Ronda Rousey is famous for her ability to quickly force a victory by submission in professional mixed martial arts fighting.
Getting opponents to tap out, i.e., submit and quit, is quite an accomplishment and Rousey has it down to both a science and an art form. The tap out, i.e., sign of submission, is just that — a literal “tapping” of the fingers or hand.
Some police officers, during a killer cross examination by yours truly, have clearly wanted to tap out or submit. At some point in the cross examination, I can sense when a witness wants to tap out, if only there was some way to do so.
We recently tried (to jury) a drunk driving case in which the police officer, undoubtedly, wanted to tap out. Some cross examinations produce one, two, maybe three good exchanges between the examiner and the witness but this cross examination was relentless — the officer at one point looking like he wanted to tap out. Take a peak at how in each series we setup the so-called submission move, i.e, the powerful moments where the witness is admitting that his prior testimony was incorrect, he erred, he was lazy/made assumptions or is undermining his case. Imagine him sitting there, not knowing when it will end and wishing for a way to make it stop, i.e., to tap out.
At the scene of the stop, our client claimed that another man was driving the car and had left prior to the officer arriving. The officer attempted to suggest that he searched for records of the other individual. That didn’t go well:
Q: how’d you spell the last name that you looked up?
A: multiple ways.
Q: tell me.
A: (cop does one)
A: (cop does one more)
Q: wouldn’t a way to see if the accused has a friend or connection named that be to check Facebook for a Facebook friend?
A: I suppose.
Q: if he has a friend with a name like that, wouldn’t a way to see whether or not you got the name correct to check Facebook?
Q: you didn’t check.
Q: when you ran [that name] through CLEMIS or LIEN and claimed that nothing showed up, you’re purpose was to suggest to the jury that this person doesn’t exist?
A: attempting to suggest that there’s been no driver, nobody came forward.
Q: that’s not the defense’s responsibility, to prove a defense, is it?
As bad as that sounds, it only gets worse:
Q: The quality of the search of the name is only as good as the names you type in?
Q: you’ve heard of garbage in, garbage out?
A: we’ve seen one in another in court on this case before right?
Q: you never once asked me how the name of the driver was spelled, did you?
Q: you made an assumption about the name?
A: I used what I heard and what I —
Q: What you heard?
A: what I heard on the video?
Q: so if you heard it wrong that means that the name you looked up is wrong?
Q: so your search doesn’t tell us very much does it?
At this point, I recall the officer looking around as though he wanted to be anywhere else. However, this exchange was within the first 6 pages of my cross examination of the officer. In other words, this was the beginning.
The House Was Dark
The officer also tried to testify that when he pulled up, all of the lights were off in my client’s house and thus, he concluded, that our client had not come from his house to his car to get something but instead had just returned from driving. Like the subject of the name of the driver, this cross examination section was devastating to the officer’s credibility. While “Gotcha” moments rarely happen in court, we produced one here.
In order to pull off what you’re about to read, you must thoroughly prepare to cross examine the police officer. I don’t mean “read the police reports” but rather, you have to think about each strand of the officer’s claims and examine them from different angles and different perspectives asking:
- is this true?
- could be this an an exaggeration?
- how could this wrong?
- is this an assumption?
When the officer claimed that there were no lights on in the house, I was curious if that was true. I imagined a moment in which I could show lights on in the house … I thought how devastating this would be the state’s case: a true “gotcha” moment. I planned.
First, I watched the video carefully and at a painstakingly slow speed. After multiple frame by frame segments, I saw it … the house and a light on inside. Second, I noted the time. Third, I took multiple still photos from the video program itself, from my computer still photograph program and with other devices. Fourth, I identified every possible landmark I could and pointed to them with an indicator. Last, I took daytime photos to show the same angles and landmarks. My plan, unfurl this examination piece by piece so that the officer was trapped and forced to reveal that he was wrong and had made a devastating and prejudicial assumption. To the person watching, it would have seemed like I was just up there talking to the cop about this stuff but this was the product of a plan and the execution of the plan:
When I question the officer about which house was the accused’s, you’ll notice him fight and obfuscate a bit. I don’t mind at all … to me, he is walking right into the cross examination trap that we’ve laid out for him.
Because he tried to suggest that “he didn’t know” which house it was, we start identify landmarks for him to “assist” him and to show the jury that he is not being forthright.
At this point, using our exhibits, I attempt to identify several landmarks for the officer:
As you observed, I continued to use our exhibits to identify the house for the officer and jury. We identified two ceramic, distinctive and unique lawn ornaments and zeroed in on those and the house between them and as you’ll see, the cross comes together at this point. The evidence is undeniable and devastating: the house between the lawn ornaments (the balls) is the accused’s house and …. there is a light on in the house. Which leads to the final questions: there was a light on in the accused’s house and that he was wrong about the absence of a light.
That’s a light on in the house you’ve identified as [the accused’s] house, isn’t it? Here is the answer —
The cross examination continued past this point but the killer cross examination approach had already won the case. The witness made assertions and those assertions turned out to be wrong and, worse, were proven wrong before the jury. Just as Rousey does in her matches, she goes for a submission early on and is typically successful. This is no accident. My killer cross examination did the same … if the officer could have tapped out then, he would have. Several hours later, when the proofs were in, the jury did it for him and found our client not guilty.