CASE AND TRIAL PREPARATION
Regional Police Academy
1 Preparation for trial begins when an officer first receives a call that results in an arrest and subsequent Court testimony. Every call should be handled anticipating eventual Court testimony.
The primary purpose of a police investigation –
a. Identification and Apprehension of persons suspected violating laws of the State and the Community.
Why is testifying in Court a major part of the investigators job?
a. The presentation of the evidence in a Court of law marks the final step taken by the police in a given case.
b. The quality and quantity of evidence as well as the effectiveness of its presentation serves as a major test of the completeness of the investigative efforts of the police.
2. Case preparation begins at the moment arrives at the scene of a crime. Preparing an adequate case for Court -
a. Documenting everything of significance that takes place during an investigation.
b. Prepare a condensed prosecution report.
c. Helping prepare any witnesses for the trial.
d. Preparing him or her self to face the Judge, jury and defense attorney.
officer should diligently keep notes in a notebook when he or she handles a
complex case. Thorough notes will assist the officer in remembering information
even if the case does not come to trial for a long time after the event. Do not
trust your memory -most persons cannot recall facts such as dates, times,
weather conditions, distances and measurements without referring to notes. If
all of this information is in your report you may testify from it at trial. If
you keep separate notes the defense attorney may have the right to inspect the
officers notes if he is using them to testify from. Be careful not to include
information which might confuse the case or impeach the
officer's testimony in the eyes of the jury.
THE PROSECUTION REPORT
Every officer should prepare a condensed by concise outline of the case based on all of the officers reports. This report should be prepared on every arrest where the matter will be formally presented by a prosecuting attorney. Primarily used with felony cases. The report should cover the following basic information:
a. Defendant's name. Indicate last first, and middle name of the defendant.
b. Sex, race, date of birth. Self-explanatory.
c. Complaint number. Include the complaint number.
d. Charge. Show offense(s) defendant is charged with.
e. City or state. Indicating jurisdiction where the charge is filed.
f. Arrest number. Show department arrest number.
g. Date occurred. Show date offense occurred.
h. Attachments. Indicate documents and reports provided to prosecutor with this report.
i. Date/time arrested.
j. Location of arrest. Identify the exact location of the arrest.
k. Original charge. Show charge originally placed if different than item above.
l. Officer who may testify. List the officer(s) in best position to testify as to the circumstances of the arrest or investigation.
m. Codefendants. If there are codefendants. list their names with charge, sex, race, and DOB.
n. Complainant -witnesses. List other parties involved in matter as outlined.
o. Narrative. Complete this item.
p. Complaint number. The complaint number will be entered in the lower right-hand corner of the report as a method of double-checking the number for correctness and to facilitate filing.
Witnesses need to be familiarized with the court procedures. Witnesses who testify in court without being prepared are at a disadvantage. As a police officer you should explain to the witnesses that if they are called to testify that they will probably be subject to cross-examination by the defense attorney. The officer should explain common defense tactics such as attempts to confuse, insult or embarrass witnesses. This may cause the witness to lose their composure and discredit their own testimony. In front of a jury a witness never wants to get into an argument with an attorney. Witnesses have no obligation to discuss the case with the defendant or his attorney before the case goes to trial. However, an officer should not tell state witnesses not to discuss the case with the defense.
CONFERRING WITH THE PROSECUTOR
It is important for the police and the prosecution to work together. A prosecutor is relying on your investigative techniques and skills. The police rely on the skills of the prosecutor in handling legal issues. The police officer should always consult with the prosecutor prior to the Court proceeding in order to clear up any discrepancies and to allow the prosecutor to determine what the officer can testify to. As a police officer you may be able to supply the prosecutor with information about the personalities and characteristics of the parties involved. After the Court proceeding is concluded, an officer may discuss with the prosecutor some things that would make for better case preparation in the future.
Personal appearance in a Courtroom is essential. People form impressions based on personal appearance. The officer should present himself as clean, neat and concerned about the details of his appearance. A good physical appearance may add greater credibility to the officer's testimony.
An officer should convey an impression that his appearance is an important duty from the moment he takes the stand. After taking the oath and being seated in the witness chair, an officer should sit with both feet on the floor, hands in his lap or on the chair arms. Any movements or sounds that may distract the jury's attention from the testimony may be detrimental to the case.
