A Key Witness
In criminal trials, both sides (the prosecution and the defendant) can produce witnesses to provide information (testimony) relevant to the case. In many cases, the prosecuting attorney will call the arresting officer as a witness. Indeed, the arresting officer is sometimes the most pivotal witness in the case. That being said, they play a very important role.
Reviewing the Facts
Once called as a witness, the prosecuting attorney will ask the officer a series of questions about the information in the police report. Typically, this will include the reason for the arrest (i.e. establishing probable cause) and a review of what the officer witnessed. For example, the officer might be questioned about what you said during the arrest, what evidence was found with you, where you were, and other similar facts and circumstances. In general, the prosecuting attorney will use the police report as a prompt for the questioning, so the information the officer provides may already be available to all parties. But having an officer stand up and provide testimony in court establishes authority and allows the officer to provide additional information that may not have been included in the police report. Sometimes these small details make all the difference.
It's important to understand the role of the arresting officer in a criminal trial because it's a crucial one. Remember; police officers are just doing their job. They are humans and make mistakes, too. Accordingly, it is important to question any information the officer provides that isn't entirely true and question his or her credibility if applicable. These steps can result in a case outcome that is favorable to you.
Questioning the Witness
Once the prosecution has questioned the arresting officer, the defendant will have an opportunity to cross-examine the officer. The defendant's attorney typically does this. The defense attorney will work with the defendant prior to the trial to develop a line of questioning that could potentially weaken or call into question the information the officer provides. This should be approached with caution. Rather than accusing the officer of providing false information, a defense attorney might question the logic the officer used in making decisions, the observations the officer made that influenced his or her decision to arrest you, and ask for additional details that may reveal a weakness in the case. The defense attorney can also question the arrest itself if the officer didn't follow all necessary protocol. In select cases, the defense attorney may be able to ask the court to review the officer's disciplinary records to establish the credibility of the officer's word and actions, but this isn't common.
The role of the arresting officer in a criminal trial is indeed a significant one, but don't be intimidated. There is a reason why the arresting officer is frequently called as a key witness; they often hold the very pieces of information necessary to convict you. You should bear in mind, however, that officers could make mistakes, act out of line, fail to comply with protocol, or be mistaken when it comes to what happened at your arrest. These are the disparities that can be leveraged to help you fight your charges.
Speak with an experienced California criminal defense attorney if you are facing criminal charges and are heading to trial. The decision to go to trial should not be taken lightly. Make sure you involve an attorney early on enough in your case so he or she has time to conduct a full investigation of the facts in your case. An attorney can request a copy of the police report in your case and review it for inconsistencies or omissions. Your attorney may also be able to identify a potential defense strategy based off of what the officer included in the report. Above all, an attorney can advise you of your rights so you can know whether they were violated and can defend them in the future.
Are you facing a criminal trial? Contact attorney Christopher Martens and his legal team for help in Tulare, Fresno or Kings County. Experienced in criminal defense, our Visalia area legal team can aggressively defend your rights in court. Attorney Martens has over ten years experience in criminal defense and won't be afraid to take your case all the way to trial. Call our Visalia or Hanford, CA offices at 559-967-7386 or email us at [email protected] for a free consultation.