To be arrested and accused of committing a crime is a frightening experience for the average person. Spending the night (or longer) in jail, having to call a family member or close friend and explain the situation, and pondering the possible penalties if you are convicted are all enough to cause most people anxiety and stress. On top of all that, however, a first-time defendant also finds himself/herself trying to navigate the criminal justice system, a feat that can be challenging even for those who work in the system! As a defendant, you undoubtedly want to understand the aspects of the system that most apply to you and your defense. For example, your criminal defense attorney might schedule depositions with witnesses in your case. For those who are unfamiliar with the concept of a deposition, a Nebraska criminal defense attorney offers a brief explanation of what a deposition is and why your attorney might schedule one.
An Overview of the Criminal Justice System
Before discussing depositions specifically, it helps to gain a much broader understanding of the criminal justice system in general. In the United States, anyone who is accused of a crime is presumed innocent. It is the State’s job, via the prosecuting attorney, to prove the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. It is the prosecution, therefore, that bears the burden of proof in a criminal case. This is also why the prosecution always presents its case first in a criminal trial. The defense is not required to present anything. In fact, when the prosecution’s case is particularly weak, the best defense strategy can be to simply rest and not present any witnesses or evidence, instead counting on the judge or jury to reach a not guilty verdict based on the fact that the prosecution failed in its burden.
In order to prepare for trial, however, the defense has a right to know what evidence the prosecution plans to introduce against the defendant. This is referred to as “discovery.” The prosecution is required to “discover” to the defense the names of all witnesses it plans to call at trial, among other things. As an accused, you have a constitutional right to “confront and cross-examine all witnesses against you,” a right that is found in the 6th Amendment. To prepare for the possibility of cross-examining the State’s witnesses at trial, your criminal defense attorney may schedule “depositions.”
What Is a Deposition?
Depositions are commonly part of a criminal case. Think of a deposition as a preview of coming attractions. A deposition takes place outside of the courtroom, but with a court reporter present along with the prosecuting attorney, the defense attorney, and the witness scheduled to be deposed. The witness could be a police officer, an alleged victim, an expert hired by the State, or anyone else that the State plans to call to testify at trial. At the beginning of the deposition, the witness is sworn in, thereby subjecting the witness to a charge of perjury if he/she fails to tell the truth. The defense attorney (in this case) then begins asking the witness questions that pertain to the case. By asking these questions ahead of time the defense gains a better perspective on what the witness plans to testify to and how the witness is likely to stand up under cross-examination. In addition, it effectively “locks in” the witness’s testimony because if the witness testifies differently at trial than how he answered the same question during a deposition, the defense can use that to impeach the witness. In essence, that makes his/her testimony significantly less valuable or important. Answers given during a deposition can also be used in lieu of a witnesses’ testimony at trial under very narrow circumstances, such as if the witness dies between the time of the deposition and the date of trial.
Contact a Nebraska Criminal Defense Attorney at Petersen Law Office
If you have been charged with a criminal offense in the State of Nebraska, consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible to ensure that your rights are protected. In Nebraska contact Petersen Criminal Defense Law 24 hours a day at 402-509-8070 to discuss your case.