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Sep 26, 2020

What happens in a criminal defense trial?

Cross Examination in Criminal Trials

Criminal trials are complex processes, and they can look a lot different than what you see on television. When most people watch the average show about criminal law, they see a contrived version of the trial. They see lawyers talking often, giving long speeches about morality and sometimes ignoring witnesses altogether. In the real world, when people go to trial, it is how the lawyers handle the witnesses that can determine the outcome of the case. An important tool in that process is the cross examination process. For people who have been accused of crimes and are looking to handle the situation in the way possible, getting the help of a lawyer who can handle himself during cross-examination is key.

What is cross examination?
Trials proceed through the questioning of witnesses. Even when there is a piece of physical evidence that needs to be introduced into the trial, it must be introduced through a witness on the witness stand. With this in mind, there are two ways that witnesses can be questioned. The direct examination is what happens when a lawyer is questioning a person he or she has called to the stand. For instance, if a prosecutor is trying to prove a murder case and he calls to the stand the eye witness, he would engage in a direct examination. A cross examination takes place when a lawyer is questioning a witness he or she did not call to the stand.

What makes cross examination different from direct examination?
One of the key differences between direct examination and cross examination is the type of questions allowed. In a direct examination, the lawyer asking the questions is not allowed to lead the witness. The witness must come up with her own answers without the lawyer providing a road map to get to those answers. In cross examination, those rules do not apply.

Even though the rules do not apply, most lawyers want to keep the answers on cross examination short and sweet. Many lawyers will ask questions that require only a one-word answer from the witness. If the witness is bound to say something harmful to the defense’s case, for instance, it is to ensure that the witness is only answering a carefully selected batch of questions that will help the defendant. Good lawyers utilize this skill to keep witnesses in line and ensure that cross examination can only help their clients.

Why is cross examination so important?
Cross examination has many critical purposes. For one, it gives the lawyer the opportunity to question the credibility of the witness. If a witness for the prosecution has given testimony that is highly damaging, it is the job of the lawyer to undermine the credibility that jurors might give to that witness. This can be done in many different ways, including through something called impeachment of the witness. Introducing statements the witness has made that contradict the trial testimony is a good way to get jurors questioning whether they should trust the witness’s judgment.

In addition to that, cross-examination may break down the witness. When a witness is being questioned under direct examination, they are often answering questions they have been coached to answer. There is little pressure in this scenario. Good defense lawyers like to go on the attack during cross examination, doing their absolute to make the witness look less settled on the stand. Skilled lawyers can make the process uncomfortable for the witness in hopes that the witness will say something that helps the case of the defendant.

Good criminal defense lawyers are always looking for ways to help their clients. Trials can feel like a war when the parties are going back and forth and when many witnesses are introduced. People who have been charged with crimes should put in due diligence to ensure they get the possible criminal defense lawyer. A good lawyer will view cross examination as the opportunity to get ahead in the case. They will view it as a chance to stand up for their client while the state is presenting damning evidence. People in search of criminal defense lawyers would be wise to select professionals who know what they are doing when the chance for cross examination comes about.

What is Evidence in a Criminal Trial?

In a criminal trial, it must be shown beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the crime that he or she is accused of committing. This is done by presenting evidence to a jury who will use it to render a verdict. Let’s take a closer look at what may be considered evidence.

Evidence Bolsters the Prosecution’s Claims

Anything that may validate the claims being made by a prosecutor could be considered evidence. For instance, if the defendant admits to committing the crime in question, that would generally be revealed at trial. Other forms of evidence include witness testimony or physical evidence from the scene of the crime. Physical evidence may also include the use of DNA to connect a defendant to a crime or forensics work such as wiping a car for prints.

Not All Evidence Is Accepted in Court

For evidence to be used as part of a case against a defendant, it must be collected properly. It must also be handled properly after it is collected to ensure that there are no doubts about who it belonged to or who used it to commit a crime. In the event that a search was conducted illegally or a witness statement was obtained illegally, it generally cannot be used to convict an individual.

