Many of our clients come from good families who have good intentions and want to help their loved one prove their innocence in a case. We do have some important information that family members who want to be helpful should know so that they do not get in the way of the case or create additional evidence that can only make things messier.
1. To bring evidence to trial, witnesses will need to testify.
Many possible witnesses will say that they are willing to write an affidavit or a letter explaining their position in the case. This is simply not good enough. In order to properly introduce evidence at trial, the person would have to testify so they can be cross-examined by the other side. Recently, the courts have been more amenable to allowing people to testify by zoom if making it in person is an issue.
2. Do not create additional evidence when it is not needed.
Often family and friends want to write letters about what a great person the accused is and give all the information about how they know them and what kind of person they are. It is important to hold off until it is time for the defense to collect those letters. If the defense intends to call you as a witness at trial, you have only created evidence that has to be turned over under the court rule to the prosecution. There is no reason to create additional information or evidence in many circumstances.
3. Wait for an attorney’s guidance before writing letters.
When a person who is accused takes a plea and is sentenced, our office often works with the families of our clients and friends to put together letters of support that we give to the judge. We have definite and important directions to share with the author of any letter before it is written. For example, it is important that whoever writes the letter has knowledge of the allegations that brought the case to court. It is also important that the person knows why they are writing the letter and what it is going to be used for. Letters that talk about how unfair the criminal justice system is are not helpful. Likewise, letters that profess the clients innocence when they have taken a plea are also not particularly helpful. When we have clients who want to submit letters at sentencing we give our clients explicit instructions about what to make sure it’s included in the letter and what is important to leave out.
4. You may not be given every detail of a loved one’s case.
Families and friends need to understand that the client is the person who is accused and we are a duty of loyalty to that person unless they give us permission to share information with family and friends. Sometimes, strategically, we do not want family and friends to know every detail of the case. We want them to be able to testify at trial without being tainted by knowledge they simply don’t need. Therefore, it is important to ask questions like whether it is okay to read a police report when you are involved in the case.
5. There is nothing wrong with speaking to the prosecution in court.
It is important to know that you can talk to the lawyer for the accused and also the prosecutor if they call you, or an investigator on their behalf. There is nothing wrong with speaking to a lawyer and the judge will actually read a jury instruction at trial to say that.
6. Pay attention to what is being asked of you.
It is important to focus on only the information that is being asked of you and not extraneous information that will complicate the case. Sometimes people have a lot of knowledge but do not realize what other witnesses have testified to in a trial end it is important for the defense to not have cumulative evidence being repeated over and over.
7. Remember that you cannot listen to other witnesses’ testimonies.
If you are a witness in an evidentiary hearing or trial it is important to know that you cannot listen to other witness testimony in the courtroom, on zoom, or otherwise. It is equally as important that you are not speaking to people who have heard the testimony about what has gone on. Typically, in cases, both sides enter a mutual sequestration order which says that each side is going to keep the witnesses sequestered from one another and keep them not privy to the information with witnesses before them have testified to.
Prepare Your Testimony with a Skilled Attorney
Working with witnesses is a critical part of what we do at Smith Lehman to make sure people feel prepared and they have clear directions about our expectations at trial or in any hearing. We will be happy to sit with you and prepare for your testimony so you know what will be asked of you and what information you may have that is not important to share in the hearing. We also want to reiterate that we do often put defense witnesses on the stand, unlike many other lawyers. If you want a lawyer who is going to put witnesses on to help defend you or use character witnesses, we are probably the right kind of lawyer for you. Call us today to set up a consultation with her office to discuss this more.