Tag Archive for: criminal defense lawyer

“When the witness is digging himself a hole, keep the shovel in his hands”

Killer Cross Examination Snippet from P v Morrow

“When the witness is digging himself a hole, keep the shovel in his hands”

Killer-Cross-Examination

The informant took the stand to attempt to finish his “work” for the Straits Area Narcotics Enforcement (SANE) drug team. He thought he’d be cagey and try to argue with me as I cross examined him. Ask those in the attendance whether his caginess or attempt to “talk back to me” worked. I suggest that most in attendance realized that he was only digging himself a deeper a hole.  I kept the shovel in his hands.  

Here is a summary of just one portion of the killer cross examination of this informant-witness:

 Q:        You would lie to get yourself out of trouble?

 A:         No.

 Q:        You’ve admitted as much under oath in the past, right?

A:         No.

Q:        You testified in oath in {this other case}?

 A:         Yes.

Q:        Weren’t you asked this question, “You would like to get yourself out of trouble?” and your answer was, “Yes.”

A:         Yes.

Q:        So you lied earlier today?

A:         No.

Q:        You denied that you’d lie to help yourself get out of trouble and you denied that you said that under oath earlier.   Those were lies, right?

A:         Yes, I guess.

Q:        There’s not much to guesswork in that is there?

A:         I don’t know what you mean.

A killer cross examination can expose the witness’s willingness to lie but also by addressing each aspect of the lie, e.g., in the past, in the present, etc., reveals the witnesses willingness to continually lie even in court.  When a witness is digging himself a hole, make sure that you keep the shovel in his hands and get him to keep digging. 

(This is a summary of an excerpt of one portion of the cross examination of the informant.   It is not meant to state that this is an identical transcript or verbatim copy of the transcript.)

Stay tuned from more revelations from the cross examination of the informant in the Morrow case as well as cross examinations of the officer in charge – those too proved to be quite revealing.

 

Twisting Them Up

Once in a while, if the cross examine is persistent enough, a witness just loses his cool.  The witness, pressed for information by a dogged cross examiner, becomes impatient and reveals that he is just not believable by answering a question defiantly and nonsensically.   A killer cross examination can reveal a witness to be unhinged and unreliable.

In this case, a police officer was trying to fence and parry with me as I cross examined him.  He was cagey, as thought he was trying to think too much about what the answers meant rather than just answer the questions.  After hearing him testify that he called a uniformed officer to the scene for a “police presence”, I pressed him on the true meaning of that concept.  I was trying to establish that my client was not free to leave and the police presence rendered him detained.   Read along and watch for the officer losing it, i.e, becoming unhinged and offering up testimony that was defiant, blubber and nonsense.

Cop - Twisted Police Authority 1

Cross- Police Authority Twisted 2

Cross Police Authority Twisted 3

Cross Police Authority Twisted 5

The killer cross examination trapped the officer into the image of a “police presence” and after it was too late, he tried to argue, obfuscate and talk his way out of it.  His answer to the strong police presence question was argumentative, meandering, rubbish, blubbering and nonsensical.  It reads like he was babbling and it was only worse in person.  He should have conceded the point but didn’t want to give us something valuable and helpful to our case.

This is an effective part of a cross examination — force the witness into a compromising position and force him to either concede the point with helpful testimony or testify as this officer did — nonsensically.   This officer chose to argue further undermining his credibility.

Stay tuned for more killer cross examination segments as we have a whole new batch of transcripts to discuss and talk about.

 

I’m Not Going To Be Cross Examined By “That” Lawyer

So the worst kept secret in Michigan is out:  it is not fun to be cross examined by me.  Not fun at all.  I wouldn’t compare it to getting one’s teeth pulled.  However, I would compare it to trying to out punch your shadow.  Trying to fend me off is tiring and usually pointless.  It is a fight that can’t be won.  But, you don’t have to take my word for it … take the word of others that have watched it first hand or experience it.

