A witness’s testimony can make or break your criminal case. Oftentimes, prosecutors have a number of witnesses lined up to testify against an accused individual, which can seem pretty daunting as a defendant. Prosecutors then leverage this hesitancy on the defendant’s part to secure a plea deal that results in conviction and the imposition of penalties. Plea deals aren’t always a bad thing. After all, a plea deal might be your best option under the circumstances. However, you shouldn’t cut yourself short without first thoroughly analyzing your criminal defense options and strategies. You might be surprised at how far you can get with some well-developed legal maneuvering.
Addressing witness credibility
One criminal defense tactic that you might have your disposal is attacking witness credibility. If you can successfully attack witness credibility, especially for those witnesses whose testimony is key to the prosecution’s case, then you might be able to sow enough doubt in the minds of the judge and jury to obtain an acquittal. But how do you go about attacking credibility? Here are a few ways:
- Prior inconsistent statements: This is the classic way of attack credibility, oftentimes referred to as impeachment. Here, you essentially call out a witness for giving testimony during trial that is different than statements that were previously made. These previous statements can come from anywhere, but the impeachment is much more powerful if the inconsistent statement was made during a deposition, which is sworn testimony given outside of court prior to trial. Since both deposition and trial testimony are given under oath, an inconsistency can show that the witness can’t be trusted to tell the truth. So, before going to trial, you might want to depose critical witnesses, know what they’ve said in the past, and anticipate what they’ll say at trial.
- Bias: In some instances, it’s clear that a witness has a bias against the defendant. These biases can be racially motivated, of course, but there may be other biases such as being paid to testify for the state or even having a bad relationship with the defendant prior to the alleged incident. You’ll want to highlight these issues at trial to show the judge and jury that their testimony is tainted.
- Extrinsic motivation: Some witness may be motivated by something to testify against you. The most common example is when an alleged co-conspirator testifies against a defendant in exchange for a favorable plea deal or even immunity. You can oftentimes learn of these motivating factors during discovery, but be sure to raise the matter at trial.
- Prior criminal convictions: Some witnesses for the prosecution have sketchy backgrounds. Although you might not be able to use everything mar in a witness’s past to attack his or her credibility, you might be able to use certain criminal convictions. In order to be allowed by the court to use these convictions, though, they must have met certain qualifications or involved a crime of dishonesty, like fraud. Therefore, you’ll want to research the prosecution’s witnesses so that you know their background and how to use it to your advantage.
Be prepared to rehabilitate your own witnesses
While attacking the credibility of the prosecution’s witnesses is important in your criminal case, the prosecution is going to do the same thing to your witnesses. Therefore, you need to be prepared to halt improper impeachment and rehabilitate your witnesses as needed. Oftentimes this is as simple as allowing the witness to provide context to a statement or explain an inconsistency.
In the end, witness credibility is just one piece of your criminal case that needs to be competently handled. There are a whole host of other issues that may be key to your case that also need a skilled hand. That’s why those in the Sonoma and Napa County areas who have been charged with a criminal defense might find it beneficial to work closely with a criminal defense attorney who can help them fight for a just outcome.