Understanding the Criminal Trial Process
Understanding the Criminal Trial Process
The purpose of a criminal trial is for the prosecution (Crown Counsel) to present evidence to prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. What must be proved depends upon the offence that you were charged with. The role of the Trial Judge is to decide whether the Crown prosecutor has presented sufficient legally admissible evidence to leave them with proof beyond a reasonable doubt that you are guilty of a crime.
A defence lawyer plays a key role in this system. If you have been charged with a criminal offence, you probably have been detained, arrested, charged, interrogated, deprived of your freedom (even if only for a few hours); AND are facing an accusation supported by a police force.
In my experience, most accused person, including well-educated individuals, are overwhelmed and intimidated by the court process. AND YOU SHOULD BE!
So, what do judges look at when they are assessing whether the crown prosecutor has proven the case beyond a reasonable doubt? – CREDIBILITY
How do you show you are credible and telling the truth?
Why would a judge find you are not credible or telling the truth?
A Credibility finding is more than finding out who is the liar and who is telling the truth. Often two opposing witnesses will both honestly believe that their memory of events is correct and that they are telling the truth – Although one (or both!) will simply have a flawed memory.
A judge is doing more than trying to suss out whether or not a witness is lying; he or she is also assessing if an honest witness’s memory can be trusted. Every judge is going to be a bit different, but there are some guidelines every litigant can try to follow to increase their credibility.
Is the witness’s version of events (evidence) Consistent?
This, by far, is the most important thing, because we cannot read minds. On cross-examination, the opposing lawyer is going to try to find as many inconsistencies in each witness’s evidence as possible. The purpose of cross-examination is to test a witness’s evidence and see how consistent it is.
Also, important to note: the consistency of ever witness’s story will be considered from the very beginning of the case to the moment they are in court. WHICH MEANS – Everything you have told people in the past can become evidence in the trial. Any changes in the story which occurred prior to court will be questioned.
Transparency (Answering all of the questions even if they hurt your case)
Remember the “whole truth” part of the oath? Well, courts operate on the presumption that you are going to be transparent. If it looks at all like you’re hiding something or refusing to answer or dodging questions when you’re on the stand, this will seriously detract from the credibility of anything else you do or say. The opposing lawyer cross-examining you will be rubbing his/her hands with glee when you start refusing to answer questions. Of course, there are limits to having to answer questions: the questions must be on a topic that is relevant to the case. But keep in mind, the bar for relevance is very low.
Keeping evidence logical
Your testimony must make sense. Now this is where things can get difficult: what may make sense to you for a person from your background and culture may not make sense to a judge of a different background and/or culture. This aside, before you start your case, think about your story critically from the point of view of someone who has never heard it before. Do your story and/or actions make sense? If not, why is that? Can you address a weakness in your case by conceding a point?
Avoiding erratic or inappropriate behaviour/facial expressions in court
When you’re in a trial, you’re going to be sitting through the opposing party’s case. This means you will be listening to evidence that you believe is not true or is offensive to you. Often the other party’s evidence will be very hard to hear. And even worse, be hard to have to sit there and say nothing!
The minute you start making facial expressions, sighing, standing up and shouting at the judge or witness, you are giving a negative context to the judge in which to assess your evidence.
The Lying Witness
With respect to the witness who is blatantly lying it is important to know that a good liar is hard to catch and even harder if you do not have experience cross-examin9ng lying witnesses.
Often Judges will have no more than a short period of time to be able to assess the credibility of each witness while in court, and so it may be that their rates of accuracy in determining who is blatantly lying will be time restricted and difficult
If your case relies solely on your credibility and you know the other side to be a liar, you may want to consider whether or not it’s worth it to roll the dice in court by representing yourself or hiring an experienced criminal defence lawyer. There are no sure-fire tips to guarantee you can show a witness is lying, however, a thorough cross-examination by an experienced and well-prepared lawyer will help.
How will your lawyer be able to show the other party is lying? Experience & Preparation.
If you believe that you have been wrongly convicted because a witness lied under oath at your trial, you should contact a criminal defense attorney to find out if you can challenge your conviction. Be sure to engage someone who specializes in handling criminal appeals.