One person watched the officer’s eyes as I walked into the courtroom, and he swore that they showed fear in their eyes.

There are other stories too:

The retired police officer that reminds me on social media what it was like to be cross examined by me.  Every time we post a transcript or a video, he comments and chuckles and reminds me of an encounter we had.  He dreaded the experience.

Or, there are the thousands of people that watched our YouTube.com videos of my cross examinations of a Michigan State Trooper in a circuit court trial.   Read the comments … you’ll see what they think.

But one stands out to me.  I cross examined several witnesses in a personal protection order hearing and some of the potential witnesses watched me do it. They were going to be witnesses for the opposing party.  One look and they changed their minds.  They said:

I’m not going to be cross examined by that guy.

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Pretty high praise for my style of cross examination.  Killer Cross Examination.

 

Neil Rockind

Fun Friday | Two Excerpts From A Masterpiece Cross Examination Of A Seasoned Cop

In a racketeering and criminal enterprise case involving four (4) top lawyers, it fell upon me to cross examine the cop that was the centerpiece of the state’s case.  I knew that was my purpose in being in the case and I made sure that I rose to the occasion.  The clients and lawyers were counting on me and I was going to deliver.  This is an Excerpt from the Cross of Gray, my cross examination that assisted in obtaining a dismissal in a high profile racketeering case.

In this segment of Killer Cross Examination, you should notice two (2) things:  my calling out the witness’ physical reaction to questioning and his ultimate reaction when he was cornered and realized that I had trapped him.  These are keys for developing a killer cross examination.

First, witnesses testify with more than just their words — they physically react.  Prosecutor’s call out when a witness uses his hands to show a distance or an angle but there is more to be put on the record than angles, etc.  One can do what I did and that is — call out the witness’ physical reaction to testifying.

In the Cross of Gray, the penetrating nature of the cross examination caused the witness to tremble.  We all saw it and I wanted the record to reflect it.  So … I made sure that it did:

Bill Gray Trembling

Notice how I literally called him on his physical reaction.  He was trembling from the pressure that the questions placed on him and I wanted the record to bear that out.  This is important and too many lawyers don’t do this.  Instead, they’d remember it but never record it.

Additionally, sometimes you trap a witness to such a degree that they utter something that leaves a lasting impression — an admission if you will that they’re done, cooked, etc.  When a seasoned cop utters the word “shit” at finding himself in a trap, you know that he’s cooked.   This happened in this excerpt of the Cross of Gray:

Bill Gray  - Oh Shit

The witness was cornered.  He had literally been trapped in a corner where I had pointed out that his conduct was “a wink” to our client to continue to operate his business and that, contrary to his testimony, he didn’t want to bust him.  When he realized he was cornered, he admitted it and then uttered the unthinkable

….. shit.

Killer cross examination is effective and fun (particularly when you make them tremble and swear on the witness stand.)

Enjoy the Dream Cruise.

Neil Rockind

Punch Them In The Face | Right Back At ‘Em Cross Examination Of An Expert

 

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He had just finished testifying for the prosecutor, offering an opinion that a certain amount of marijuana was being possessed for sale and delivery purposes rather than for personal consumption.  His reasoning was circular:

It was the quantity.  The amount.  Mostly the amount.  What about it? Well, the amount…

He continued to repeat that as though repeating it made more true.  When it was my turn to cross examine, I wanted to go right back at ’em with a “Punch Them In The Face” killer cross examination.  And that is just what I did …

Before he even settled in for my cross examination, I started in about “the magic number.”  He seemed startled and caught off guard

Good, I thought.  This isn’t going to be some namby-pamby cross examination.  This is a killer cross examination.

My questions about “magic number” were direct and a verbal

Punch in the face

Rockind - Magic Number Cross

Notice how I wasted little time in going after him and his incessant reliance on “quantity.”  A Killer Cross Examination can feel like death by a thousand cuts with a slow, methodical destruction and dismantling of the witness or it can be an immediate haymaker, i.e., a punch in the face.

