I have a legal question, I must confess

Let’s take a hypothetical situation.

Hayworth is found murdered. He is discovered by his daughter, Chutney, who sees Hayworth’s wife, Brooke, standing over the body. Brooke is arrested and tried for the murder. During the trial, Chutney is on the witness stand, being cross examined by defense attorney Elle. Elle’s line of questioning rattles Chutney so much that Chutney blurts out that she was the one who killed her own father. The judge orders the bailiff to take Chutney into custody and declares the trial over. There’s a big celebration and everyone lives happily ever after. Well, except for Chutney. And Hayworth. And Warner.

We all know this happens. I mean, it’s in the movies, so it has to be real.

Or is it? Does a judge have the power to arrest someone who made a witness stand confession? More importantly, does the judge have the power to simply declare a trial over and set a murder suspect free? Can the prosecuting attorney do so? Or does the trial still need to continue, right up through jury deliberations?

I don’t know - but who is Warner??

^^^OP Hypothetical FAIL.

Elle’s ex-boyfriend. (This is the scenario from Legally Blonde.)

The loser who dumped Elle for that bitch Vivian.

God, doesn’t anyone watch bad legal comedies anymore?

I have no idea about arresting the witness, but judges absolutely have the power to declare a trial over and the accused acquitted of all charges - it’s called a directed verdict.

The judge can end teh trial.

More likely, there would be a recess, at which point the prosecutor would examine whether the confession scenario is credible then request the charges be dismissed.

I suppose a judge can order anyone arrested and can commit anyone to jail. That’s what they do at the first arraignment sometimes? But without a request or charges laid by the prosecutors’ office, not sure what the legal implications would be.

The judge doesn’t arrest anyone – the bailiff does that, and he/she is an officer. And anyone can ‘arrest’ anyone else (remember “citizens arrest”?) – making the arrest hold up in court is the hard part.

No, trials end early quite often. Maybe even most of them end that way. It’s pretty common to go all the way up to jury selection, and then hear that they have reached a plea bargain agreement. Even later, partway through the trial, they may reach an agreement. There are even cases where a plea agreement is reached after the jury has already started deliberating. Even a few where the jury has decided on ‘not-guilty’, while simultaneously he plead guilty in a plea agreement.

Prosecutors can always drop the charges, right up until the jury returns it’s decision. I think that once it’s in court, the judge has to approve this, but they nearly always do, given the overcrowded court calendar.

And judges can end the trial, by either giving a ‘directed verdict’ to the jury, or in a non-jury case, just deciding the case and issuing their verdict. But they have to be aware that a higher court can overturn this if they don’t have sufficient grounds for their decision. For example, a judge shouldn’t just hear the prosecution presentation and then decide the accused is guilty, without giving the defense time to present their side. That would be remanded very quickly by another court.

For a witness stand confession, either the judge would ask the prosecution if they are willing to drop the charges, or the judge would just issue a verdict. These are slightly different: if the prosecution drops the charges, they could reopen them again later, and the accused persons record is not clear. If the judge issues a not-guilty verdict, the accused can’t be tried again, and his court record will show he was cleared of these charges.

O politely request an example of a good legal comedy before I answer that question.

My Cousin Vinnie. Duh.

1961’s screwball classic, Judgment at Nuremberg.

Wait, what happens if Chutney and Brooke both killed Hayworth, and planned the whole thing? Perhaps they were lesbians lovers who just wanted to get their will money early and live together on Isla Mujeres. After the trial, Chutney simply states that the stress from her father’s death and the pressure from Elle caused her to make a fake confession. Now Brooke has already been acquitted, and there’s no evidence that Chutney did anything. I think something like this happened on LA Law.

Taking them one at a time:

Where do you think arrest warrants come from?

Yes, a judge (trial or appellate) can acquit/vacate a conviction for insufficiency of the evidence. The defense can move this as early as the conclusion of the state’s case in chief. Where a non-accused witness confesses on the stand, the weight of the evidence seems more at issue, rather than sufficiency. A court may grant a new trial if the jury’s verdict is against the manifest weight of the evidence, although not an acquittal.

A prosecutor can nolle prosse. I’m not certain of the technical requirements. A party that dismisses its complaint during trial (the civil analogue to a mid-trial nolle prosse) can be liable for the other side’s costs and attorneys’ fees.

By and large, no.

Thanks for the good answers on this!

As it turns out, TV and movies are not as far from the truth as I’d thought.

Agreed. And Liar Liar.

Going back, Adam’s Rib with Tracy & Hepburn (and Judy Holiday).

Just want to point out to the OP, my own experience and the experience of senior practitioners in three countries who I have spoken too, witnesses very rarely if ever retract their story under Cross examination, even when there version has been cut to ribbons by opposing counsel.