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What Are You Asked When You're On the Stand?

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  • What Are You Asked When You're On the Stand?

    Working on a follow-up to my (as yet unsold!) story now. A bit curious; I haven't spent much time in court but I was on a couple of criminal juries (drug possession [11 kilos!] and aggravated child abuse...30 years/20 years respectively). If you are a detective or investigator, especially if working undercover, what kinds of general questions are you likely to be asked by the defense attorney when you take the stand at trial? I'm thinking of personal questions, such as:
    • How old are you?
    • Where did you get your training?
    • How long have you been a detective/officer/etc.?
    • How long have you been investigating this case?
    And so on, not directly related to the facts of the case at hand but intended to shift the focus from the (presumably guilty!) defendant to you?

    Thanks for any help.

  • #2
    You will be asked about skills, training, education, rank, time in-service, time in grade, etc., but you won't be asked how old you are.

    Comment


    • #3
      Most prosecutors (the good ones, at least) will object to questions that aren't germane to the case on trial.

      That said, defense attorneys will attempt to frame the evidence in such a way that their client did nothing wrong, the officer was the one in the bad, up is down, wrong is right, etc.
      What does not kill you will likely try again.

      Comment


      • #4
        I don't remember it's been a LONG TIME since I was on the wittiness stand. I write excellent reports now and put together solid cases so they always make a plea deal.

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        Comment


        • Aidokea
          Aidokea commented
          Editing a comment
          So do I, but it seems like with DUI stuff, the defendant almost always wants to roll the dice, to see if I'll actually show up, before they plead out.

          And the dumb ones actually want to allow me to get on the stand...

        • westside popo
          westside popo commented
          Editing a comment
          I get subpoenas all the time. I show up and they plea deal or withdraw their motion. But I do have to testify a lot in municipal court but I don't get a lot of defense attorneys there.

          I don't get a lot of DUIs. Of the last two I had one just stood up and plead guilty. Suprised me on that one. The other one fled the state before the court date.
          Last edited by westside popo; 08-25-2020, 02:15 AM.

      • #5
        They'll ask what my name is, who I am employed by, what my assignment was on that day, what city/county/state this incident occurred in, the time/date/location, stuff like that.

        For DUI trials, then we go into how many hours of training I've had, who my instructors were, if I did drinking labs, if I knew who was drinking during the drinking labs, if I knew how much they had been drinking, if my training was NHTSA stuff, if I know what NHTSA is, if I've been to the NHTSA web site, if I know what NHTSA stands for, if I know what the NHTSA logo looks like, all the procedural stuff for the SFST's, how current my training is, if I've had any refresher training, if I've had any advanced training (I have), the location of the incident, the lighting conditions, the weather conditions, if I recognize the defendant, and on, and on, and on. It's not unusual to spend the majority of 8 hours on the stand...for a petty misdemeanor...
        Last edited by Aidokea; 08-25-2020, 01:27 AM.

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        • #6
          What's common in our courts here is, when asked your name, you are also expected to spell it so it can be accurately reflected in the record.
          Going too far is half the pleasure of not getting anywhere

          Comment


          • #7
            Gespraech.png

            Comment


            • #8
              The OP specifically asked about officers working in an undercover role. UC work takes a lot of time and effort to get close enough to the actors and actions, so whenever possible cases are made without involving the UC so that the role can be maintained and the work can continue. UC investigators are usually focused on crimes of ongoing natures or multiple-level operations (smuggling, drug dealing, gang-related activities, professional gambling, etc) so disclosing the UC effectively halts the investigation at that point. Much better, if possible, to continue the investigation until multiple bad actors are chargeable, or multiple levels of an organization have been infiltrated.

              UC work is actually detrimental in some ways to a long-term career in law enforcement. UC personnel must be very good actors and capable of "living the life" for extended periods of time to gain acceptance sufficiently to develop leads or evidence, while at the same time avoiding actual complicity in criminal acts.

              UC investigators are frequently used at a level somewhat removed from the actual criminal acts, working to develop informants and intelligence information. Actual criminals can be recruited as sources, lower level offenses can be used as leverage to induce those involved to assist in "working up the chain" (plea deals or reduced sentences in exchange for cooperation). The UC can remain a step or two removed from the action, serving more in the role of intelligence officer, and such operations may continue for extended periods (months or years at a time).

