ERIC Number: ED169600
Record Type: RIE
Publication Date: 1979-May
Reference Count: 0
The Alger Hiss Perjury Trials: A Dramatic Perspective on Legal Rhetoric.
Ritter, Kurt W.
The two Alger Hiss perjury trials of 1949 provide an opportunity to compare two different aspects of trial drama: courtroom drama and crime drama. Much recent scholarship on legal rhetoric has acknowledged the dramatic quality of courtroom communication, which results in part from the physical appearance of the courtroom and the style of language used. The dual quality of trial drama stems not only from the contest between the plots of the prosecution and the defense, but from the tension between the immediate courtroom scene and the distant scene of the crime. In the first Alger Hiss perjury trial, the prosecution focused on the testimony and truthfulness of Hiss's accuser, Whittaker Chambers, thus stressing the courtroom drama rather than the crime drama; the defense then attempted to discredit Chambers and portray Hiss as honorable. This trial resulted in a hung jury. In the second trial, the prosecution focused attention on the crime scene, agency, and act, rather than on the courtroom personalities of Hiss and Chambers. This shift in attention worked to Hiss' disadvantage, as the jury found him guilty. The examination of these trials suggests that an understanding of courtroom communication can be enhanced if rhetorical critics occasionally employ a dramatic perspective. (GT)
Publication Type: Opinion Papers; Speeches/Meeting Papers
Education Level: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A
Identifiers: Hiss (Alger)
Note: Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Eastern Communication Association (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, May 5-7, 1979)