Witness credibility and your case

On Behalf of Griswold LaSalle Cobb Dowd & Gin LLP

Much of the prosecution’s case against you is based on witness testimony. Sure, the prosecution might have documentary evidence to support its position, but even that evidence is probably going to need a sponsoring witness before a judge will allow it to be admitted into evidence. Therefore, your criminal defense should spend a significant amount of time analyzing the prosecution’s witnesses to determine what type of legal strategy is best going to position you for success. In many instances, this will include attacking witness credibility.

Why witness credibility is important

The finder of fact in your criminal case, whether that be a judge or a jury, will assess each witness’s testimony and determine how much weight it should be given. Compelling and believable testimony will be given more weight, whereas doubtful testimony will be discounted. This means that you have the ability to attack the credibility of the prosecution’s witnesses in hopes of diminishing the amount of weight that the judge or jury gives to their testimony. If you’re able to do so, especially when a witness’s testimony involves key pieces of evidence, then you could end up tipping the scales in your favor, resulting in an acquittal.

Ways to attack witness credibility

There are a lot of ways that you can go about attacking witness credibility, too. Let’s look at just some of them to give you an idea of your defense options in this regard:

  • Prior inconsistent statements: One commonly utilized strategy is impeachment by pointing out a witness’s prior inconsistent statements. In these instances, you typically depose a witness so that you lock in his or her sworn testimony. Then, if the witness changes his or her story at trial, you can use that depositional testimony to point out the inconsistencies. This demonstrates to the judge and jury that the witness can’t be believed to tell the truth or, at the very least, has an unreliable memory for key facts. This can damage credibility and discount the power of the witness’s testimony.
  • Bias and motivation: Witnesses are human beings whose world views may be tainted by their lived experiences. These biases shouldn’t lead to your criminal conviction, though, and neither should motivating factors such as a plea deal in exchange for testimony. You need to draw out these biases and motivations that may shape a witness’s testimony to show a judge and jury that their testimony is flawed.
  • Prior criminal convictions: Some witnesses have questionable pasts. While not every piece of evidence about a witness’s history is admissible, some prior criminal convictions, especially as they relate to crimes involving dishonesty, can certainly be pivotal. So, do your research on the prosecution’s witnesses before heading to trial.

Know how to poke holes in the prosecution’s case

Although it can be frightening to face criminal charges, especially when the potential penalties are severe, you probably have some strong criminal defense options at your disposal. While attacking witness credibility is certainly one of those options, that’s just one aspect that could be key to your case. You also can’t overlook the importance of evidence suppression, jury selection, and plea deal negotiations. Any one of these components to your criminal defense could be key to your acquittal and thus your future. Therefore, as you navigate the criminal defense strategy that is best for you, it may be worth speaking with an experienced criminal defense attorney about the particularities of your case.

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