Monthly Archives: April 2012
An exhibit sticker can do much more than identify an exhibit for the record. It can actually be used as an organizational tool to aid the jury in understanding what the exhibits are being used to prove, as well as, better understand your case and how it is being put together. When I was a federal prosecutor I handled a number of “complex” fraud cases and had to come up with my own system for tracking my evidence and proof for each count of the indictment and the various overt acts of the conspiracy count.
I used my indictment as a narrative tool to help the jury follow my evidence and cross-reference which exhibit helped prove which count and corresponded with the various overt acts in my conspiracy count. My conspiracy count was organized like a short story with each event (overt act) referenced on the exhibit sticker along with any separate substantive count for other the crimes separately charged.
For example, Exhibit 44 – OA (d) – CT 15 would tell the jury that the Exhibit 44 was being used to prove overt act (d) of the conspiracy count and Count 15 of the indictment. I would also annotate my copy of the indictment’s substantive counts. At the bottoms of each count on my copy of the indictment, I would list the witnesses that authenticated the exhibits, provided forensic testimony, or other supporting evidence as well as list the corresponding overt act of the conspiracy count. This allowed the jurors and court to easily follow my proof at trial. It also permitted me to easily address any motion for a directed verdict by specifically identifying the witnesses and evidence that proved each count.
By keying the overt act to the exhibit, the jury could easily move through the proof and see that I had established each count. The jurors had no trouble following my story. I numbered the exhibits in chronological order to fall in line with my overt acts. I numbered my counts chronologically as well. The jury could take the exhibits delivered to them by the bailiff which were submitted to them in numerical order and work through the indictment with little confusion. This would lead to rapid verdicts on very complicated cases. This also built up trust between the jurors and myself. They knew I cared about them and wanted to make their job as easy and efficient as possible. This system avoided confusion in the jury room. Using this numbering system with my organizational system discussed in my earlier post entitled: “How to Stay Organized During Trial” allowed me to gain control of the courtroom and the trust of the jury and judge.
One caveat, I would make sure you explain the system both in opening and closing, and ask the jurors to pay special attention. Invariably, jurors assume someone else will be taking down notes and fail to focus on your explanation. I learned this lesson the hard way when the only note taker on the jury was removed prior to deliberations and no one else had paid close attention to my explanation. The jurors sent a note to the judge asking for me to explain the numbering system again. The judge refused to honor the jurors’ request. Eventually, they figured out the system and made short work of the case.
Clients sometime forget what is their case’s greatest asset. It is not the great photos, their expert witness, or even their attorney. The greatest asset their case has is the Client’s integrity and credibility as a witness. If a claims adjuster, an insurance defense attorney or jury thinks your client is a liar why would they want to give him a dime even if he is hurt? Clients sometimes let the “dark side” enter their hearts and cloud their judgment.
In the Star War’s Movie: The Empire Strikes Back, Luke trains on a remote planet to become a Jedi Knight. His Master, Yoda, tells Luke that fear and anger will pull him to the dark side, and that there is no turning back from the dark side once he embarks on that path.
These same emotions can draw a client towards the dark side. Clients can be fearful, greedy, and angry. Instead of answering questions truthfully, they can be tempted to try and make their case better than it really is in order to get even or because they are afraid of losing. I have long told clients to avoid the temptation to try an improve on the truth by exaggerating their injuries or by lying.
“You don’t want to take a good case, try to make it into a great case, and turn it into a bad case!”
Next time, caution your client to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Deceit and exaggeration are problems that are almost impossible to solve through trial advocacy. Credibility is the advocate’s most valuable currency in the marketplace of ideas.