Tag Archive for: cross examination

Cornering The Witness/Informant

img_2120.jpgWe just finished two (2) long trials.  Both involved difficult facts and difficult circumstances.  And both involved informants or cooperating witnesses testifying for the prosecution.  Cross examining a cooperator or informant is not for the feint of heart … it requires listening, persistence, patience, wit and a plan or attack.  Some lawyers just want to get up there and yell and scream.  Those lawyers rarely succeed during a cross examination of an informant/cooperator.

In our most recent trial, we were confronted with two (2) cooperating witnesses.  We’ll write more about the cross examinations of these witnesses in the coming days but suffice it to say that we had a plan of attack for each and we executed that plan.  Court observers claimed that they didn’t believe either witness.  But I digress …

In another recent trial, one that last several weeks, we were confronted with one of the most challenging witnesses around — the cooperating accomplice who is willing to admit every prior lie, misdeed, etc.  This witness is street smart and is willing to light himself on fire so long as he lights the accused on fire as well.  Think of a mob movie with a smart-alecky turncoat “snitch” on the stand who tells jokes, laughs at himself and others and is good with a comeback or two and you’ll start to understand the type of witness that we just dealt with in this trial.  But there is a way to effectively cross examine this witness — you have to corner him in ways that he doesn’t expect it, with a series of questions where the witness will likely lie to avoid looking bad.  You see, its easy for someone on the stand who is getting a deal to admit to having lied to the police or having committed crimes — they know that the prosecutor, judge and jury already know that about them.  They have embraced those facts and they are willing to admit them.

But if you can corner the witness into situations where he is forced to admit facts that make him look bad, that reveal the core of his character, i.e., things that he wasn’t prepared to have to admit to, he will naturally lie or have to admit being a con.  This is the gold of a killer cross examination.

During this cross examination of this witness, we cornered the informant/cooperator twice to such a degree that even the judge knew he was lying and the judge jumped in and actually pointed out that the witness was lying.  Here are two (2) excerpts —

In this excerpt, I confronted the witness with his looked the cops right in the eye, on the scene, and lied.  The witness didn’t want to admit that … he was prepared to say that he had lied at the police station but he wasn’t prepared to reveal that he had the ability and character to lie on the fly (so to speak) and to do so convincingly.  Even the judge knew he was a “deceitful guy” and called him out on it:

informant x- Judge Recognizing 1

You see the trap?  When the witness was cornered, he didn’t want to admit the truth but he didn’t know what to say.  When he paused and hesitated, the judge called him out, admonished him and even called him a deceitful guy.  It doesn’t get must better than that.  Or does it?

In this next excerpt, I cornered the witness again.  The judge saw the witness trying to lie and called him on it too.  The witness didn’t want to admit that he was going to get insurance proceeds that he wasn’t entitled to … he realized how that made him sound to the jury:  bad, devious, deceitful.  So, the witness tried to lie:

killer x - Judge Recognizing 2

He was cornered with having to reveal his true character, his true self and he didn’t want to.  Instead, he answered “I can’t answer that.”  This was a copout of course.  But the judge wouldn’t have any of it … the judge called him on it again.  Again, it doesn’t get much better than the judge calling the witness a liar during a cross examination.

When confronting a witness, make sure to corner him with having to admit that he is a liar/or scoundrel or watch him try to squirm out of it.  If you have a judge like we had, the judge will recognize it too and even help you prove your point.  Either way, the jury will see and understand what’s happening.

Neil Rockind
Rockind Law

 

Listening And Watching – Use All Your Senses

I’ve often watched lawyers in trial frantically writing down whatever the witness is testifying to on direct examination.  The lawyer writes the witnesses answers on one side of a piece of paper and then writes comments on the other side.  Head down, face buried in his/her pad, pen frantically writing, the lawyer thinks that he’s doing his job.  He’s not.

In the middle of trial is no time to become a stenographer or scrivener.  Sure, you want to note some things that the witness is saying to remember them or have them available for cross examination or closing argument but not everything.  If you’re doing that, you’re depriving your client and you of one some of your most important senses — the ability to see and listen.