 

A Look At Attorney James “Jim” Amberg’s Cross Examination Of An Informant

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There’s a popular saying about how there are different ways to do something.  For example,

there’s more than 1 way to skin a cat.

In essence this sayings means that there are different ways to express the same sentiment or thought:

different people have different ways to doing the same thing and both ways may be quite effective as well.

While I have developed a style of cross examination that I refer to as “Killer Cross Examination” that is based on my style, personality and approach, there are other extremely effective lawyers that cross examine a different way.  Some are extremely effective and have the results to prove it.   In other words, my approach is not the only way to “skin the proverbial cat.”   And like an artist who can appreciate the artistry of another painter’s work, I too can appreciate the beauty and craftsmanship in another lawyer’s cross examination style.   Today, we take a brief look at my friend, James “Jim” Amberg’s style of cross examination by examining his cross examination of an informant, Marcus Harvey, in a drug/RICO trial.

About Jim Amberg

A bit about our subject, Jim Amberg, before we examine his cross examination style for while the words appear on the page, they gain more impact if you can picture the actual live examination.  To do that, we have to describe Jim a bit.

First, Jim is nothing if not energetic, passionate and excited.  Literally.   Jim is a bright light — from the moment you meet him until he leaves, he is full of energy.  Not angry energy mind you … but energy that is infectious and captivating .   I wouldn’t want Jim’s voice and energy to be the first thing I see and hear in the morning upon waking after a long night of drinking with little sleep but it is just the sort of energy that I’d want in someone who was leading me into battle or leading me my team onto the football field.  Jim’s demeanor and energy can get you fired up.

Second, Jim is funny.  He makes no apologies for his sarcasm but when he is sarcastic, he is so with a smile on his face rather than a sneer.  He almost appears to be enjoying his own humor.

Last, Jim is fearless.  I’ve seen him in court and he relishes the fight.

The Case – The Informant-Witness

With that as the backdrop, Jim was defending a young man who was accused of participating in a local gang that wrecked havoc in Detroit, Michigan.  This gang regularly participated in drug deals, handgun acquisitions, robberies and murder.  Each of the young men involved were accused of killing people at various times of their young lives.  One young man in particular was arrested and accused of participating in the gang organization.   He faced a sentence that would have likely resulted in his incarceration for life.  However, the young man decided to cooperate with the federal authorities and talk on others.  Despite several meeting with agents, he never once mentioned Amberg’s client.  Looking for an even more favorable deal, the witness mentioned Amberg’s client in a late, late debriefing.  Amberg sought to exploit the following on cross examination:

  • The witness’ own culpability;
  • The witness’ plea and sentence deal that would spare him a life sentence;
  • The witness’ involvement relative Amberg’s clients, i.e., that the witness was more involved yet was cooperating with the government against his relatively uninvolved client;
  • The witness’ omissions in earlier interviews;
  • The witness’ failure to mention his client immediately;
  • Contradictions between the witness’ story and the DEA reports; and,
  • The overall character of the informant.

Amberg did an excellent job demonstrating how incredible the informant-cooperating witness was when he cross examined him recently.  Here are excerpts:

Challenging The Witness’s Claims – Tying Him To A Post

I like to call this practice tethering the witness to a statement or “tying him to a post.”  The lawyer is in possession of a statement that the witness made elsewhere and has the ability to prove that the witness made the statement.  The witness is effectively tethered to it, i.e., admit it or deny at your own peril and be cross examined about it.  You tie him to the post.

If the witness denies the statement, he is impeached with 1) the fact that he is refuting his own words and 2) ultimately by the testimony of the person that took or heard the statement.  Here is an example of Amberg did that here:

Amberg - Cross Sample Page 1

Notice how Amberg actually uses “memory” and “denials” to emphasize the witness’ denial about that statements, eg, you don’t remember saying or you didn’t say, etc.  He is reminding the jurors that the witness’ claim is not believable.

