Writer’s note: Recently my attention was drawn to the Ace Attorney series for the first time when a new game (2, actually) was released in the west, the “Great Ace Attorney Chronicles”. I learned that Sherlock Holmes (or technically, “Herlock Sholmes”) was in the game and it would be set in Victorian England. Since I absolutely love Sherlock Holmes and have a Switch, I checked it out and decided to pick up the original Ace Attorney trilogy first, to try out the formula, as it was cheaper. I figured I would enjoy it but to my great surprise I absolutely loved it, and am currently in the middle of the third game, “Phoenix Wright: Trials and Tribulations”. I already bought the fourth and will most assuredly be playing every game; “Great Ace Attorney Chronicles” will have to wait until a sale.
This little dialogue here is more meant for fans of the game. Seriously, I’m about to ruin the ending of game 2 and also the last case of the Switch/DS release of game 1, so, uh, be careful. Consider this a musing mostly on that second game, and particularly its final case, “Farewell, my Turnabout”.
SCENE: A familiar courtroom. At the front is a bald JUDGE with a gray beard. On one side is our hero, spiky-haired defense attorney PHOENIX WRIGHT. On the other is the whip-toting teenage wunderkind prosecutor FRANZISKA VON KARMA. Standing next to Phoenix is his assistant, spirit medium MAYA FEY.
JUDGE: Are both parties prepared for the trial?
VON KARMA: What a foolishly foolish question from a foolish fool. Of course I’m ready.
PHOENIX: I’m still confused. Can you…uh…clarify what’s going on again, judge?
Von Karma cracks Phoenix with her whip.
VON KARMA: Is this some sort of joke, Mr. Phoenix Wright?
MAYA: Yeah, are you serious right now, Nick?!
JUDGE: This is no laughing matter, Mr. Wright. The defendant here is YOU!
PHOENIX: But…but…why me?
VON KARMA: As was already explained to you, you’re on trial for being a hypocrite!
VON KARMA: It’s very simple. You say you became a defense attorney in order to help people who have nobody else to help them…but you only defend the innocent! Ha! The sentimentalism of a foolish fool who foolishly fools around in the courtroom! Not only that, I address this question to the court: What is the role of a defense attorney? What is the role of a prosecutor?
PHOENIX: This still seems unclear.
MAYA: Nick, you gotta learn to roll with things.
JUDGE: Miss Fey is right. We’re not going to waste any more time on this. Do you have your first witness, Miss Von Karma?
VON KARMA: The prosecution calls Phoenix Wright to the stand!
The courtroom bursts into chatter. The judge bangs his gavel.
Judge: Order! Order! I will have order! Mr. Wright, please take the stand.
Von Karma: Mr. Phoenix Wright. It is true that you became a defense attorney in order to help those who cannot help themselves, correct?
VON KARMA: I’d like to draw your attention, then, to Matt Engarde.
PHOENIX: Gulps M-Matt Engarde?
EDGEWORTH: That’s right. Now tell me: Is it true or untrue that you tried to get your client, Matt Engarde, a guilty verdict?
VON KARMA: …You’re the defendant, Mr. Wright, not the lawyer…in this scenario, anyway.
PHOENIX: …Oh yeah. Uh, about Engarde…I…tried to get a not-guilty verdict!
VON KARMA: Ha! A spirited but foolishly foolish response! I agree…you did. At first.
PHOENIX: Here it comes.
VON KARMA: But by the end of the trial, you KNEW Matt Engarde was guilty, did you not?
JUDGE: Answer the question, Mr. Wright!
VON KARMA: Did you, or did you not, try to get your client declared guilty after you learned this fact?
VON KARMA: Would you say this was the best possible outcome for your client at this point of the trial?
PHOENIX: No…no…I could probably have gotten a not guilty verdict.
VON KARMA: So! You admit it! You, Phoenix Wright, are a hypocrite! You don’t want to help your clients at all! You just want to feel morally superior!
The court breaks out into chatter again as the judge bangs his gavel.
JUDGE: Order! Order! This courtroom will have order! Now, Mr. Wright! I know you are in fact the witness, but as the defense attorney, I must ask: Do you have anything to say in response?
PHOENIX: Oh no! He’s absolutely right! What do I do…
Suddenly, a new voice appears. Phoenix turns towards Maya in surprise. She has been transformed via spirit channeling into his long-dead mentor, MIA FEY.
