Are you facing criminal charges in the State of Nebraska that you plan to resolve by taking your case to trial? If so, you probably have a number of questions about the trial process in general, and your case specifically. Unless the police recovered an abundance of physical evidence during the investigation stag of your case, much of the evidence against you is going to be direct testimony by witnesses. With that in mind, one of the most important questions you may have is “Do defense attorneys get to interview the State’s witnesses before trial?”
The Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution
The right to confront and cross-examine witnesses against you is one of the rights guaranteed to you by the United States Constitution. In essence, your 6th Amendment right means that when people say things against you in Court, you must be allowed the opportunity to question them about their statements. There are very few exceptions to this rule. One exception, however, applies when the person who made a statement against you is now deceased. In that case, the Judge has to decide if the statement is allowed in based on the rules, but it may be one of the few instances where you cannot question the person giving evidence against you.
Preparing for Trial — Discovery
It would be extremely unfair for a defendant to be forced to go to trial without knowing what evidence the State has against him/her. To prevent that from occurring, the rules of criminal procedure allow the defense to file a Motion for Discovery. Once that is granted, the prosecuting attorney must “discover” to the defense any evidence the State plans to introduce against the defendant at trial. Except in rare circumstances, the Prosecutor is not allowed to use evidence or testimony against you that were not provided as part of the discovery process. When your attorney gets the list of people who are witnesses against you, you will need to review this with your attorney and provide all the information you have regarding these witnesses. Once you have discussed the list of witnesses with your attorney, you can decide which witnesses should be deposed.
A deposition is an opportunity to question a witness under oath prior to trial to find out what the witness will testify to at trial. In Nebraska, the Court can order a deposition if the testimony seems important to the parties to prepare for trial. Either side can ask the Court for a deposition, and if the order is granted, a time and place are established for both sides to meet.
The deposition will occur outside of the courtroom, usually at the Prosecutor’s office or at your attorney’s office. The person being deposed will swear to tell the truth, and the statement will be recorded by a court reporter. Afterward, you will receive a transcript of the deposition so you have a printed record you can study.
You can be present at all of the depositions related to your case, and in fact it is important to attend so that you learn about the case against you. You will not be required to provide evidence or testimony at a deposition you are attending; however, you can take notes and give information to your attorney about the answers. You can also let your attorney know if there are questions you want to ask during the deposition.
Using the Deposition at Trial
Once the deposition has been taken, it is important to review it and discuss it with your attorney. Even though the statement was not taken in a courtroom, the person speaking was under oath. As such, anything said during the deposition can be used to impeach a witness during the trial. For example, if a witness makes a contradictory statement at trial, you can call attention to what the witness said during the deposition. Contradictions can call into question a witness’s honesty and/or accuracy.
How Can an Experienced Criminal Defense Lawyer Help?
If you are concerned about the role this kind of evidence might play in your case, consult with an experienced criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible.
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 to discuss what defenses might be available to you. 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.