Monday, May 24, 2010

Brother, can you spare a question or two?

I see and get last minute requests for voir dire questions and questions for cross examination of technical supervisors and other experts on a fairly regular basis. The problem is, I can't provide any. I don't know the details of your case. I don't know the issues involved. I don't know what defenses are going to be raised. I don't know the theme of your case. I haven't seen the documents produced by the State in response to your discovery requests.

I'm shocked that some folks out there think there's a magic bullet just waiting to be fired and that you can obtain it at the last minute. Every case is different. The fact patterns are different. The witnesses are different. Test results are different. The issues are different.

Now there are some universal themes you can use during a voir dire. You can, and should, question the panel regarding their attitudes toward the presumption of innocence and the burden of proof. If a police officer is going to testify as a fact witness I think you should question the panel about whether they would lend more credence to the testimony of an officer simply because he is a police officer. Beyond that, the questions asked during voir dire should be determined by the facts of the case and the story you want to tell.

Yes, that requires work. It requires you to sit down and review your case and construct an overall theme and figure out how each piece of the puzzle fits and what pieces aren't necessary. If you've worked your case up properly then you've lived and breathed it for weeks, if not months, leading up to trial. It's your baby. Get in there and change that diaper and feed it and cuddle with it and rock it to sleep.

The same approach should be taken to cross examining the state's expert. While there are certain questions I would ask the technical supervisor in any case, other questions arise based on the particular facts of my case, the documents I have in my notebook and the theme of the case. My cross examination in a low breath test case will be quite different from my cross in a high breath test case. Some questions will be generated by my review of the maintenance records and test records from the state's breath test machine. Others will be generated by my familiarity and prior interactions with the witness.

There are no shortcuts to trial prep. There is no magical book of questions from which to draw. So, while I am more than happy to make suggestions and let someone bounce ideas off me, please don't expect me to do your job for you.

No comments: