The Art of Cross Examination (Part 4) The Killer Cross That Never Happened

December 23, 2011

Author’s Note: This is a continuation of the Killer Cross. If you have not read the first part, please go here to read it, as it is important for the sake of continuity.

Notice that each question is a leading question. That is, the questioner, in this case the defense attorney, makes a statement and asks the witness, Deputy Eddie McGuire of the McCracken County Sheriff’s Department, to agree or disagree with it. With the exception of a few questions to which the answer is common knowledge or otherwise apparent, the statement in each question is a prior statement that the witness made in his report or a prior statement that he made under oath while testifying at the preliminary hearing, grand jury, or suppression hearing.

After the question that contains the witness’s prior statement, I provide an answer that confirms the prior statement that he made. Below the answer in italics, I provide the source for the statement.

For example, in the first question below (#25 in the sequence that started yesterday), Deputy McGuire testified at the preliminary hearing that he pulled Crane Station over because he thought she possibly had some heroin. If he had answered the question below with a “No,” the lawyer would have impeached him with his prior inconsistent statement under oath by following the formula that I presented in Part 2 of this series. Please review that procedure, if you have not read it or are uncertain about it.

As I have said previously, impeachment by prior inconsistent statement is one of the most powerful and effective tools to cross examine and destroy the credibility of a witness and your opponent’s case.

Unfortunately, Crane Station’s lawyer, Chris McNeill, refused to use this cross examination and he lost the case. However, in the strange manner that the universe works, his refusal ended up giving me this opportunity to educate all of you about something only a few of you know anything about, which is the art of cross examination.

In a subsequent post, I will discuss why I think he declined to use it.

I love teaching! and I hope you enjoy reading the Killer Cross that never happened.

All rise. Court is back in session. You may be seated.

25. Deputy McGuire, you pulled Mrs. Leatherman over because you thought she possibly had some heroin, correct?

A: Yes.

Transcript Preliminary Hearing, page 8, lines 14-15

26. Q: You have testified that you thought she possibly had some heroin on her because Mr. Wilkey called 911 and reported that she asked him if he knew where she could purchase some tar heroin, correct?

A: Yes.

Transcript Preliminary Hearing, page 7 lines 1-3

27. Q: That’s what you told the members of the grand jury on July 28, 2006, isn’t it?

A: Yes.

Transcript Grand Jury, page 1, lines 17-23

28. Q: The grand jury is a group of citizens who decide whether to indict a suspect whom a law enforcement officer, such as yourself, has arrested for a felony crime, right?

A: Yes.

29. Q: The grand jury decides whether there is probable cause, or reasonable grounds to believe that a suspect has committed a felony crime, correct?

A: Yes.

30. Q: You would agree with me that it is extremely important for a witness testifying before the grand jury to tell the truth, isn’t it?

A: Yes

31. Q: You promised to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth when you testified, didn’t you?

A: Yes.

32. And that is the same promise that you made to this court and this jury today, isn’t it?

A: Yes.

33. Q: Mr. Wilkey told the 911 operator that Mrs. Leatherman had a conversation with his neighbor in the neighbor’s yard in which she “mentioned something about tar heroin and all that stuff,” isn’t that correct?

A: Yes.

Transcript 911 Call, page 2, lines 8-9

34. Mr. Wilkey did not tell the 911 Operator that Mrs. Leatherman asked him if he knew where she could purchase some heroin, did he?

A: No he didn’t.

35. Q: And the 911 Dispatcher did not tell you that Mr. Wilkey had reported that Mrs. Leatherman had asked him if he knew where she could purchase some heroin, did he?

A: No, he didn’t.

Transcript of Dispatcher Tape, page 1. This transcript was first made available by the prosecution during the trial. I did not have it or include a reference to it in my proposed cross. Nevertheless, I included this question because I believed the dispatcher never would have said what the deputy claimed he said in view of what the 911 caller had said. I also knew we could request and obtain a copy of the dispatcher tape and transcribe it before the deputy testified. Both the 911 call and the 911 dispatch could have been played to complete the impeachment.

36. Q: Despite promising to tell the truth to the grand jury, you did not tell the truth when you told the grand jury that Mr. Wilkey called 911 and reported that she asked him where she could buy heroin, correct?

A: Yes.

37. Q: You also told the grand jury under oath that Mrs. Leatherman was “very unsteady on her feet,” when she got out of her vehicle after you stopped her, didn’t you?

A: Yes.

Transcript Grand Jury, page 3, lines 6-7

38. Q: That was a lie too, wasn’t it?

A: Yes.

39. Q: Lying under oath to a grand jury is a felony called perjury that is punishable by up to 5 years in prison, isn’t it?

A: Yes.

Author’s Note: If the deputy said he did not know that what he did was perjury, the lawyer could simply hand him the statute and have him read it out loud. I did not put this in the document that I prepared for Chris McNeill because any lawyer should know this.

This is called playing hardball. I designed this part of the cross to provoke the judge into interrupting and advising the deputy of his Fifth Amendment right to remain silent and refuse to answer on the ground that his answer might have incriminated him. An honest judge also would have offered to recess the trial long enough for the deputy to consult with a lawyer and decide whether to continue answering questions.

At this point, an honorable prosecutor would have, in effect, tossed a white handkerchief over counsel table into the middle of the courtroom as a symbolic gesture of surrender.

None of this happened, however, because Chris McNeill refused to do the cross because, as he put it, “the deputy was a nice young man and the jury would have been offended,” if he used my proposed cross examination.

But, let us continue. Now that we have established that the deputy is a perjurer, let’s take him all the way down. Until tomorrow, Court will be in recess.

To be continued . . .

Cross posted from my law blog.


The Art of Cross Examination (Part 3): The Killer Cross That Never Happened

December 22, 2011

Author’s Note: I have reproduced below the cross examination that I prepared for Crane-Station’s public defender, Chris McNeill. He told me that he decided not to use it because the jury “would be offended.” He said the deputy was “young and innocent and just doing his job.” I will leave it to you to decide if that explanation is credible and reasonable.

Keep in mind, as you read this proposed cross examination, that Rule 3.130(1.1) of the Kentucky Rules of Professional Conduct provides:

A lawyer shall provide competent representation to a client. Competent representation requires the legal knowledge, skill, thoroughness and preparation reasonably necessary for the representation.

Rule 1.130(1.3) of the Kentucky Rules of Professional Conduct provides:

(1) A lawyer should pursue a matter on behalf of a client despite opposition, obstruction or personal inconvenience to the lawyer, and take whatever lawful and ethical measures are required to vindicate a client’s cause or endeavor. A lawyer must also act with commitment and
dedication to the interests of the client and with zeal in advocacy upon the client’s behalf. A lawyer is not bound, however, to press for every advantage that might be realized for a client. For example, a lawyer may have authority to exercise professional discretion in determining the
means by which a matter should be pursued. See Rule 1.2. The lawyer’s duty to act with reasonable diligence does not require the use of offensive tactics or preclude the treating of all persons involved in the legal process with courtesy and respect.

When a defense lawyer impeaches a critical prosecution witness with a prior inconsistent statement, he can take the soft approach and argue that the prosecution failed to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt because its witness is not credible.

He can say, for example, “I don’t know whether the witness lied to you under oath or innocently forgot, but there is absolutely no question that his inconsistencies and contradictions add up to a reasonable doubt.”

The hard approach would be to use the dreaded ‘L’ word and argue that there is a reasonable doubt because the deputy is a liar. This approach, particularly when it involves attacking the police, can anger a jury and backfire unless the inconsistencies were egregious.

I have tried it both ways successfully. I opted for the hard approach in my proposed cross, but it easily could have been adapted to the soft approach.

When McNeill made the comment to me about the deputy being young and innocent, I assumed he meant that he would opt for the soft approach. I did not consider the possibility that he was opting for no approach.

When I began to type the proposed cross to reproduce it here, I discovered that it is much too long to enter in one post, so I am going to present it in a series of posts. Each post will deal with a separate topic or set of topics. This post will cover what the deputy witnessed prior to the investigatory stop.

The cross examination is organized in a question-answer format. A reference to the document or transcript containing the deputy’s previous statement is incorporated in a leading question asking for a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer with the source of the statement provided below the answer. If the deputy were to give an answer that was inconsistent with his previous statement in the document or transcript, the lawyer would then proceed to impeach him with that statement. I illustrated how to do that in Part 2.

I hope you enjoy the Killer Cross.

1. Q: Whenever you are considering whether to charge a suspect with DUI, you document everything you observe that would be consistent with drug or alcohol impairment, isn’t that correct?

A: Yes.

Source: Transcript Suppression lines 2-6, page 19

2. Q: Staggering or stumbling would be signs of alcohol or drug intoxication, right?

A: Yes.

Q: You did not document any staggering or stumbling in your report, did you?

A: No.

Transcript Suppression, lines 14-17, page 17

3. Q: In fact, you previously testified under oath in this case that Mrs. Leatherman had no problem getting out of her car, didn’t you?

A: Yes.

Transcript Suppression, lines 11-13, page 17.

4. Q: Difficulty producing identification and proof of insurance are signs of alcohol or drug intoxication, aren’t they?

A: Yes.

Q: You did not document in your report in the Uniform Citation that you filled out the night that you arrested her that she had any difficulty producing her identification and proof of insurance, when you asked her to produce them, did you?

A: No.

Uniform Citation

5. Q: In fact, you previously testified under oath in this case that she had no problem producing her identification and proof of insurance, didn’t you?

A: Yes.

Transcript Suppression, lines 18-22, page 15.

6. Q: You did not document that she had any difficulty speaking, did you?

A: No.

Uniform Citation

7. Q: At no time during your encounter with Mrs. Leatherman did she exhibit slurred speech, did she?

A: No.

Q: Slurred speech is another sign of alcohol or drug intoxication, isn’t it?

A: Yes

Transcript Suppression, lines 18-19, page 17.

8. Q: You did not document in your report that Mrs. Leatherman exhibited any sign of mental confusion or disorientation, did you?

A: No.

Uniform Citation

9. Q: In fact, you did not notice any signs of mental confusion or disorientation, did you?

A: No.

Uniform Citation

10. Q: Mental confusion or disorientation is another sign of alcohol or drug intoxication, isn’t it?

A: Yes.

11. Q: An odor of alcohol is another sign of intoxication, isn’t it?

A: Yes.

12. Q: You did not document in your report that you noticed an odor of alcohol emanating from Mrs. Leatherman, did you?

A: No.

13. But you did document that she passed the portable breath test (PBT) ruling out alcohol intoxication at the roadside after you stopped her, didn’t you?

A: Yes.

14. Q: Yet, two weeks later when you testified before the grand jury in this matter, you told them that she stumbled getting out of her car, was very unsteady on her feet, and was smelling of alcohol, didn’t you?

A: Yes

Transcript Grand Jury

15. Q: Inattentive driving is another sign of drug or alcohol intoxication, isn’t it?

A: Yes.

16. Q: You have previously testified under oath in Mrs. Leatherman’s case that you first noticed that her left turn signal was blinking as you passed her, isn’t that correct?

A: Yes.

Transcript Suppression, lines 4-6, page 5.

17. Q: Both of you were approaching the Cairo Road intersection, weren’t you?

A: Yes.

18. Q: The Cairo Road intersection is a traffic light controlled intersection where motorists can turn left or right, isn’t it?

A: Yes.

19. Q: If Mrs. Leatherman had moved into the left lane as you started to pass her, she would have collided with your vehicle, wouldn’t she?

A: Yes.

Transcript Suppression, lines 21-25, page 12.

20. Q: The fact that she did not move into the left lane and collide with your vehicle indicates that she was attentive, doesn’t it?

A: Yes.