Direct and Cross Examination. The prosecution presents its case during direct examination. This is normally when the officer will be called to testify. The officer should be prepared to state his name and occupation. The officer should be polite, courteous, humble and honest. Do not answer questions you do not understand. Carefully consider your answer before answering the question. Be sure to speak loud enough so the entire jury can hear. The witness should look directly at the attorney asking the questions. If there is no jury the answers to the questions should be directed to the counsel asking the question. If there is a jury present, the officer should speak to the jury when answering the questions, not to the attorney. It is best to not volunteer information. If there is a point you have missed, the prosecutor, if he feels it is important information, will ask the question in a different way. If after leaving the stand you wish to inform the prosecutor of an important point he has failed to make, you may write a note and pass it to the prosecutor. At that time the prosecutor will determine whether it is sufficiently important to recall you to the stand. Opposing counsel may make objections based on the rules of evidence. When an objection is made, you must stop until the Court has ruled on the objection. Pausing a moment before answering a question will help the prosecutor formulate an objection. When being questioned by defense counsel, the pause gives the prosecutor time to think of their objection and prevents you from blurting out an answer that may be objected to. Once the jury has heard an answer it is difficult for them to disregard it. Never guess about the answer to a question, if you do not know, you may simply say "I do not know." If you do not remember, you may say, "I do not recall." An officer may not testify as to conclusions or opinions unless they are a qualified expert witness. Testimony using the terms such as "I think," "I believe," and "in my opinion," may be improper if the officer is not qualified as an expert.
1. Prepare the case completely and thoroughly. Make complete notes of facts and evidence at the scene. The officer should use these notes to refresh his memory for the trial.
2. Appear on time for the trial or hearing. Personal conduct and physical appearance should be exemplary.
3. On the witness stand, take a position that provides a full view of the courtroom. Sit erect and still, speak in a conversational voice to the jury and in tones and language that they can hear and understand.
4. Answer all questions truthfully and honestly. Do not "editorialize" or offer information. Answer specifically the questions asked. Do not hesitate to say you don't know an answer or that you don't understand the question. Be confident in responses. During cross-examination, pause after questions to give the prosecutor time to offer any appropriate objection.
5. Do not argue with defense counselor allow yourself to be badgered. Remain calm and polite regardless of the tactics used by defense.
6. Tell the facts as known. The best testimony is frank, honest, and impersonal.
7. Do not allow personal feelings to enter into testimony. It is difficult to work hard for a long time on a case and not have feelings about it. However, allowing personal feelings or prejudices to color testimony is both improper and potentially damaging. An officer must continually strive to be a better witness and evaluate and improve his testimony.
There are a number of tactics that a defense attorney may use during cross-examination. An officer should be familiar with how to handle these.
1. Rapid fire questions. In an attempt to confuse the witness or force inconsistent answers a defense attorney may ask one question right after another. An officer should take time and be deliberate in answering. If necessary, have the attorney repeat the question. Do not allow the defense attorney to set the pace of the testimony.
2. Friendly counsel. Often a defense attorney will be very polite and courteous in order to lull the witness into a false sense of security. Remember, you and the defense attorney are not on the same side. Do not be led into giving an incorrect answer based on the apparent "friendliness" of the opposing counsel.
3. Badgering, belligerent. A defense attorney may pick a fight with you on the stand. He is attempting to get you to lose your cool in front of the jury. Do not allow this to happen -stay calm and speak slowly so that the prosecutor may make the appropriate objection.
4. Mispronouncing officer's name, using wrong rank. In attempt to draw your attention away from the primary issues, the questions may be asked with obvious errors in them. Ignore these attempts and concentrate on the question that is being asked.
5. Suggestive question. Often a defense attorney will ask a question which suggests the answer. Be careful with what you agree to. In addition, a prosecutor may ask you a question making an error in a date or a time, don't overlook these routine questions, pay attention to the details before you agree. Example -Municipal Court.
6. Demanding a "yes" or "no" answer. Often a defense attorney will ask you a question which requires an explanation but will insist on a "yes" or "no" answer. If this happens, attempt to explain your answer. It the attorney objects, the Court will make a ruling.
7. Reversing the witness's words. Listen intently whenever opposing counsel repeats something back to you to be sure they have not deliberately said something incorrect.
8. Repetitious questions. Often a defense attorney will ask the same question phrased slightly different over and over. This is a basis for an objection by the prosecutor. Listen carefully and pause to allow the prosecutor to make an objection.
9. Conflicting answers. Oftentimes witnesses may testify in what appears to be a conflicting manner. Often times these will be on matters that are not even important to the main facts of the case. Do not get upset by inconsistencies but be careful that you are correct about your measurements, times, etc. Use the word approximately when necessary in order to avoid getting trapped.
10. Staring. Often a defense attorney will stare after you have answered a question as if you should have something more to say. In this case, wait for the next question.