MIA: Phoenix, the answer is clear. Turn the question around.
PHOENIX: Around…what do you…?
MIA: What is the purpose of a prosecuting attorney?
The lightbulb clicks
PHOENIX: I have nothing to say, your honor. Everything the prosecution said is absolutely true.
Both the Judge and even Von Karma are shocked.
JUDGE: So…you admit your guilt?
PHOENIX: I didn’t say that. The defense would like to call…Miles Edgeworth to the stand!
JUDGE: Well, this is highly irregular! I am afraid I cannot see the relevance. The court will have to reje-
VON KARMA: No, your honor. Let the foolish fool try this desperate last ploy. My case is, of course, perfect. I will not pass this up this chance to defeat both Phoenix Wright AND Miles Edgeworth!
JUDGE: Well, if the prosecution is okay with this…I guess it’s fine.
MILES EDGEWORTH, a rather high class prosecutor who shares a long history with Phoenix, takes the stand.
PHOENIX: Thank you, your honor. Mr. Edgeworth! I have a question for you! Why did you start being a prosecutor!
EDGEWORTH: To punish criminals, of course.
PHOENIX: But is that why you’re a prosecutor now?
PHOENIX: What is your goal as a prosecutor right now?
EDGEWORTH: My goal is to find the truth, whatever it may be.
PHOENIX: I was hoping you’d say that. So you agree, then, that the truth is more important than the guilt or innocence of a particular client?
EDGEWORTH: Yes, I do.
VON KARMA: OBJECTION! The goal of the prosecutor is find the defendant guilty!
PHOENIX: OBJECTION! Mr. Edgeworth is correct! The goal of the prosecution is to find the CORRECT guilty party, not to railroad innocents!
VON KARMA: OBJECTION! But even if this was true – which I do not accept! – would not the defense attorney have a different role anyway?
PHOENIX: What are you getting at?
EDGEWORTH: I believe I understand the prosecution’s point. The prosecutor’s job is to bring the guilty to justice. We have a duty to the truth, but that is the role we play. Our duty is also to the court and the state. The defendant’s duty is to neither. It is to the client.
VON KARMA: Cracks whip. Phoenix yells in pain. Do I need to spell it out for you, Mr. Phoenix Wright? The guilty deserve representation as much as the innocent! Your job is not to be a detective hunting for the truth, but to help your client get the best possible outcome! THREFORE! By only defending the innocent when possible, and advocating for a guilty verdict when a not guilty is possible you, Phoenix Wright, have utterly failed in your duty as a defense attorney!
Phoenix gulps, but stays silent; he has no response.
JUDGE: This is an airtight argument, Miss Von Karma. In light of this, and with no response from the defense, the court declares Mr. Phoenix Wright GU –
EDGEWORTH: HOLD IT!
Everybody turns towards Edgeworth.
EDGEWORTH: I’m sorry, your honor. but Miss Von Karma is making a serious error!
JUDGE: Mr. Edgeworth, you are a witness, not the defense. I am afraid I can’t –
VON KARMA: No! Let the foolish fool speak! He amuses me. What error is this, Mr. Edgeworth?
PHOENIX: Is Edgeworth really throwing me a lifeline here?
EDGEWORTH: Miss Von Karma, you are trying to present several issues as if they are in tension with each other, when in fact they are nothing of the sort!
VON KARMA: And what do you mean by this?
EDGEWORTH: What I mean is that having the duty to seek the truth does not invalidate a duty to the client!
Once again it clicks in Phoenix’s head.
PHOENIX: Sorry to interrupt, Mr. Edgeworth. I believe I understand your point. Judge, let me ask you this: Is it ever – in any circumstance, ever – legal to lie in court?
Von Karma looks shocked; she realizes where Phoenix is going with this.
JUDGE: Even I can answer this one! Of course not.
PHOENIX: Exactly! Miss Von Karma! If I tried to convince the world my client is innocent, when I knew that they were guilty, that would be what?
VON KARMA: Still looking upset A…a lie!
PHOENIX: Looking triumphant. Exactly! Your honor! It is true I need to try and get my client the best POSSIBLE outcome! But a certain outcome is only legally POSSIBLE if I am not required to lie in court! Even attorneys are not compelled to break the law for their clients!
VON KARMA: Ob…objection!
JUDGE: A rather weak objection, Miss Von Karma.