New Evidence May Allow Old Cases To Be Retried

Typically, an individual cannot be tried twice for the same crime. In other words, if a defendant is acquitted of a charge, he or she won’t be prosecuted again for the same charge. However, if new evidence is found, it may be enough to support new charges or enough to connect that person to another crime that he or she can be tried for.

Evidence From Other Crime Scenes May Be Used If Relevant

It is possible that an individual could be charged, tried and convicted of a crime based on evidence found at another crime scene. For instance, authorities may notice that DNA found on a murder victim matches that of a known criminal who is wanted for allegedly committing other offenses. As long as the evidence is collected properly and is relevant to the case a prosecutor is trying, it will generally be admissible in court.

Some Evidence May Be Used to Build a Case Even If It Cannot Be Produced

In some cases, evidence may be damaged or destroyed either in the commission of a crime or afterward in an attempt to conceal it. However, it may be possible to use a computer simulation or some other form of reconstruction to give insight into how a crime may have been committed. A judge may need to sign off on the use these alternate techniques, and it may give the defense a reason to appeal any guilty verdict a jury may render.

Expert Witnesses May Provide Context

An expert witness in a case is unique in the fact that he or she did not actually see any crime occur. This person generally doesn’t know either party in the case, and it is doubtful that he or she has had any direct contact with a medical examiner or police detective.

Instead, an expert witness reviews the evidence gathered in the case and makes conclusions based on his or her knowledge of a particular field. For instance, a gun expert may tell the jury whether it was likely that a particular weapon was used in the commission of a crime or how it may have been used.

Counsel for the defense may use such a witness to create doubt while a prosecutor will use such a witness to remove doubt. However, it will ultimately be up to the jury to determine how credible they find an expert to be.

If you are accused of a crime, it is important that you talk with an attorney. He or she may review the evidence in the case to determine the way to protect your rights. It is important to know that you have no obligation to talk to police or any other person without your lawyer present.

What are the speedy trial time limitations in New York?

Except as otherwise shown, any motion that’s been made has to be granted wherever the people aren’t ready for trial within the following circumstances:

  • Six months of the beginning of criminal action, where a defendant’s been accused of one or more offenses, at least one of which being a felony.
  • Ninety days of the beginning of criminal action, where a defendant’s been accused of one or more offenses, at least one of which being a misdemeanor that’s punishable by imprisonment of more than three months, none of which being a felony.
  • Sixty days of the beginning of criminal action, where the defendant’s been accused of one or more offenses, at least one of which being a misdemeanor that’s punishable by imprisonment of not more than three months, none of which being a crime punishable by imprisonment of more than three months.

When must a defendant be released under these provisions?

Except where a defendant’s been committed to the sheriff’s custody in a criminal action, he needs to be released on bail upon such conditions if the people aren’t ready for a trial for the crime within:

When can a motion be denied?

A motion made may be denied when the people aren’t ready for trial, if the people were ready for trial before the expiration of the specified period, or if their un-readiness was because of the unavailability of evidence for the people’s case, or when the DA has exercised due diligence to obtain the evidence and there are reasonable grounds to believe that said evidence will be available in a reasonable period of time.

Along with this, in computing the time during which the people must be ready for trial, the following periods have to be excluded:

  • A reasonable delay period that results from other proceedings, including proceedings for competency determination, as well as the period during which the defendant is incompetent to stand trial. Also, demand to produce, any request for bill of particulars, pre-trial motions, appeals, as well as a trial of other charges, and lastly the period during which these matters are under consideration by the court.
  • The delay period that results from continuance granted by the court at the request of the defendant or their counsel. The court has to grant such continuance only if it’s determined that postponement is in the interest of justice, taking into account of course the public interest. A defendant without counsel needs to not be deemed as to having consented to a continuance unless they’ve been advised by the court of their rights under these rules, as well as the effect of his consent.
  • The delay period that results from the absence or unavailability of the defendant. A defendant needs to be considered absent whenever his location is not known and he’s attempting to avoid apprehension or else prosecution, or if his location can’t be determined with due diligence. A defendant needs to be considered unavailable whenever his location’s known, but however his presence for trial can’t be obtained by due diligence.