Transcript Suppression, lines 21-25, page 12

21. Q: You slowed down and fell in directly behind her as soon as you realized that her vehicle, Washington plates, and the blonde hair matched the description provided by the 911 caller, didn’t you?

A: Yes.

Uniform Citation, Transcript Grand Jury, Suppression Transcript

22. Q: As soon as you fell in behind her, she activated her right-turn signal, moved over onto the shoulder of the road, and slowed down to a stop, correct?

A: Yes.

Transcript Suppression, lines 3-5, page 15.

23. Q: That would be another example of attentive rather than inattentive driving, wouldn’t it?

A: Yes.

24. Q: In conclusion, she was driving appropriately, she wasn’t weaving, and her speed wasn’t a factor when you decided to pull her over, isn’t that correct?

A: Yes.

To be continued . . .


The Art of Cross Examination (Part 2): Impeachment By Prior Inconsistent Statement

December 21, 2011

Please watch the attached clip from Witness For The Prosecution (1957), starring the incomparable Charles Laughton, Marlene Dietrich, and Tyrone Power. Billy Wilder directed the film and wrote the screenplay from a novel by Agatha Christie.

Now back to the real world.

Here is an example of how to effectively impeach a witness with a prior inconsistent statement. This is one of the most effective ways to cross examine a witness. More than once, I have demolished an opponent’s case using this method. It is relative easy to do after you have assembled all of a witnesses’s prior statements, sorted them by topic, and prepared your cross examination. As usual, there is no substitute for hard work and preparation. The end product in court is extremely dramatic, deeply humiliating and disorienting to the dishonest witness, frightening to opposing counsel, and immensely satisfying to the lawyer who pulls it off.

Author’s Note: I never got a witness to say, “Damn you. Damn you,” but I did get a witness to say, “As God is my witness, I am telling the truth,” which is almost as good. She was not as beautiful, elegant, and aristocratic as Marlene Dietrich, but hey, nobody is.

Here, I illustrate the method by using the first question of a lengthy proposed cross examination of Deputy Eddie McGuire of the McCracken County Sheriff’s Department. He arrested Crane-Station and I have previously mentioned him in several posts relative to her case.

I prepared the cross examination for Chris McNeill, the lawyer who represented Crane-Station and I delivered it to him in person the week before the trial. I respectfully asked him to please consider using it.

I said, “I respect you. I am not trying to tell you how to do your job. I love my wife and I am just trying to help out any way that I can. This is one area where I can help because I have a lot of experience in these matters. Please review it and consider using it, or some of it, as you deem appropriate.”

He never used any of it.

He later told me that the deputy was a nice young man and the jury would have been offended, if he used my proposed cross examination. I will leave it for you to decide whether that makes any sense.

Each proposed question is followed by the correct answer with a reference below the answer to the document or transcript in which the deputy made the original statement.

If the deputy gave the wrong answer to any question, the proper way to impeach him would have been to direct his attention to the source document or transcript and confront him with his prior inconsistent statement.

In tomorrow’s post, I will present the entire cross examination that did not happen. It is an engaging and easy-to-follow-story that I believe you will enjoy.

In today’s post, I will present the first question, answer, and reference to the source in order to illustrate how to effectively cross examine a witness by impeaching the witness with a prior inconsistent statement. The procedure is formulaic and would be repeated whenever the deputy gave an answer that was inconsistent with an earlier statement.

Okay, students. With that introduction, let us begin.

Q: Deputy McGuire, whenever you are considering whether to charge a suspect with DUI, you document everything you observe that would be consistent with drug or alcohol impairment, isn’t that correct?

A: Yes.

The proper answer is “yes” because that is the answer that he gave under oath at the suppression hearing. Now, let us suppose that he answered, “No.” This is how you impeach him with his prior inconsistent statement.

May I approach the witness, your Honor?

You may.

You now approach the witness and hand him a copy of the transcript of the suppression hearing that you will use to impeach him and you also hand two copies to the clerk. One is for the court file and the other is a courtesy copy for the judge. On your way back to the podium, you hand the prosecutor a courtesy copy. Resuming your position at the podium, you proceed as follows:

Q: Deputy McGuire, please take a moment to review the document that I just handed to you and let me know when you are ready to answer some questions about it.