In the middle of our white collar criminal trial, this part of a killer cross examination, i.e., listening and watching during direct, proved itself invaluable.  As the witness was testifying, he seemed like he’d be difficult to break or neutralize.  But the more I listened to his tone and watched his demeanor, I could sense that he was hiding something:  his axe to grind with our client.   He had asked for a raise and hadn’t gotten one.  He tried 3x and was denied.  Then he decided to change his “tone” he testified.  It dawned on me, by watching and listening to him that his demeanor was likely what had resulted in him not getting promoted but instead of blaming himself, he blamed our client.  Because my head wasn’t in my legal pad, I could use my senses to pick up on it and I did.

On cross examination, his tone and demeanor was revealed:

Q:  You’re not acting differently in court than you do elsewhere are you?

A: No.

Q: So this is how act at work too, right?

A: Yes.

Q: You raise your voice and get loud then right?

A: I’m passionate.

Q: You don’t think your employer is allowed to consider your demeanor and tone when deciding whether to promote you?

A: I should be treated the same.

Q: So you’d deny your employer the right to consider your demeanor and tone?

A: I should be treated equal.

Q: So you feel that you weren’t?

A: Yes.

Q: And you blame (our client) for that, right?

A: He’s the one that didn’t give me a raise.

Q: And you blame him?

A: Yes.

By listening and watching, I could pick up on his animus towards our client.  No one would seriously think he was well suited for a job – his demeanor was horrible.  By watching and listening, we were able to pick up and develop the basis for this witnesses bias and even highlight to the jury how his behavior in court likely resembled his behavior at work.

A killer cross examination requires listening and watching and taking your face out of your notepad so that you can use all of your senses.

You’re Holding My Pen: Proving A Point During A Cross Examination

The Phone

It was quite a sight.  The seasoned police detective had been on the witness stand for awhile.  He had testified on direct examination and been cross examined for a while by several lawyers.  The “the pen” happened.   “The pen” is one of those moments that makes the courtroom stand still and it did here as well.  Want to know what happened?  I bet … read on.

One of the state’s arguments was that text messages on a phone found in my client’s pocket were sent and received by him.  Mind you that none of the texts mentioned his name, initials, nickname nor bore any identifying information that they were sent by him.   There was no identifying information that the phone even belonged to my client other than the fact that it was in his pocket.  The state didn’t know if he had picked it up with plans to use it, picked it up and put it in his pocket or if it was his and he had lent to another.  It had no evidence that the phone belonged to him and that the texts were sent by and received by him.

Nevertheless, the state and detective fought to tie those texts to my client.  It’s principle argument was that the phone was in my client’s possession and thus … it must be his and … thus the texts must be his.  “The pen” did a lot to disprove

The Pen

blue-bic-biro-pen

As I was cross examining the detective, he was fiddling with a pen.  I smiled and asked him about the pen.  It went something like this …

Q:  you’re holding a pen?

A:  yes.

Q:  where did you get it?

A:  it was up here on the stand.

Q:  you just picked it up?

A:  yes, I guess so.

Q:  are you aware that is my pen?

A:  no.

Q: So the fact that you’re holding it, tells us nothing about whose pen it is?

A:  I guess not.

Holding my pen, “the pen”, the detective had proven our point about the phone.  The fact that someone holds or possesses an object tells you very little about who owns it and who was using it previously.  The fact that a phone was found on my client at one moment in time tells us little about whose phone it is and who used it to text.

How did this develop?  Active listening and paying attention in the moment.  I have long advocated that lawyers should while cross examining should avoid being overly wed to a notepad or a list of questions.  Being fixed to a set of questions prevents the lawyer from watching, listening and reacting to what is actually happening with the witness.   As I was cross examining the detective, I observed him holding my pen.  At that moment, in real time, I realized what opportunities were available if I put the right questions to him.  And so … I did.

The pen.  The real time cross examination.  The points made.  A killer cross examination.

