It’s what everyone says they want – a pitbull on their side. I like pitbulls – they are intelligent, loving animals. However, that’s not the image that most people have in mind when thinking of lawyers or what they want – the picture that comes to mind is a vicious, dangerous killer that will not let go once it sets its teeth in. In the courtroom, this plays out as an attacking, caustic style, one I think is usually counterproductive.
The New York Times has a couple of pieces on the prosecutor in the Oscar Pistorious trial (I almost wrote Jaco Pastorius – he’s a different kind of killer), who has earned the nickname “Pit Bull.” His style has been described as “pugnacious” with “a reputation for abrasive, in-your-face cross-examination,” by turns “sarcastic, theatrical, skeptical and accusatory.” He has at times called the defendant a liar while testifying. Does this work?
I am working on an appeal from a DUI conviction. I enjoy reading other lawyers’ trial transcripts seeing what works and doesn’t and coming up with ideas for my own trials. In DC, first offense DUI defendants are not entitled to a jury trial, which can be frustrating as many judges will accept what police officers say as gospel, even when obviously “shading the truth” (that’s just a nice way of saying lying). Rarely, however, do I see an officer make it so obvious as the following when responding to questions about the procedures he followed in giving the Field Sobriety Tests:
A. Are we going to go back and forth with another smoke screen? . . . You know, we’re going to go back and forth with these smokescreen questions. I’m just going to tell you I don’t recall.
I was in court just before the Christmas break, waiting for a chance to talk to the clerk, and I got to see part of a colleague’s misdemeanor marijuana possession trial. I was very disheartened to see that when it came time for the DEA chemist’s testimony, the defense lawyer did not challenge her qualifications, did not challenge the identification of the seized evidence as marijuana, and did not cross-examine the chemist at all, not even to have the chemist at least list the procedures performed, etc. Continue reading
Posted in Criminal Law
Tagged DC, District of Columbia, Drug Cases, Evidence, Felonies, Jury Trials, Misdemeanors, Pre-trial, Scientific Evidence, Trial, Witnesses
In criminal trials, a defendant is judged by people who weren’t there, didn’t see what happened, and usually have little experience with the type of crime involved. What jury could resist testimony from someone who can definitively say that the defendant was guilty of the crime because they committed the crime together? The accomplice can say: “I was there, I know all the details of what happened because I participated in the crime. I’m sorry. The defendant was there and did this too.” The problem is that such testimony could be a lie motivated by the prospect of a more lenient sentence. For that reason, in Maryland, as well as in many other states, convictions may not rest only on the uncorroborated testimony of an accomplice. Watson v. State, 117 A.2d 549, 552 (Md. 1955), [WARNING: the facts of some of these cases are quite gruesome, especially Watson]. In this post, I will explore what is called the accomplice corroboration rule as it has been applied in Maryland. I want to explore a bit about what corroboration is required, what is an accomplice, etc.. Continue reading