When Victim Advocates Cross the Line
Most criminal defense attorneys will tell you that the most winnable cases are those in which the government’s witnesses are real people rather than police officers and other professional witnesses. One reason why is because a lot of these non-professional witnesses are much more vulnerable to cross-examination. Furthermore, non-profession witness testimony is more truthful because those who are not paid to be in court are simply trying to answer questions in a courtroom, as opposed to the professional witness, who has testified hundreds if not thousands of times and is more concerned about the outcome than honestly answering a question. Criminal defense attorneys can tell you a multitude of stories about evasive police officers who refused to answer on the witness stand or ignored the questions and tried to sabotage the defense attorney’s case. However, justice is also threatened by those who coach witnesses and tell them what to say—even if it isn’t true.
Unfortunately, a prosecutor will sometimes coach a witness as to what to say at trial. While this does not happen often, there are times when a witness will admit on the stand to having several meetings with a prosecutor prior to testifying and in some instances say that the prosecutor told them how to answer questions. There is a big difference between preparing a witness to testify and coaching that witness and telling that witness what to say.
There is another danger beyond prosecutorial misconduct, and that is the coaching witnesses sometimes receive from victim advocates in domestic assault and sexual assault cases. While victim advocates play an important role in the justice system, their involvement can also be problematic when they coach witnesses or tell them what to say.
Years ago, a Berry Law attorney received an acquittal in a domestic assault case in which the alleged victim claimed that the accused strangled her during an episode of domestic violence. The accuser did not tell this to the police during her initial interview when they came to her house, but she later mentioned it no less than five times in an affidavit for a protection order. During cross-examination, the Berry Law attorney was able to show that the accuser never made any statements about being strangled at the time the alleged assault occurred. On cross-examination, the accuser broke down on the stand and said that the reason why she lied in her affidavit is because the victim advocate told her to write that she had been strangled. This was a fatal blow for the government’s case and the jury acquitted the accused.
Fighting False Testimony
In cases of rape and domestic abuse, Jury trials often come down to credibility. The entire point of the jury trial is to get to the truth of what happened. In fact, it is the jury members’ duty to decide the facts of the case. When the government intentionally distorts the facts, it can lead to innocent people being convicted of crimes.
Fortunately, a skilled criminal defense attorney will be able to deal with witnesses who may have been coached by prosecutors or victim advocates. And good prosecutors and victim advocates encourage criminal defense attorneys to ferret out any wrongdoing.
It is the criminal defense attorney that holds government actors accountable. It is the criminal defense attorney that holds the government to the standard. However, it is the jury that requires that the government prove a case beyond a reasonable doubt before finding guilt.
If you or a loved one have been charged with false allegations in a life-altering case, contact the defense attorneys at Berry Law.