The outcome of the trial may be greatly affected by the comprehensiveness of the first few hours of the investigation. Police officers/detectives need to identify and thoroughly interview any and all witnesses. Witnesses, and the information they hold, may be permanently lost to both to the prosecutor and the criminal defense attorney unless the police take the time to locate and question them as early in the investigation as possible. The memories of few witnesses improve over time. Police officers and detectives should take the time to thoroughly interview witnesses, resist the temptation to ask questions that will taint the witnesses’ memories and/or to coerce them, verify their answers by repeating their answers back to them, and take copious notes on not only the answers, but also the questions that the officer asked.
That the police officers, detectives, and crime scene investigators arrive on the scene, see the evidence, document, photograph and collect the evidence, determine which, if any, witnesses they will interview, select the questions they ask them, decide what, if anything, of what the witness said will be memorialized in notes or a police report gives the prosecutor a huge advantage at trial.
The reports of police officers and detectives are often incomplete and, sometimes, mischaracterize the witnesses’ statements. Therefore, the criminal defense lawyer must retain a competent investigator to re-interview these witnesses. Failure to re-interview these witnesses may make it difficult, if not impossible, to effectively cross-examine them at trial. Defense attorneys win trials not through eloquent closing arguments and hyperbolic theatrics, but by thorough, strategic cross-examination.
Kevin J. Mahoney is a Cambridge, MA criminal defense lawyer, author of Relentless Criminal Cross-Examination, and an on-air legal analyst. He has won 44 or his last 47 trials. Contact us at 617-492-0055 or by using our online contact form to schedule a free in-office consultation with Attorney Mahoney.