Monday, November 30, 2009

And it's all done in a week...

I used to practice civil law where the trial prep took months and was astonishingly laborious and in almost every case, frankly, unnecessary. At the D.A.'s office, and in criminal law generally, we have less time (150 cases each will do that to you) to get ready and, well, no one is paying us $500 an hour.

If someone wants to, they can, of course. I'm not proud. Or wealthy.

But in the meantime, I'll do it the way I usually do it. How is that? you ask. Thanks for asking. Here's the usual progression, the steps necessary for getting ready for trial:

Subpoena lay witnesses - this is a pretty simple process as we have forms ready to go, though I do have to insert the witness's name and address and make sure the trial date is correct. Then it goes to my secretary who files it with the clerk, and then to my investigator who serves it on the witness. I try to do this a few weeks in advance, when I already know that my witness will be available.

Subpoena police witnesses - super easy, as we have a great APD liaison to whom we give the subpoenas for service. We're supposed to give them at least ten days notice, which I try to abide by.

Give notice to the defense - there are a couple of notices we always end up providing to the defense. The first is a list of the witnesses we intend to call at trial, both fact witnesses and experts. The second is a "bad acts" notice. Essentially, it's a listed compilation of the defendant's prior criminal history, whether convictions or not, and other mean things he has done. We provide this in case we want to use those issues either in trial or, more usually, during the punishment phase. If we don't give notice, we can't use them. Simple rule.

Meet with witnesses - at some point we have to winnow down our list of potential witnesses to those we intend to call at trial. Most of those we will meet with in person, particularly the victim (several times probably) and the key fact witnesses. Some witnesses, for example cops or the fingerprint people, we can talk to over the phone because a pre-existing relationship or their experience on the witness stand gives us a comfort level such that we don't need to meet them face-to-face.

Prepare exhibits - this can include putting exhibit stickers on photos (after choosing which photos we plan to use) to carefully editing videos. We edit videos for several reasons, and for those law-skeptics among you, not for the reasons you are thinking! In fact, the most common reason is to cut out statements the defendant has made implicating himself in other crimes, or mentioning his criminal history.
It's surprisingly common for a newly-arrested suspect to make reference to his own criminal history. For example in a DWI arrest the defendant might say, "Please don't arrest me, I already have five DWIs and this time I'll go to prison," or "You're just arresting me because I'm on parole for burglary." We edit those out because any defense lawyer is going to object to their coming into evidence as likely to prejudice a jury, and a good judge would uphold that objection.

Prepare direct examinations - this process is helpful for playing out the trial in my mind. I envision the witness on the stand and go through his or her story from start to finish. I also make sure I have questions to ensure the elements of my indictment are proven.

Prepare my voir dire - I will try and talk to the jury about issues relevant to my case, which takes some thinking about. Do I need to address the CSI effect? Do I need to talk to the jury about a case containing witnesses of questionable background (usually, yes)?

(And I promise, it's not all done in a week.)

1 comment:

  1. Slacker. On TV it's all done in an hour, less time for commercials. ;)


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