Something else he does is pit the witness against the government agents or police officers.  By asking the witness questions like, “So, if Agent [so and so] put that in his report, he must have been wrong?”, he is directly forcing the witness to choose between contradicting himself or contradicting the agent.  When the witness indicated that the agent must’ve been wrong, the witness lost much credibility.  This is well done.

Here, Amberg discusses omissions with the witness.  Pointing out what a witness said is important but so is pointing out what a witness omits.  Here, despite sitting down to discuss others involved in crime as a part of a cooperation agreement, the witness never mentions Amberg’s client.  Amberg points this out by discussing the absence.

Here is another example of tethering the witness to a statement.

Amberg - Cross Sample 3

Amberg tied the witness or tethered the witness to another post — this time a tape recorded interview between the witness and the police.   When the witness acknowledges the interview, Amberg moves in for the kill to point out what the witness did and did not talk about.   As you can see, this is not the first time the witness has ducked what he told agents in those interview sessions.  First, he denies making certain statements in an interview, then testifies that the agent must’ve been wrong and now the witness is disputing a tape recording.  With each answer, Amberg is stretching the witness past the point of believability.

Humor To Finish Him Off

I am a firm believer in using humor where one can to make a point.  A laughing jury is not a hanging jury, an old saying goes.  Amberg is from the same school.

The witness has testified that money given to him was not for marijuana or pot.  He has testified to picnics, parties and barbecues however.  Amberg combines the two and the use of the word “pot” to point out the absurdity in the witness’ testimony and to convey what he thinks of it:

Amberg - Sample Cross 9

Did you see it?

so it might not have been pot money, it might have been potluck money

Amberg is finishing him off with humor.  The refusal of the witness to concede that the collected money by a group dealing drugs was for drugs/pot is silly.  There was no reason for the witness to deny this claim other than his desire to avoid admitting to more crime or his feeling that Amberg had made him look and sound untruthful.  Rather than admit it, he chose to sound even more untruthful.

Amberg gave him just enough rope for the witness to figuratively hang himself.  This too was well done.

The lesson in Amberg’s cross examination is simple:  use your own personality to challenge and cross examine witnesses.  Amberg does this well.  He uses wit, humor and smarts to force the witness to be his own worst enemy.   Amberg literally gave this witness a chance to tell the truth, i.e., “I needed more people to throw under the bus and so I picked on your client” and when the witness didn’t admit that, Amberg forced him to admit everything but …

Neil Rockind, Rockind Law
Criminal Defense Lawyer

Criminal Defense Attorney Rockind’s Cross Examination “Shakes Up” A Cop

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Shaken Up.  A cop reported to the officer in charge of a case that my cross examination of him “shook him up.” His description sounded like he had been “hypnotized” in a way. I kid you not!

The cross examination really shook me up.

This is one of the greatest testaments to my style of cross examination and it all happened in open court.

What happened? Here is the story:

I mentioned an exchange between a detective and me on Friday during a hearing in court. The detective was caught violating a sequestration order and was under cross examination. The following exchange (being paraphrased here until we get the transcript) occurred:

Q: you spoke with officer [name withheld]?

A: about his testimony, yes. He felt he hadn’t testified well. He felt he was misrepresented.

Q: “misrepresented”?

A: yes

Q: so he was blaming me and the questions that I asked?

A: not at all. He was blaming himself. He felt like the questions made areas that were black and white grey.

Q: he testified falsely?

A: HE WAS SHAKEN. He said that that the cross animation SHOOK HIM UP.

Q: shaken?

A: yes. I could tell that he was shaken. He said that the cross examination really shook him up. I said, “you’re normally a very competent witness. What happened?” He said, “I don’t know…”

Q: I want to follow up on this? Like I hypnotized him?

A: Mr. Rockind, you’re a very good lawyer. Your cross examination is really good. If I could, I’d have you teach a class at the police department on cross examination.
While I won’t be teaching the academy or police departments hoe to handle my questioning, I have to admit that it felt good to hear that my years of practice and focus on cross examination paid off.