              Some federal agencies (FBI, DEA, BATFE, and others) have budgets to support professional UC personnel, those capable of developing and maintaining a position that allows them to provide a flow of intelligence to the actual investigators. Such assets can be relocated and used repeatedly over extended periods of time.

              As intelligence is gathered and collated it can be used to plan interdiction activities (seizures, arrests, etc) without even having to reference the fact that UC personnel have been involved. Example: intelligence indicates that Subject A will be transferring a load of contraband (drugs, weapons, whatever) from City 1 to City 2, using a Ryder truck rented by Subject B, meeting Subject C in City 2 who will be driving a UHaul rental, with the goods being transferred from vehicle to vehicle after midnight in the parking lot of a hotel where both are staying. Not terribly difficult to monitor truck rentals, verify the intelligence by monitoring the travel and hotel stay, surveil the late night activity in the parking lot, interdict the suspicious activity at the time of transfer, and Subjects B and C get busted. Then B and C may be motivated to implicate Subject A and provide ongoing information. In such a case the existence of UC operators and the controlling officers need not ever be disclosed, just a lucky day for a couple of patrolmen checking out a hotel parking lot late at night.

              The best UC work is always a team effort, not some Hollywood cowboy detective making a single dramatic bust.

              Comment


              • #9
                Originally posted by ehbowen View Post
                [*]How old are you?[*]Where did you get your training?[*]How long have you been a detective/officer/etc.?[*]How long have you been investigating this case?[/LIST]

                And so on, not directly related to the facts of the case at hand but intended to shift the focus from the (presumably guilty!) defendant to you?.
                I was a court deputy for a year, I saw all kinds of civil and criminal cases.

                All those you listed help build the witnesses credibility, and will usually be asked by the prosecutor.

                The key is, weak aspects of the prosecution's case will almost always be brought up by the prosecution not the defense. If it's an inexperienced officer or there is something weird about the case the prosecutor will almost always bring it up to give the officer a chance to explain. The defense has the prosecution's whole case anyway, you aren't hiding anything. If whatever is wrong is so bad that it makes conviction unlikely or impossible they will just give a good plea deal or drop the charges entirely.

                The defense often shares their side of the case with the prosecution as well. They don't have to, but often if they can show some kind of shenanigans to a prosecutor they will. Nobody wants to take a chance at trial, better to get the prosecution to drop the charges.

                The courtroom drama you see on TV almost never happens in real life. The cardinal rule in court is: never as a question when you don't already know the answer.

                Also, there are rarely surprise witnesses. Each side gives the court their final witness list weeks before trial, and if there's witness on there that somebody don't know why they're there, the will find out. The old Matlock trick of having somebody stand up in the gallery and acting like they know something to get a witness to confess will get a lawyer held in contempt in real life, and massive objections from the prosecutor.

                Lastly, almost no cases actually go to trial. As jammed up as the courts are, they still are probably trying only 5% of actual cases, the rest are pled out or dropped.
                Last edited by tanksoldier; 08-26-2020, 07:39 PM.
                "I am a Soldier. I fight where I'm told and I win where I fight." -- GEN George S. Patton, Jr.

                "With a brother on my left and a sister on my right, we face…. We face what no one should face. We face, so no one else would face. We are in the face of Death." -- Holli Peet

                Comment


                • #10
                  Originally posted by tanksoldier View Post

                  I was a court deputy for a year, I saw all kinds of civil and criminal cases.

                  All those you listed help build the witnesses credibility, and will usually be asked by the prosecutor.

                  The key is, weak aspects of the prosecution's case will almost always be brought up by the prosecution not the defense. If it's an inexperienced officer or there is something weird about the case the prosecutor will almost always bring it up to give the officer a chance to explain. The defense has the prosecution's whole case anyway, you aren't hiding anything. If whatever is wrong is so bad that it makes conviction unlikely or impossible they will just give a good plea deal or drop the charges entirely.

