Nury Vittachi

When police arrested a man for drug possession, he claimed that the illegal substances were not his. This would have been fine except for the fact that they were found up his bottom.

It was a risky defence and judges in the US state of Pennsylvania speedily rejected it in a court case reported on January 2, making it the first 2018 entry for this column's file of Dumb Criminal Cases.

It reminded me of a case in Hong Kong some years ago when a shoplifter claimed ignorance of stolen food in his underwear. "When you have a tin of fish in your underpants, you know about it," the magistrate said.

Criminals really can be like children when it comes to using excuses that are doomed to fail. For example, all parents are familiar with the reasons kids come up with to explain why they needn't go to school any more. BOY: "I have decided to become a pirate instead." GIRL: "Silly Daddy, mermaids don't go to school!"

Then there are the kids' excuses for getting out of bed at night. ME: "Hey! It's 10 o'clock! What are you doing up?" CHILD: "I'm not up. This is a dream."

But of course it's in lawsuits that bad defence strategies have life-changing effects. This columnist, who used to be a court reporter, recalls the case of a Hong Kong prostitute who told judges that she only stole a man's watch because she felt greatly insulted after he offered her money for the hour they'd spent in bed. Great excuse -- for any profession except the one she had chosen.

Yet there are cases where a ridiculous defence works. In Ohio in 2002, a woman explained to a court that the murder she had committed should be disregarded since The Matrix movie showed that we were all living in a computer simulation anyway. The jury found her not guilty -- not because they agreed with what she said, but because confusing fiction with real life was evidence of a "severe mental defect".

If that's true, then half of humanity has a severe mental defect. This columnist's wife used to live in London's Baker Street, the address of fictional detective Sherlock Holmes, and there was no end of visitors "to see where he lived".

In TV commercials in Japan, a cartoon Sailor Moon girl tells you to eat a certain brand of potato soup like she does. Apparently this works. At no point do consumers think: Wait. How can a 2D cartoon character eat potato soup?

A Sailor Moon girl also appears in a TV ad in Malaysia, dreaming about buying a Ford Fusion motor car. (I thought she could fly?) Clearly Malaysian adults think: "Hmm, whose advice should I take on automobile handling and performance? A non-existent cartoon character might be an ideal choice."

But going back to the subject of excuses which unexpectedly work, this writer once had an Indian colleague whose reason for missing a meeting was so cheeky that it left our boss speechless. "Sorry I missed yesterday's meeting," the colleague said. "I went out for lunch and forgot to come back."