My Cousin Vinny

Cousin Vinny - The Legal Side of the Film... by Marty Carbone, Carbone & Carbone LLP, Albany & Saratoga Springs, NY
Marty Carbone - Albany, NY, Glens Falls, NY & Saratoga NY

For the record, I actually do have a cousin Vinny and yes, he is a NY lawyer. However, he does not resemble the great Joe Pesci, nor does he talk and dress like him. The title of this blog refers to the great 1992 movie of the same name. This film, in my opinion, not only provides a great amount of laughter, but it is truly a great representation in how the rules of evidence are applied. The film also demonstrates effective analytical techniques that are necessary during a trial.

A person can really learn a lot in a short amount of time in terms of legal analysis by simply watching “My Cousin Vinny.” Often times, when witnesses testify at trial, they are telling the truth even if the facts and evidence do not support their claim. It’s all about perception. If an individual perceives something as the way they saw, heard, or felt it, they will adamantly testify to the truthfulness of the matter asserted. However, perception is not always reality.

For example, in “My Cousin Vinny,” there is a scene in which Joe Pesci’s character examines a woman who claimed to have seen the faces of the alleged perpetrators. In this scene, the woman testifies that she had a clear view of the two men’s faces. However, Vinny had taken pictures of the window in which the woman looked through to see the two men. Here it was shown that the there was a dirty screen on the window, which would obstruct a clear view. The witness in this case did not lie on the stand. She testified to the truth in which she believed. It was Vinny’s keen analytical skills that destroyed the witness’s credibility on this issue.

There is another famous scene within the film that addresses the element of the passage of time. A short order cook was called as a witness to testify about hearing gunshots fired from the “Sac o’ Suds” convenient store. Here, the cook claimed that he heard gunshots 5 minutes after he finished cooking breakfast, more specifically, cooking grits. Normally this type of testimony would not be heavily attacked. However, as Vinny pointed out, everyone in the grit-eating world knows that it takes 20 minutes to fully cook grits. (Assuming no respecting Southerner would use instant grits, of course) Therefore, the cook’s testimony was deemed falsified since it was claimed he heard guns shots 5 minutes instead of 20 minutes after he finished cooking breakfast. This time differential opens up all sorts of possibilities for which two different men could have been at the scene of the crime and fired said gunshots instead of the ones currently on trial for murder.

Also, lets not forget the scene in which a woman testified that she could readily identify what the two alleged killers looked like. On the stand, she was positive that she could accurately identify the assailants. However, Vinny once again shows holes in the witness’s testimony my asking if she wears glasses. When she said she didn’t wear glasses for distance, Vinny walked to the back of the courtroom and held up 2 fingers. The woman, without proper glasses, could not identify how many fingers were being held up.

Not only can new attorneys learn from these methods, but so can everyone else in relation to everyday life. People often argue about the most trivial things and more times than not, both sides are correct to a certain degree. It’s not always about who is right or wrong. It’s not always about who is lying and who is telling the truth. Perception is most often the key factor in resolving an issue. Sometimes the best way to come to an appropriate resolution is to take a page out of Vinny Gambini’s playbook. Revise and analyze.

On a side note, I tried grits for the first time after watching this movie. They’re not bad. As a self respecting Northerner, I prefer to make instant.