                  The defense often shares their side of the case with the prosecution as well. They don't have to, but often if they can show some kind of shenanigans to a prosecutor they will. Nobody wants to take a chance at trial, better to get the prosecution to drop the charges.

                  The courtroom drama you see on TV almost never happens in real life. The cardinal rule in court is: never as a question when you don't already know the answer.

                  Also, there are rarely surprise witnesses. Each side gives the court their final witness list weeks before trial, and if there's witness on there that somebody don't know why they're there, the will find out. The old Matlock trick of having somebody stand up in the gallery and acting like they know something to get a witness to confess will get a lawyer held in contempt in real life, and massive objections from the prosecutor.

                  Lastly, almost no cases actually go to trial. As jammed up as the courts are, they still are probably trying only 5% of actual cases, the rest are pled out or dropped.
                  ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ Yep n What he says

                  I have been a court officer for the last 9 yrs.........................following a nearly 35 yr career in uniform with many court appearances
                  Since some people need to be told by notes in crayon .......Don't PM me with without prior permission. If you can't discuss the situation in the open forum ----it must not be that important

                  My new word for the day is FOCUS, when someone irritates you tell them to FOCUS

                  Comment


                  • #11
                    Originally posted by Iowa #1603 View Post

                    ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ Yep n What he says

                    I have been a court officer for the last 9 yrs.........................following a nearly 35 yr career in uniform with many court appearances
                    You mean it's not like in My Cousin Vinny?
                    I’ll die with blue in my veins.

                    Comment


                    • #12
                      In a smuggling case, the plaintiff's attorney certified me as an expert in drug smuggling. (The defense was that the driver had loaned his car for 1 hour to a guy he met in Mexico. The dope was built into the body panels of the car.) He then asked me "In your EXPERT professional opinion, where was the narcotics loaded into the vehicle ?
                      I pause for a moment, and then answered:
                      'Someplace where they had a great deal of privacy ..... and a considerable period of time!
                      'How much experience do YOU have loading cars with narcotics? (in an angry tone.)
                      'Well, I have a lot more unloading them!' (The jury laughed.)

                      See the comment about never asking a question unless you know the answer.
                      "A man who has nothing which he cares about more than he does about his personal safety is a miserable creature who has no chance of being free, unless made and kept so by the existing of better men than himself."
                      John Stuart Mill

                      Comment


                      • ehbowen
                        ehbowen commented
                        Editing a comment
                        I'm a little confused..."plaintiff's attorney?" In a smuggling case, wouldn't that be the prosecutor? If you're referring to the defendant's attorney, though...yes, I can see he should have been more careful after bringing you in as an expert!

                    • #13
                      My mistake (we had just been talking about a civil case) - it was the DEFENDANT'S attorney.
                      Thanks for catching that.

                      In another case where I was testifying in a state court in a matter where no guns were drawn, suddenly the Judge asked me what kind and caliber of gun I carried, with what kind of ammo. I looked at the prosecutor, who said nothing, so I answered the question. After court, the prosecutor told me the Judge was a 'gun guy'.
                      "A man who has nothing which he cares about more than he does about his personal safety is a miserable creature who has no chance of being free, unless made and kept so by the existing of better men than himself."
                      John Stuart Mill

                      Comment


                      • #14
                        Sometimes it's just theater, where the defense attorney know he doesn't have a case and he tries to embarrass the officer to either divert attention from his client's guilt or make the officer say something that will effect his credibility.

                        Many years back one of our rookies came into the station, said his case was in recess for 30 minutes and asked a bunch of us to come to court with him for moral support as the defense attorney was beating him up pretty badly. The case involved two men committing a lewd act in public and the officer, who had little life or court experience, was having a little difficulty answering some very direct and explicit questions.

                        When questioning resumed, the first question out of the attorney's mouth was, "You testified that my client had an erection. How did you come to that conclusion? Did you grasp my client's p**is? Did you fondle it? Did you stroke it? Did you squeeze it?" Dumbfounded, the officer did not know how to answer. I was half laughing and almost whispered out loud to him, "You know because instead of pointing at the ground, it appeared to be defying the law of gravity and was pointing in the air. Probably could have hung a hat on it."
                        Going too far is half the pleasure of not getting anywhere

                        Comment

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