Monday, June 21, 2010

Countdown to Trial

I've been a little slack blogging lately, and one of the reasons is that I've been getting ready for a murder trial that begins mid-July. It'll be my first as first chair (i.e. lead) so I'm trying to do plenty in advance, in the hope I can avoid many of those last-minute panics that always seem to happen at trial. I know I can't eliminate them all, I've tried too many cases to know that, so the trick is to minimize them.

I thought I'd share some of the things I've been doing, some of the things that have been taking me away from you. Here's a list, in no particular order:
  • watching videos from APD's car cameras at the scene (five of these, each about an hour long)
  • reading (again) all the written statements to make sure I know who saw what and when (ten or so of these)
  • watching recorded statements taken at APD HQ (three or four of these)
  • making and remaking my witness list, trying to pare it down to the essential witnesses so as to tell a cohesive story in a way that won't bore or frustrate the jury
  • meet with those witnesses in person, talk to them about the process. Right now, it looks like I'll have between 12 and 16 witnesses.
  • draft notices to the defense: I have to give them a list of all the people I intend to call at trial. I also have to let them know in a separate notice if I'm calling any expert witnesses (forensics-type stuff). I also have to give them a list of incidents I might want to bring in at trial relating to the defendant's conduct (a 404b "bad acts" notice).
  • other secretarial duties for the defense. Discovery rules are different in criminal cases to civil ones: as well as telling them who I will call as witnesses, I have to let them look at just about everything I have in terms of evidence. So I make copies of written and recorded statements, medical records, and show them the photos I have from the scene, the autopsy etc.
  • visiting the case detective at homicide and looking through everything he has, to make sure we have it all. I do this to reassure myself I have all the relevant evidence, that he's done all he can on the case (he did!), and to ensure there's nothing I should be showing the defense sitting in his file that I didn't know about.
  • filing notices with the court: if I want to use medical records or cell phone records, for example, I will make their admission as evidence a little more straightforward by filing them with the court in advance -- it's a way of showing they are accurate and reliable and therefore avoiding possible evidentiary objections.
Those are the things I've been doing these past few weeks, and still to come I have jobs like preparing my voir dire, final meetings with witnesses, writing out my direct examinations, and thinking about opening statement.

I've not tried a case all year but don't feel too rusty as I'm in court most days. And, oddly enough, after a "dry" five months I'm helping my chief try an aggravated assault case a week from today, so that will get me back into the swing of things.

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