Establishing Bias Of An Informant With Active Listening – In The Moment

I’ve always preached that you have to be “in the moment” when cross examining a witness.  While its okay to have notes and an outline, you must listen to the witness in real time and react to what he/she says.  In a recent case in which I cross examined an informant, the witness let slip a single word, “we” during my cross examination of him.  This single word revealed just how biased he was.  More importantly, I caught it because I was listening and I used it as a dagger against him and the state:

Establishing Bias - Informant

Notice how he uttered the word “we” while trying to explain something:

… they have a protocol just like we did

I heard it and I pounced:

Q: When you say “we”, you’re referring to the police department?

A: Yes.

Q: The people you were working with?

A: Yes.

Q: You’re (sic) partners in this case?

A: Yes.

With the utterance of a single word, “we”, I got the witness to admit that he and the police were partners.  Partners!

This was only possible because I was listening to the testimony and reacting in real time.  This is killer cross examination.

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.

 

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

Patience, My Friend – How Being Patient, Actively Listening And Cornering A Witness Reveals A Lie

Be patient, son.

How many times have I heard that phrase in my life?  How many times have I said that to others?  Many.  Likely too many to recall and too many to count.  Yes, patience is a virtue but I’m not a patient person.  However, a killer cross examination requires patience and more — it requires active listening in real time and then doggedly pursuing every attempt a witness may take to evade the question.  Some key points of this discussion:

  • be patient;
  • keep moving forward toward your goal;
  • knock down down attempts to pass like a tennis player approaching the net;
  • be relentless; and,
  • eventually, you’ll cut off the witness, leaving him nowhere to go but to answer the question.

In a killer cross examination, if you follow the above rules, what happens during the cross examination is remarkable — while ultimately getting to the goal of the cross examination, the examiner will also expose the witness as an evasive and argumentative witness.  This is a killer cross examination.

Take a look at this recent cross examination in which I cross examined a detective that took interrogated our client and made some exaggerated claims to our client during the interrogation, claims that were designed to convince our client to confess.

First, the detective told our client during an interrogation that he had researched the topic of x-rays and the procedures involved.  This was a lie that I wanted to expose:

Sommers  Cross - Blog 1

The detective equivocated so I forged ahead, patient but relentless:

sommers - Cross Blog 2

Notice how he starts to backtrack and stammer.  His claim that he had researched x-ray procedures and talked to professionals quickly becomes something informal and imprecise.  Notice how the detective tries to answer the question about “naming” the professionals with something else, i.e., information about procedures and processes that he thinks will hurt my client.

I was patient.  I continued moving forward asking him about his official investigation.  He must’ve realized that he was in trouble and now he’s backtracking, flailing his arms and equivocating.  Notice how I don’t bite — “its either a part of your investigation or not?”:

Sommers Blog - Cross 3

Not only was I proving that he had lied to our client but do to his answers, he was proving himself to be untruthful.  Quite honestly, he’d have been better saying, “I lied to your client” rather than this smorgasbord of answers.  The killer cross examination exposes this evasiveness — focusing on each effort at being evasive as we march towards our original goal.

In the interrogation of our client, he claimed that he had talked to “x ray people” but a moment ago, he said it was only a “person” so I pursued that difference:

Sommers- Cross Blog 4

Notice how unbelievable his answers are:  people vs person, lack of memory of the month, lack of memory of the day and nothing notated in his reports.  I intended to damage his credibility but this damage is self-inflicted.  Of course, when a witness is willing inflict more damage on himself, I’m going to let them.

I start to tie his non-answers and contradictions together to make the point:

sommers - Cross Blog 5

Notice how he continues to backtrack.  He tries to deny it was research but is trapped with his own words.  Caught, he dives into the answer head first — like a guy jumping on a grenade:  “I was satisfied with it.”  So I reminded him of the original topic, his lie about “research”:

Sommers - Cross Blog 6

I could’ve let it end there but his self-serving explanation that he’s trying to be forthright can’t stand.  Its obvious that he’s not but I wanted to underscore the point.  I keep turning up the heat, exposing the evasiveness and using his evasive answers against him:

sommers Cross Blog 7

As you can see, my patient and persistence was paying off.  He has characterized his “research” as a nearly happenstance encounter with someone in the hallway.  I take his answers and tie them to what he did and did not tell our client.  Notice that where in the beginning, I had a point to make about “research” he has now given us more than just a lie about “research” but a series of contradictory, nonsensical, evasive answers.