Reasonable Doubt in Criminal Defense Trials

In a criminal trial, a defendant must be proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. This is true regardless of what the crime is, who the defendant is or where the trial is taking place. Let’s take a look at how this standard can impact both the defense and the prosecution during a trial.

Juries Must Generally Return Unanimous Verdicts

In almost all criminal cases, a jury must vote unanimously to convict someone. Therefore, if even a single person believes that the defendant is not guilty, it could result in a hung jury. This could create the need for a retrial, and a prosecutor may not always choose to try a case again. This is one reason why both the defense and the prosecution carefully review the jury pool before one is seated. In some cases, simply creating doubt among a juror or two is enough for a defense lawyer to get a victory or a plea bargain in a case.

The Prosecution May Have to Throw Some Charges Out

If there isn’t enough evidence to prove all the charges that a person faces in court, it may be necessary for a prosecutor to drop one or more of them. Sometimes, it means throwing out all the charges until more evidence can be found to support them. Therefore, just having such a high threshold to clear in court makes prosecutors more selective in the cases that they try.

This may be true even if the person who is accused of a crime appears guilty based on the information available. When prosecutors must be selective about the cases that they try may prevent innocent people from going to jail or having a criminal record.

Confusing Witness Testimony Could Shift a Case

There is plenty of research that suggests the human memory isn’t as reliable as we think it is. Therefore, it is possible that a person could tell police one thing at the scene of the crime and tell a different story in court. For instance, a witness could say that he or she saw a black man steal a car and then say it was just a man wearing black. Although other evidence may corroborate the original statement given to police, it could provide the defense an opening to create doubt and perhaps create a hung jury.

A Prosecutor May Be More Willing to Discuss a Plea

Prosecutors have many good reasons why they would want to offer a plea deal in a case. First, it goes on that person’s record as a conviction, and that may be helpful when it comes to staying employed for the long-term. It may also be beneficial to the prosecutor and to the defendant because it resolves the case without wasting time or taxpayer dollars.

However, one of the most common reasons why a prosecutor offers a plea is because the evidence may be too thin to go to trial with. If the accused is facing a long sentence should he or she be convicted, it may be better to plea to 10 years in prison as opposed to taking a life sentence if convicted.

Plea bargains may also be beneficial for those accused of crimes because it may allow them to avoid jail even after pleading guilty. In some cases, they get credit for time served and walk away a free man or woman after sentencing.

Without the high bar that prosecutors must clear to win their cases, there may be fewer plea bargains. With fewer plea bargains, the jails and court dockets may be even more crowded, which does not go over well with many judges.

The burden of proof in a criminal case is high for a reason. If an individual is convicted, he or she could face jail time, probation or other penalties that may appear on background checks for years to come. In addition to legal consequences, a conviction could have personal and professional consequences for a person. Therefore, it is important that everyone has due process and is presumed innocent until proven guilty to preserve the integrity of the justice system.

What is the Rebuttal Phase of a Criminal Trial?

If you’ve been arrested and charged with a criminal offense, you’re going to stand trial if you choose not to accept a plea bargain or one is not offered to you. This is a serious accusation, and it might come complete with a rebuttal phase. Criminal trials are not to be taken lightly. The accused person is facing trial against the state or government, and the prosecuting attorney is doing everything in his or her power to ensure the person facing trial is found guilty by the jury. The prosecutor wants a guilty charge issued, and they’ll stop at nothing to prove their case. Your trial has several different stages. The prosecutor is permitted to provide evidence and speak to witnesses. Your attorney is permitted to the same. Both are permitted to discuss their own questions with the opposing counsel’s witnesses, and the prosecutor is offered something called a rebuttal phase.

What is the Rebuttal Phase of a Criminal Trial?

This is a phase that’s important to understand. It occurs following the completion of the defense attorney and prosecuting attorney’s cases. The prosecution is given this time to respond to what happened when the defense took the stage. It’s precisely what it sounds like. It’s the prosecutors chance for rebuttal following the defense attorneys case. This means the prosecutor has a chance to ask questions, to find out what something means, to argue his case against the defense attorney, and to try and bring the case back around to his way of seeing.

