it by saying the games are set slightly in the future, the country is unspecified and there is a disclaimer that the legal system in the games do not represent any real world law (that's putting it very mildly). So it's not real, but here's a short list of the nightmarish aspects of jurisprudence people face in Phoenix Wright's world:
  • First people are not just guilty until proven innocent, they're guilty until the defense proves someone else is guilty! It's not enough in the games to provide a massive pile of evidence that Phoenix's client did not commit the crime you have to conclusively prove that someone else did it (usually by having them break down and confess on the witness stand). One someone is on trial for a crime they will be convicted for it unless the state has someone else to throw into prison.
  • That would be bad enough but the police apparently don't do anything beyond the most basic investigation of the crime. They arrest the first person they can directly connect with the crime regardless of if the evidence is only loosely circumstantial, obviously contradictory, or incomplete. And once that person is arrested they don't bother trying to form a complete picture of the crime.
  • Which is complicated by the fact that the prosecutors regularly engage in witness tampering and suppress evidence. They hide anything that clearly exonerates the defendant and order witnesses not to talk to the defense attorneys. Not only is this done, it's well known that it is done and is tacitly approved up by the judges presiding over the trials.
  • Those judges can render verdicts based on circumstantial evidence before the defense even gets to rebut any of it or present their own witnesses.
  • Witnesses perjure themselves often with no consequences. Even after they admit to their perjury on the stand they can change their statement and still have it accepted as evidence.
  • As for evidence, there is no chain of custody or mutual discovery for any of it. Most pieces just show up during the trial without being examined or authenticated beforehand. Anyone who can get access to an area is allowed to take anything as evidence and present it, no search warrant required!
It's a scary justice system they have in the world of Phoenix Wright and yet his can consistently beat it. Let's see Perry Mason beat that.