A: Okay, I’m ready.

Q: What is the document you are holding, which Madame Clerk has marked as Defendant’s Exhibit 1?

A: It looks like a transcript of the suppression hearing in this case.

Q: Did you testify at that hearing?

A: Yes, I did.

Q: Did you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, before you testified?

A: Yes.

Q: Did you tell the truth?

A: Of course I did.

Q: Does that document appear to be a true and correct copy of your testimony at the suppression hearing?

A: Appears to be.

Q: Please answer the question “Yes” or “No.” Take all the time you need.

A: Yes, it’s correct.

Q: Thank you. Your Honor, I move Defendant’s Exhibit 1 into evidence for illustrative purposes.

This is the proper way to identify and authenticate an exhibit prior to moving it into evidence. Judges and lawyers call it “laying the foundation.”

Notice how the lawyer firmly, but respectfully refuses to accept the equivocal answer. This is how a lawyer asserts control over a waffling witness.

Exhibits admitted into evidence for illustrative purposes become a part of the official record of the case. They can be used by counsel to illustrate a point, but they do not go into the jury room with the rest of the exhibits during deliberations.

Should a question come up during deliberations, the foreperson can send out a note asking to see a particular exhibit that was admitted for illustrative purposes. If the judge grants the request after conferring with counsel, court will reconvene with counsel and the defendant present. The jury returns to the box and the Clerk shows the exhibit to the jury. The jury then returns to the jury room to continue deliberations and the judge declares a recess pending further notice from the jury that it has another question, or it has reached a verdict.

No talking is permitted while the jury views the exhibit. If the jurors have any questions about the exhibit after viewing it, the foreman has to submit the question(s) in writing after the jury returns to the jury room.

Judge: Mr. Prosecutor, do you have any objection to admitting the exhibit for illustrative purposes?

Prosecutor: No objection, your Honor.

Judge: Very well. Defendant’s Exhibit 1 is admitted for illustrative purposes.

Q: Deputy McGuire, directing your attention to page 19, lines 2-6 of the transcript of the suppression hearing on November 26, 2006, were you asked the following question by defense counsel and did you give the following answer under oath?

Question by defense counsel:

“So, pretty much it’s your practice, if considering DUI, is to document all of those things that would be consistent with drug or alcohol impairment?”

You answered: “Yes.”

A: Uhm, well, Yes, I guess I did.

Q: You answered “Yes,” didn’t you?

A: Yes.

Q: Thank you.

When faced with an equivocating witness, and cops and experts do like to equivocate at times, I often used the technique, which I illustrated here, of repeating the question until the witness answered it. Defensive prosecutors often rise to the bait and attempt to defend their witness by objecting on the basis that the question was “asked and answered.”

I would respond to the objection by stating, “The witness is being evasive. The question calls for a simple “yes,” or “no,” and I intend to keep asking it until he answers it.”

Usually, the judge would turn to the witness and ask him, if he could answer the question “yes,” or “no.” Every time I used this technique and got the judge to intercede, the witness answered “Yes.” Then the judge overruled the prosecutor’s improper objection and allowed me to continue and cement the answer in the jury’s collective memory accompanied by the impression that the cop or the expert was attempting to hide something and the prosecutor was attempting to assist the witness to do it.

Sharp and experienced trial lawyers can devastate their opponent’s case by impeaching their witnesses with prior inconsistent statements.

Until tomorrow then . . .


The Art of Cross-Examination

December 20, 2011

Every good trial lawyer knows how to effectively cross-examine a witness. Unfortunately, very few law schools teach students how to do it, so lawyers usually learn the basics on the job slugging it out in the trenches. That and watching the masters at work is how I learned the craft.

You have to know your case thoroughly and you have to strategize. Sometimes the most effective cross-examination is to rise and say, “I do not have any questions for this witness, your Honor.”