While some people can learn how to cross examination, there is an art to it as well. To learn more about our firm, Rockind Law, visit Rockind Law.

Neil Rockind

DUI Cross: The ABC Test Is Ridiculous

For years, police officers have used the “ABC’s” or alphabet test as a means of drunk driving or intoxicated driving detection. Cops can be heard doing the following: 

Say the alphabet from A to T or say but don’t sing the alphabet. 

There is no science behind this test as a means of detecting drunk driving.  None at all.  It is unscientific and subjective: the rules change with each giving is the test.  Despite these shortcomings, some lawyers don’t know how to cross examine a police officer that still uses this test. 

Here is my killer cross examination of a police officer using this subjective test.  Pay attention to how I did the following:

  • Set up the lack of science;
  • Setup the test as subjective meaning that there are no guidelines for how to score it; and,
  • Tie that to the case. 

Here is how I did it recently:     

     
  
  

 Notice how I got the officer to concede that it was not scientific and that it was subjective and then proceeded to ask him how our client did on this “subjective” test.  By the time I concluded this section of the cross examination, I had proven that

  • The officer used an unscientific test;
  • Knew it was subjective and unscientific; and,
  • Despite the unfairness of it, our client did the test well. 

In other words, we undermined the field sobriety investigation and created doubt that our client was jntoxicated. 

Stay tuned for more examples of killer cross examinations on www.killercrossexamination.com.

Listen. React. Cross Examination

Look up.  Listen.  Hear.  Think. React. 

“Killer cross examination” requires that the cross examiner do each of these things while questioning the witness.  

  • Look up: take your eyes off your notepad. Look at the witness. What is he doing? How is he acting? 
  • Listen: as you watch the witness, listen to his answers. Not just the parts where he answers your questions but joe about what he’s not saying or stopped himself from saying? 
  • Hear: feel what he is trying to say or implying?
  • Think: actually process what is happening in the moment. In real time. 
  • React: don’t be afraid to use the information that you’ve gathered in real time to challenge the witness.  You’re likely right…try it. 

As an example, this exchange just happened in a cross examination that I conducted: 

Q: his speech wasn’t slurred?

A:  it was hard for me to tell because it was obvious that he was … I couldn’t … 

Here was some active listening and hearing…the witness was about to say something and then stopped himself…I caught it and wanted to follow up.  I had an idea he was going to step into something huge. 

Q: hold on… You were about to say something. You were about to say obvious that he was and then stopped yourself? 

A: yes. 

Q:  finish your thought…it was obvious that he was what? 

A: an Arab. 

Boom.  He didn’t want to say this but now because I was listening and hearing and thinking, he had.  He was done. 

Q: you could tell he was an Arab just by looking at him?

A: yes. Can’t you? 

Q: I don’t judge people in thay way. What about him? 

A: you know, just the way he looks. 

Q: no, I don’t. His hair? Eyes? Skin? What? 

A: all of it. 

At about this point, the prosecutor objected but it was too late. His prejudice had been exposed.  How? I looked up, listened, heard, thought and reacted. 

Looping – Pat Down

We are taught to ask short questions on cross examination. In fact, some proponents of certain styles of cross examination proclaim that you can cross with one word, eg, “green”. 

Q: the car was a foreign make? 

A: yes. 

Q: with 4 doors? 

A: yes. 

Q: not white? 

A: correct. 

Q: not black? 

A: correct. 

Q: green?

A: yes. 

But sometimes longer questions are necessary or preferable.  This is particularly true where you are “looping”.  Looping is the repetition of a favorable fact in successive questions.  It reinforces the fact and even ties it to new facts.  Looping makes questions longer, but ties the positive fact to a new fact.  Here is an example of my looping favorable testimony in a case where I’m challenging a pat down:  

  
“Not knowing what [he] had is not a sufficient basis to conduct a pat down.”  By looping this fact into successive questions, I reinforced the unlawful basis for the pat down.