In the end, notice how on one topic, whether he actually lied to our client about doing “research” in to x-ray positions, he refused to concede that he in fact lied or overstated that fact.  It would have been a bit painful for him but the cross would’ve exposed that one point and only that one point but he would’ve gotten credit or scored some points for being “honest” and admitting his shortcoming.  Rather than doing that, he tried to evade and argue — kind of like someone trying to thrust and parry while falling down in a losing match.

As you can see, I was determined, persistent and patient in getting to my objective on cross examination.  Along the way, I capitalized on his evasiveness and combativeness.  By following these techniques and samples, you too can conduct a killer cross examination of a critical witness — just be patient.

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.

A Comment On My Cross Examination Style

Killer Cross Examination.  Yes, that is my style. Not fire breathing. Not screaming. Not pounding the table. Real, methodical, surgical cross examination that points out the lack of candor by a witness.  This is what people think of when they they think of a killer cross examination:


This is what a killer cross really looks like:


Chess playing. Strategizing. Planning.  Laying traps. You get the point.

A client of ours recently watched us utilize these skills to dissect witnesses that testified against her. She was vindicated. Here is description of our cross:


Killer Cross Examination.

“Actions Speak Louder Than Words” – A Recent Killer Cross Examination – “The Cross of Gray”

A theme can make all the difference between a rayood cross examination and a killer cross examination.  Our them was “actions speak louder than words.”  This is the story of the cross examination of a seasoned officer based on a theme of “actions speak louder than words.”

The hearing in the racketeering case began on a Tuesday.  The prosecutor, a seasoned veteran of the Michigan Attorney General’s Office, was going to hang his proverbial hat on the testimony of a single witness:  a veteran police officer who was the Drug Task Force Director of a neighboring county.   For days, five lawyers, Matt Newburg, Michael Komorn, Paul Tylenda, Noel Erinjeri and I sat in court each questioning witnesses and our own clients attempting to show the unfairness of our client’s arrest and prosecution.  One by one, our client’s took the stand and each told their story as best they could.  Each time one finished, the prosecution would cross examine the client’s aggressively.  In the end, we all knew that the case would boil down to one (1) witness, a retired officer.  It was obvious that the case would boil down to a credibility contest between our client and the officer.

Before the officer testified, I questioned the officer in charge.  By the time I finished questioning the trooper, we had laid the groundwork to show the officer’s testimony was likely to be untruthful and that the state was too quickly and without appropriate caution embracing the officer’s claims.  The officer was denying, wholeheartedly, that he had sanctioned and advised our clients that their business was legal and in compliance with the law.  Prior to the officer testifying, one prosecutor assisting the prosecution was so concerned about the officer’s testimony that he spent time prepping the officer, e.g., showing him photographs, emails and other items that had been admitted in the days proceeding.  By the time the officer appeared for testify, the prosecution was advising each other that “he’ll be golden”, “[the officer’s] going to kill it”, etc.

After the prosecution finished its direct examination, I stood to cross examine the officer.   I decided to separate his current statements in court and those made to the police from his actions at the relevant period of time.   I would compare his words now and his actions then.   Soon, the officer admitted that actions speak louder than words and we examined his actions.   His actions and inaction would prove his downfall.  I ended my cross examination by pointing out that the way he described the relationship between my client, the reputed racketeer and drug dealer, and himself: professional, courteous and decent.  The way the officer described it, it remind me of a scene from Looney Tunes:

Sam_and_Ralph_clock

Stay tuned as we go deeper into the “actions speak louder than words” cross examination of this retired officer.