Let us say, for example, that the witness is a nervous and frightened old lady who did not say anything that hurt your client. You might be able to figuratively smack her around on some minor point, but toward what end? The jury would hate you for showing off at her expense. The last thing in the world that you want to do during a jury trial is piss off the jury.

When you decide to cross-examine a witness, you must know exactly what you want to accomplish before you ask a question, and to the maximum extent possible, you must always ask leading questions that can be answered with a simple “yes” or “no.” Never ask open-ended questions that permit a witness to ramble on retelling their story. The jury is more likely to remember what the witness said, if you provide the witness with an opportunity to retell their story.

You cannot get anywhere arguing with or shouting down a witness and calling him a liar. You must always be polite and respectful. Unless the witness is a child, always address the witness formally as Mr., Ms. or Mrs., Dr., Sergeant, Officer, etc. Never address the witness by their first name and always pronounce the person’s name correctly. Remember that you are an officer of the court and comport yourself correctly.

Never ever ask a question, if you do not know what the answer will be. I recall trying a case with a lawyer friend who shall remain nameless. Our respective clients were L.A. gang members (Bloods) indicted in federal court in Tacoma, WA with participating in a multi-state drug conspiracy distributing massive amounts of crack cocaine. In all there were 10 defendants, including our clients.

The government’s case against his client was very weak. Although federal agents arrested his client in the gang’s drug house in Tacoma at the same time they busted the other defendants, the government did not have a witness who could tie him to the gang or implicate him in any drug dealing. They did have a photograph, however, which they seized during a search of the house, in which my friend’s client was flashing gang signs over a pile of money on a table in a kitchen.

The government’s last witness was an FBI agent whom the government called to testify about serving the search warrant and what they found in the residence after they arrested the defendants and searched it. The photograph was one of the last items in a laundry list of evidence that the agents seized. The agent identified it as a photograph of the defendant that he found in the defendant’s backpack. The Assistant U.S. Attorney moved the photograph into evidence and the judge admitted it.

After the Assistant U.S. Attorney concluded the direct examination of the FBI agent without further reference to my friend’s client, I figured his client was home free because the kitchen depicted in the background of the photograph differed significantly from the kitchen depicted in other photographs of the kitchen in the drug house taken by the agents when they raided and searched it. “Not Guilty,” the two sweetest words in the English language, as we defense attorneys used to say, appeared to be the almost certain outcome for my friend’s client, since notwithstanding the gang signs and the pile of money, the government had not presented any evidence regarding when or where the photograph was taken and no witness had ever seen him in the drug house or associating with the defendants who were arrested there.

But it was not to be.

My friend walked over to the lectern, whereupon the following exchange took place,

“Good afternoon, Special Agent Jones.”

“Good afternoon, Counsel.”

“Madame Clerk, would you please hand the witness Government’s Exhibit 1023 A. Thank you.”

Now, Special Agent Jones. I believe you testified on direct that you seized this photograph from my client’s backpack after you arrested him, is that correct?”

“Yes, Sir. Yes, I did.”

“Now, you spent several hours in the house where my client was arrested searching, seizing, and inventorying the evidence that you seized, didn’t you?”

“Yes, sir. I actually spent 3.3 hours there.”

“So you had plenty of time to familiarize yourself with every room in the house, including the kitchen, is that correct?”

“Yes, Sir.”

“And the kitchen depicted in the background of Government’s Exhibit 1023 A is not the same kitchen, is it?”

“Uhm, you’re right. It isn’t the same kitchen.”

“You’re certain about that, aren’t you?”

“Yes, I am.”

“In fact, you don’t know when or where that photograph was taken, do you?”

“Well, Counselor. As a matter of fact, I do.”

May the record reflect that for the next five minutes the back of my friend’s neck turned an ever intensifying red hue as the smiling Special Agent identified the kitchen as a kitchen in the same gang’s drug house that he had searched pursuant to a search warrant in Los Angeles the day before his client was arrested.

Part 2 tomorrow: Cross-examination by prior inconsistent statement.