The biggest issue in this phase of a criminal trial is the prosecutor can bring in new witnesses not previously declared. In other parts of the trial, both counsels must provide a list of their witnesses and there are no surprises allowed. When the rebuttal phase begins, there are all kinds of surprises possible, and it’s rarely good for the defendant.

Typically, a prosecutor uses this time to discredit the evidence provided by the defense. If the defense offers an alibi, the prosecutor has the chance to say this is not true and provide his or her own evidence as to why. It’s not foolproof, but it can work to the favor of the state. If the jury is not convinced the defendant is innocent, they might decide on a guilty verdict.

On the opposite side of the same spectrum is the benefit of this phase. It might be precisely what the defense needs to make sure the jury isn’t sure. The purpose of a jury in a criminal case is to find the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. If the prosecutor casts doubt onto his own case trying to discredit that of the defense, it works to the defense’s favor. The jury night not be able to honestly say the defendant is guilty beyond the shadow of a doubt.

Rebuttal and the Defense

There is a chance for the defense to speak during the rebuttal phase. If the prosecutor brings out new witnesses, the defense attorney does have a right to discuss the case with him or her by cross-examining the new witness. The downfall is the defense attorney doesn’t have ample time to come up with questions, to discuss the options they have, or to do any research on this person. They can only ask questions when given an opportunity, and that sometimes works to the prosecution’s case.

The rebuttal phase of a criminal trial is imperative to the outcome of any case. If you are being accused of a crime you feel you did not commit or should not be punished for, it’s time to call an attorney before you go to trial. Having someone on your side to represent you when the law allows for so many instances you’re unfamiliar with is helpful. Your case is stronger when you have a defense attorney on your side. Our knowledge of the law allows us to help your case by either getting you off completely, negotiating a plea bargain, or by reducing the terms of your sentencing. Let us help you when you need it the most in life.

What is the Judgement of Acquittal in a Criminal Trial?

This article is by Joel Farar, a premier Los Angeles Car Accident Lawyer. During a criminal trial, it is possible for the defense to believe the prosecution does not have sufficient evidence to convict their client. They may feel the evidence presented by the prosecution does not meet the standard for the defendant to have been charged with a crime. In this situation, the defendant’s attorney may file a motion for judgment of acquittal. A judge could agree with the defendant’s attorney and grant the motion. If this happens, the defendant is acquitted and can no longer be charged with the crimes mentioned in the motion.

When to File Motion
A motion for judgment of acquittal is often presented to a judge when the prosecution rests its case. At this time, the defense has had a chance to see the evidence and how the prosecution presents their case. A judge will review the motion and make a determination whether to approve or deny it at a time they think is appropriate.

Sufficiency of the Evidence
The standard that must be met for a motion of acquittal to be successful is very strict. The evidence must not be sufficient to provide for a fair verdict against the defendant. It will be the job of the judge to determine if the evidence presented by the prosecution would cause a reasonable juror to determine beyond a reasonable doubt the defendant is guilty. If a judge feels this is possible, they will deny the motion. Should a judge conclude that a reasonable juror would have reasonable doubt about the evidence presented, and the prosecution’s case, the judge may approve the motion. This is a high standard to obtain. As a result, it is very difficult for a criminal court to grant a motion for judgment of acquittal. It has happened in some situations where the prosecution’s case against a defendant is based on witness testimony. When testimony of the witness is absolutely incredible and absolutely unbelievable, the motion is often granted.

When Judges Rule
The judge in a criminal case does not have to immediately rule on the motion for judgment of acquittal. They do have the ability to determine when they will provide their decision. Should the prosecution not have sufficient evidence, the judge could quickly grant the motion. The judge could also not provide a ruling until all of the evidence in the trial has been presented by both sides. It is possible for the defense to provide evidence to support their motion. A judge is also able to not provide a ruling on the motion for judgment of acquittal until after the jury has reached its verdict.

