When you are charged with a criminal offense in the United States you have a number of important rights that also attach to you throughout the duration of the prosecution of your case. You have probably heard of most of these rights thanks to the ubiquitous nature of reality cop shows and movies involving law enforcement. Knowing that you have these rights is a good first step; however, actually understanding what your rights mean is imperative if you find yourself charged with a crime. For example, you likely know you have a “right to confront and cross examine witnesses against you.” What does that mean though? In an effort to help you understand, an experienced criminal attorney explains your right to confront and cross examine witnesses against you.
Where Is Your Right to Confront and Cross Examine Witnesses Found?
Most of the rights you have as an accused are found in the first ten Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, collectively known as the “Bill of Rights.” Your right to confront and cross examine witnesses is found in the Sixth Amendment, which reads as follows:
“In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.” (emphasis added)
The protections found in the 6th Amendment were once necessary to ensure that an accused was not convicted of a criminal offense without the benefit of a trial at which the defendant has the ability to confront and question his accusers.
What Does the “Right to Confront and Cross Examine Witnesses” Mean Today?
Today, your right to confront and cross examine witnesses applies in several ways. One of the most important ways is found in the rule against hearsay. “Hearsay” refers to testimony that is given by one person but that cannot be substantiated by that person. Think of it as rumors. If you are testifying and the answer to a question begins with “Sally told me” or “I heard someone say…” that is hearsay because the person you are depending on for your answer is not there. Although there are a number of exceptions to the general rule, the general rule in a criminal trial is that hearsay is not allowed.
You also have the right to know who the witnesses will be against you ahead of time and to depose them if you wish. A deposition is an opportunity to ask a witness questions before a trial to find out what they plan to testify to at the trial. It occurs outside of the courtroom; however, the witness is placed under oath, meaning the penalties of perjury apply. Answers given in a deposition can be used to impeach a witness at a later trial.
Finally, you have the right to cross-examine witnesses at an actual trial. The State always presents its case first. The Prosecutor will ask witnesses questions and then your attorney may “cross-examine” each of those witnesses. The idea behind cross-examination is that your attorney may be able to highlight inconsistencies in the witnesses’ testimony or bring out additional information that is helpful to the defense.
How Can a Criminal Attorney Help Protect Your Rights?
One of the most important reasons for hiring a criminal attorney is to ensure that all of your rights are protected throughout the prosecution of your case. Your criminal attorney understands your rights as well as when and how to assert them, providing you with the best chance possible of winning your case.
If you have been charged with a criminal offense in the State of Nebraska it is certainly in your best interest to consult with an experienced Nebraska criminal defense lawyer right away. In Nebraska contact Petersen Criminal Defense Law 24 hours a day at 402-509-8070 to discuss your case with an experienced criminal defense attorney.