Law enforcement’s responsibility is to serve and protect. This includes responding to calls, enforcing laws, and make arrests. It is also a part of law enforcement’s job to sometimes be called to go to court and testify for cases that they’ve handled. However, the thought of being on the witness stand, interrogated and cross-examined may seem daunting. Is it not enough that you’ve done your job that you still need to prove that you’ve done so correctly? How can you do it proficiently?
Jessica Rock serves as the Director of Legal Advocacy & Law Enforcement Support with the Atlanta Humane Society’s Animal Cruelty Unit. With her background in criminology and law, she was able to work on various cases involving homicide, domestic violence, elder and child abuse, and animal cruelty. Currently, she provides free training related to investigations and prosecutions. She is also this webinar’s resource speaker.
Jessica provides a detailed end-to-end rundown of the guidelines to remember in the event that one is called to testify to court for a case they’ve handled. Some of the specifics she delved into include:
Case preparation tips that highlight:
- The importance of handling every call as if it will go to trial.
- The value of knowing the standards of proof and laws within one’s jurisdiction.
- Responding to and handling complaints, as well as witness preparation.
- Coordinating with prosecutors and other resources related to the case one is handling.
On-scene preparation including:
- Things to take note of and basic questions that need to be answered when responding to a crime scene.
- Conducting preliminary investigation and guidelines to protect the crime scene and evidence.
- Factors affecting the determination of boundaries.
- The various search patterns that may be used in a crime scene.
- Coordinating and instructing personnel of their duties to delineate responsibilities and reduce duplication of tasks.
- Processing of evidence that involves collecting and chain custody of physical evidence, documenting visual evidence, and gathering witness and/or suspect statements.
- The important step of writing reports, the various types of reports one will need to prepare, the key characteristics and components of a report.
- Tips in writing field note and reminders in organizing, formatting and writing reports.
The crucial courtroom presentation that unpacks:
- The significance of learning to testify and the pressure that often comes with it.
- What to do and expect in a pre-trial conference with the prosecutor.
- On the day particulars that stresses the importance of being on time and appropriate courtroom attire.
- The recommended demeanor when entering the courtroom, taking the oath, and basic house rules.
- What is expected out of one’s direct testimony.
- Establishing credibility and what causes witness failure.
Dealing with the defense attorney that details:
- Cross-examination preparation and guidelines.
- Tactics employed by defense attorneys during cross-examination to confuse or undermine your credibility.
- Understanding the defense attorney's role in the trial.
Some of the questions raised during the Q&A portion include:
- The typical time window from the incident to the case trial
- How spelling and grammar can impact the report and the officer’s credibility
- Prosecutors briefing witnesses prior appearance in court
- Too much preparation
- Tips on how to get over the nervousness prior to appearing in court
- Controlling emotions when the defense may seem to be riling it up
- Behaving in the court
- Judges asking for the original case field notes
- How Brady and Giglio disclosure impacts an officer and his/her testimonies