Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Witnesses Coached

All lawyers have heard of wood-shedding a witness - to prepare a witness for testimony in such a way as to coach him/her or suggest how he/she should testify in order to best help your case. Any diligent lawyer should prepare his witness for testimony; you'd be crazy not too (witnesses often say the craziest things). As the law school adage goes: "don't ask a question you don't know the answer to." How can you ask any questions if you don't know how your witness will really answer???

But it's easy to cross the line into coaching/woodshedding a witness. An article on the Oklahoma Bar Journal website says it well:
While appropriate to encourage a witness to look at the jury or judge, to speak clearly and act confident while testifying, going much beyond that may lead to unintended consequences. A suggestion that a witness who may not be all that certain of a particular fact to change that demeanor in order to appear more assertive may very well cross that boundary from simply “preparing” a prosecution witness to impermissible “coaching” or “wood shedding” of that witness.
The Dallas Morning News has an article today on the case against Richard Miles for murder. At the trial, a witness, Marcus Thurman, identified Miles as the man who shot the victim. In a sworn statement taken this January, Thurman now says he didn't identify Miles because he recognized him as the shooter. In fact he says he didn't recognize Miles. Thurman says he identified Miles in court because the prosecutor, Thomas D'Amore, coached him to do so.

I've seen Thomas D'Amore around the courthouse but I don't know him, so I have no way of shedding any light on whether this is likely to be true or not. I can say that if this is true it's beyond unacceptable.

37 comments:

  1. As a criminal defense lawyer and fellow blogger in Augusta, Georgia, (where I practice law with my oldest son), I came across your blog and really enjoyed reading your articles. I like how you "tell it like it is in criminal law!" Best wishes in your law practice!

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  2. I've thought about this some more and I think the article doesn't put enough heat on the witness (now a police officer). I don't know about you but if I wasn't sure about something a lawyer suggesting that's who he wanted me to ID wouldn't be enough for me to perjure myself. And that's just the beginning - think about this guy's career... He can't exactly testify in court with this coming out. Any defense lawyer worth his salt will use this against him.

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  10. There is a fine line between preparing and coaching a witness. If the story about the prosecutor is true, then there is no question that he should be sanctioned or disbarred. In a murder case, having a person lie on the stand is simply unacceptable.

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