If you have been arrested and charged with a criminal offense you generally have two options for resolving your case. One is to enter into a plea agreement with the State of Nebraska. The other is to take your case to trial. If you maintain your innocence, the second option is your only true option because you cannot enter into a guilty plea agreement if you do not admit your guilt. Regardless of the reason why, if you are planning to take your case to trial, you are likely concerned about the outcome of that trial. You may also be feeling a bit overwhelmed at the prospect of a trial if you have never been through a criminal trial before – particularly considering what is at stake. Learning more about what happens at a criminal trial is a good way to gain confidence in the outcome of your trial. With that in mind, an Omaha criminal defense lawyer explains cross-examination and the role it may play in your trial.
Criminal Trial Basics – Bench vs. Jury Trial
Before discussing cross-examination, it helps to first cover some trial basics. In the American criminal justice system an accused has a Constitutional right to a trial by a jury of his/her peers. That does not mean you are required to allow a jury to decide your fate. It only means you have the right to a trial by jury if you so choose. You may also waive that right and allow a judge to decide the issue of guilt at your trial. This is referred to as a “bench trial” or “trial by judge,” depending on the jurisdiction. Typically, there are strategic reasons why you would exercise or waive your right to trial by jury. Your Omaha criminal defense lawyer will discuss those reasons with you and help you decide which type of trial is best for your case. The type of trial you choose does affect both direct and cross-examination, to some extent, because the questions asked, and the manner in which your attorney will approach witnesses during questioning, will be different when the “audience” is a judge versus a jury.
Criminal Trial Basics – Steps in a Trial
Next, you need to know the basic steps involved in a criminal trial. Because the State has the burden of proving a defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, the State presents its case first. The defense then has the option to present testimony – or not. A defendant is never required to testify. In fact, a defendant is not required to present any testimony or evidence at all. If the case presented by the prosecution is so weak that the defense believes the State has failed to prove its case, sometimes the decision is made by the defense to simply rest and not present any testimony. If the defense does choose to present witnesses, those witnesses will testify after the State has presented its case.
What Is Cross-Examination?
Most people have heard the term “cross-examination,” but what does it really mean? By way of illustration, let’s assume that the State is presenting its case. The prosecutor calls a law enforcement officer who investigated the case to the stand. When the prosecutor asks the officer questions this is referred to as “direct examination.” The defense attorney (your attorney) then has the opportunity to also ask the officer questions after the prosecutor is finished with his/her questions. This is “cross-examination.” The reverse is true when the defense is presenting its case. When your attorney is questioning a defense witness it is direct examination. When the prosecutor questions a defense witness it is cross-examination. As a general rule, questions on cross-examination can only cover things brought up during direct examination. For this reason, if there is something you do not want a witness to discuss, your attorney will not bring it up on direct examination. Once it is brought up, however, it is referred to as “opening the door” because now the issue is subject to cross-examination by the other side. In summary, just think of cross-examination as the “other side” questioning a witness.
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 Omaha 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.
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