VON KARMA: Strong enough for such a weak case! There is a contradiction in your testimonies…
PHOENIX: Aren’t I normally the one pointing those out?
VON KARMA: Earlier, you said that you could “probably have gotten a not-guilty verdict”, yet now you say that this was NOT a possible outcome. Explain yourself, Mr. Phoenix Wright!
PHOENIX: He has a confident grin on. Von Karma is on the ropes. Easily. I said I could have gotten as a not-guilty verdict, but only if I lied to the court! But as we have established, this is not permitted!
VON KARMA: Argh!
PHOENIX: And there’s more. The prosecution is making a seriously poor assumption here.
VON KARMA: And what is that?
PHOENIX: That you can only advocate for your client with a not-guilty! But this is false! Recall the case of Yanni Yogi!
EDGEWORTH: Smiling wryly I remember Mr. Yogi…
PHOENIX: I’m sure you do, Edgeworth. Yanni Yogi was declared innocent, but because his lawyer forced him to lie, his life was ruined as a result! His lawyer would have done better to stick with the truth!
VON KARMA: OBJECTION! She shakes her head, smiling. Some of that confidence is back. So sorry, Mr. Phoenix Wright. But your argument is that of a foolish fool after all.
VON KARMA: Yanni Yogi would have been declared guilty if not for this lie. He was innocent, but as you recall, my father was only convicted of the murder fifteen years later! If not for the work of his defense lawyer, Yogi would have been the prime suspect!
PHOENIX: Blanches in shock
VON KARMA: So sorry Mr. Wright, but unless you can prove to me that you did your defense a favor by advocating for their guilt, you’ll have to concede my point!
JUDGE: Well, Mr. Wright? Is there any piece of evidence you can show the court to change my mind? I am prepared to issue my verdict otherwise.
EDGEWORTH: Come now, Wright. This isn’t difficult. You should know exactly what to show the court.
PHOENIX: I should?
Phoenix thinks it over, then everything clicks. He digs through the court record, checking out profiles, until he finds the profile he needs: DE KILLER
PHOENIX: TAKE THAT!
JUDGE: Sorry, my memory is a little fuzzy. Who is that?
VON KARMA: She clearly realizes what is going on and gasps.
PHOENIX: This, your honor, is the assassin known as “De Killer”. Let me jog your memory. After De Killer was made aware of my client’s attempt to blackmail, he accepted my recommendation to plead guilty in exchange for his life! A guilty verdict was clearly the best possible outcome!
VON KARMA: N-no! Impossible!
PHOENIX: Furthermore! I would like to answer the prosecutor’s question from earlier. What is the role of a defense attorney! Specifically, what is the role of a defense attorney when defending a guilty client! Your honor, the role of a defense attorney is simply this….to keep the prosecution from making a mistake!
Even Edgeworth is surprised at this. Von Karma is angry, and starts whipping Phoenix.
VON KARMA: Ridiculous! Absurd! You’ve never said this before! Not once in these games have you ever brought this concept up!
PHOENIX: Ow! OWWWWWWW! Hold on a second! It’s true I’ve never said this, but that’s because I didn’t have to! Mr. Edgeworth said it himself!
EDGEWORTH: He looks confused for a second, then smiles Of course.
VON KARMA: And just what did that foolish fool foolishly blabber on about, Mr. Phoenix Wright?
PHOENIX: It’s this simple, Miss Von Karma! You and I are not enemies! In truth, it IS both of our jobs to seek the truth! I simply do it while representing my client, and you do it while representing the court! As long as we keep this in mind, I can do best by my client AND ensure the truth comes out with no contradiction at all!
VON KARMA: Ridiculous…absurd…
JUDGE: He shakes his head Quite the contrary, Miss Von Karma. Mr. Wright is precisely correct. Therefore, on the subject on if Phoenix Wright is hypocritical, and if the larger philosophy of the games is inconsistent, I find the defendant Mr. Phoenix Wright, and the series as a whole (well, the first couple of games anyway):
N O T G U I L T Y
Cheers ring out and confetti rains down in the courtroom.
I haven’t been active on Castalia, but that doesn’t mean I’ve disappeared! You can find my work on Pinkerton’s Ghosts, which airs every Friday at 7:00 EST and is currently in the middle of season 2, as well as every Sunday at 7:00 EST with my co-host Ben Wheeler on the Superversive Livestream. Check it out! I’ll probably post more Phoenix Wright content eventually.