Double Jeopardy
Protection against a defendant’s right against double jeopardy is part of a motion for judgment of acquittal. This means that the prosecution is not able to try the defendant again for a crime where they’ve been acquitted. Once a judge approves a motion for judgment of acquittal, the prosecution can’t appeal this decision. It is possible for the prosecution to appeal such a decision only if the motion is granted after a jury renders its verdict. In this case, should the prosecution’s appeal be granted, there would be no need for a retrial. The court would simply reinstate the verdict rendered by the jury.

Judge’s Considerations
When a judge is considering a motion for judgment of acquittal, they must carefully consider the evidence. In a court trial, there is a difference between direct and circumstantial or indirect evidence. The judge must consider all the evidence from the perspective of what is most favorable to the prosecution. They must then determine if there is sufficient direct evidence to answer certain questions of fact. It needs to be considered if the evidence is appropriate for a jury to reach a reasonable conclusion of guilt or innocence. If there is almost no direct evidence or the direct evidence provided by the prosecution is so minimal that no reasonable jury could determine guilt, the motion for judgment of acquittal may be granted.

Challenge
It is understood that to have a motion for judgment of acquittal granted is a real challenge. Most judges involved with criminal cases do not like to be on record as having interfered with the jury process. They also do not like to approve such a motion where the accumulation of additional evidence could lead to a defendant’s conviction. This type of motion is denied many more times than it is granted.

How does jury deliberation work in New York?

Not too many served as jurors, let alone jurors in a criminal case. While most people are familiar with the idea of jury trial, the actual process by which jurors make their decision is a mystery for most as it is rarely shown in media, movies, TV, etc. However, jury deliberation is a very important part of the legal process and in New York, it is controlled by New York Criminal Procedure Law, which is explained below.

Jury Deliberation: Requirement, Where it’s Conducted

Following the court’s charge, the jury must retire to deliberate on its verdict in a place outside the courtroom. It has to be provided with suitable accommodations and must be continuously kept together under the supervision of a court officer or court officers. In the event that a court officer or court officers aren’t available, the jury will deliberate under the supervision of an appropriate public servant or servants. Except when authorized by the court, or else when performing administerial duties in regards to the jurors, these court officers or public servants, as the case may be, can not speak to or communicate with them or allow anyone else to do so.

At any time after the jury’s been charged or commenced its deliberations, and after notice to the parties and giving the parties an opportunity to be heard on the record outside of the jury’s presence, the court can declare the deliberations are in recess and can direct the jury to suspend its deliberations and separate for a reasonable period of time to be specified by the court, not exceeding twenty-four hours, except in the case of a Saturday, Sunday, or even a holiday, this separation can extend beyond a twenty-four hour period. Before each recess, the court has to admonish the jury and direct it not to resume its deliberations until all of the twelve jurors have reassembled in the designated place at the end of the declared recess.

Jury Deliberation: Use of Exhibits and Other Material

On retiring to deliberate, the jurors can take with them any exhibits they received in evidence at the trial that the court, after giving the parties an opportunity to be heard on the matter, in its discretion allows them to take, a written list prepared by the court that contains the crimes submitted to the jury by the court in its charge and the possible verdicts. Whenever the court submits two or more counts charging crimes as set forth in the same article of the law, the court can set the dates, names of complainants, or specific statutory language, without defining any of the terms, by which the counts can be distinguished; provided of course, however, that the court will instruct the jury that the sole purpose of the notations is to distinguish between the counts, and lastly a written list that’s been prepared by the court which contains the names of every witness whose testimony has been presented throughout the trial, if the jury requests this list and the court, in its discretion, determines that such a list will assist the jury.

Jury Deliberation: Request for Information

At any time during its deliberation, the jury can request the court for further instruction or information in regards to the law, in regards to the content or substance of any trial evidence, or in regards to any other matter that’s considered to be pertinent to the jury’s consideration of the case. On such a request, the court has to direct that the jury be returned to the courtroom and, after notice to both the people as well as counsel for the defendant, and in the presence of the defendant, have to give such requested information or instruction as the court will deem proper. With the consent of the parties, and on the request of the jury for further instruction in regards to a statute, the court can also give to the jury copies of the text of any statute which the court deems proper in its discretion.

While the letter of the law can at times seem complicated or confusing, it doesn’t always have to be.

What happens in a criminal defense trial?

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