Thursday, May 18, 2006

Keep Your Mouth Shut

I dealt with a trial recently where I was able to secure an acquittal for my Client. There is a saying that the Prosecution case is at it's weakest when the prosecution close their case. The rationale behind this saying is that when a Defendant gives evidence in their own trial they often put their foot in it and ruin the good work that has been done before they enter the witness box.

My case had been well prepared by a colleague and the tactics in the case were simple. There were two prosecution witnesses who would give an account that blamed my Client for a public disorder matter. Then my Client followed by two young witnesses would give their account disagreeing with the Prosecution version of events. It would then be in the hands of the Magistrates to decide whether the case had been proved beyond reasonable doubt.

I got to Court early and had a conference with my Client. I referred my Client's witnesses to the witness service who told them what to expect in Court. I then explained the trial procedure to my Client and gave him some general pointers on how to conduct himself in the witness box:

1. Do not argue with the Prosecutor.
2. Be polite and reasonable at all times.
3. Do not mention your previous convictions.

My Client had three convictions for the same offence for which he was on trial for. I do not know why the Prosecution had not made an application to adduce his bad character at trial, but it may well have had something to do with the fact that the prosecution witnesses also had previous convictions.

The trial was going according to plan until my Client got in to the witness box. The prosecution witnesses had stuck to their statements, but in doing so I had exploited a number of small inconsistencies. My Client got in to the witness box and seemed to forget all of the advice that I had given him. He argued with the Prosecutor, he did not appear to be reasonable, and worst of all he claimed that he was not the kind of person to commit a public order offence. I cringed at this point and noticed that the Prosecutor was looking at his previous convictions. In the normal course of events the Prosecutor would have stood up when dealing with cross examination and asked my Client to confirm what he had said to the Court, then ask him if he has previous convictions and then hand to the Court a copy of those convictions to correct a false impression given to the court. For some reason the Prosecutor did not do this, and I have no idea why.

After the Defendant had been cross examined his two young witnesses gave evidence. My closing speech consisted of the observation that five different accounts had been given to the Court and in those circumstances they Court should not convict. Thankfully the Magistrates agreed with my reasoning. I am pretty sure that the Magistrates decision would have been different if my Client's bad character had been made known to the Court.


Bystander said...

Lucky brief, lucky client!

I am used to hearing a loud harrumph! from the prosecutor, and the vigorous waving of a 609.

motoring solicitors said...

I think it is better if defendant gives evidence in their own trial.