If you have been wrongly charged with a crime – any felony or misdemeanor – defending yourself against the charge may not be easy, and you are going to need help.
You won’t have to “prove” your innocence, because the obligation falls on the state to prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. This is because in any criminal case you will need to have several factors in your favor, including:
1. You’ll need legal advice and aggressive defense representation from an experienced Los Angeles criminal defense attorney. Make that call at your very first opportunity – as quickly as possible after you’ve been charged with a crime.
2. You will also need some evidence that backs up your claim of innocence, and that evidence may include the testimony of a witness who can clear you of the charge.
WHAT TYPE OF WITNESS MAY BE NEEDED IN A CRIMINAL TRIAL?
If you are the defendant in a criminal trial, you may need the testimony of an eyewitness who can confirm your alibi, an expert witness who can prove the DNA or the handwriting wasn’t yours, or a witness offering some other type of testimony on your behalf.
It works both ways. The best lawyer in the world can’t help you without some kind of evidence to present to the court, and the best evidence can’t help you without a knowledgeable attorney who can explain to the court what that evidence means.
However, if you need the testimony of a specific witness or witnesses as a part of your defense, you may find some resistance. Not everyone will be willing to miss work voluntarily and go through the inconvenience of appearing and testifying in court.
WHAT IS THE FIRST STEP IN GETTING SOMEONE TO TESTIFY FOR YOU?
The first thing you should do, if you need someone to testify on your behalf, is simply to ask. In many cases, a family member will be happy to testify on your behalf. A neighbor or shopkeeper may want to testify voluntarily if that person witnessed a crime near his or her home or business.
Several advantages are inherent when a witness voluntarily testifies. You won’t have to pay or subpoena a voluntary witness, and witnesses who don’t feel compelled to testify are typically more cooperative.
A subpoena is a court order requiring someone to testify in court or to produce particular evidence. If you need to compel a particular person to testify for you, you and your attorney must request a subpoena from the court and explain why the subpoena is necessary.
WHEN MAY A WITNESS LEGALLY REFUSE TO TESTIFY?
Every witness has a constitutional right to remain silent under the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. If a witness believes that answering a question would involve self-incrimination, the witness can assert that Fifth Amendment right and decline to answer the question.
Avoiding self-incrimination is not the only reason why a witness may legally refuse to testify. Marital privilege lets spouses decline to testify against one another.
California law also recognizes the necessity of particular professions to maintain professional confidentiality, so your doctor, lawyer, psychiatrist, or priest cannot be compelled to testify against you.
In most cases, however, if you need the testimony of a particular witness, a subpoena will be sufficient. But even if a witness has a legal reason for refusing to testify, a subpoenaed witness must appear in court as ordered by the subpoena and explain that reason to the judge.
WHAT IF YOU NEED AN EXPERT WITNESS?
In many criminal cases, a defendant is going to need the testimony of an expert witness to provide the scientific or technical details, explanations, and insights that jurors and judges may need.
The best criminal defense attorneys work routinely with ballistics experts, medical examiners, toxicologists, and other specialists who may provide expert testimony.
Expert witnesses, however, are paid well for their time and expenses, so if you need an expert to testify on your behalf, you will face a key decision: Is the expert’s testimony worth what it will cost you?
It’s a question that you will need to consider seriously and discuss candidly with your defense lawyer. In some cases, an expert’s testimony can make all the difference.
WHO IS AN EXPERT?
What makes an expert? There’s no rule or legal definition, but an expert witness generally has substantial educational, research, and professional experience in a particular field. An expert’s credentials typically include academic awards and articles published by academic journals.
If you hire an expert, make sure that you understand why the expert’s testimony is necessary, what the expert will cost, and how the payment will be arranged.
In fact, if you are charged with a crime, have your defense lawyer address all of your questions and concerns.
WHAT IF THE WITNESS YOU NEED ISN’T AVAILABLE?
When a witness isn’t able or available to appear personally in the courtroom, a California court may still consider a statement from the witness – provided that the statement qualifies as an exception to hearsay.
Generally speaking, California’s criminal courts want witnesses to be in court so that they can be cross-examined and so that jurors can hear and judge the testimony for themselves.
A hearsay exception, however, may permit a statement made by an unavailable witness to be allowed at trial. A statement given at a deposition prior to the trial, for example, will usually be allowed.
The hearsay exceptions are quite complicated under California law, so if you need a statement from an unavailable witness, have your defense lawyer explain what will be required.
WHAT WILL A DEFENSE ATTORNEY DO ON YOUR BEHALF?
Very few criminal cases actually go to trial. Most cases are resolved either with negotiated plea deals or by the dismissal of charges. But if you are charged with a crime in California, and if your case does go to trial, lining up the witnesses you’ll need is only one aspect of your defense.
Your defense lawyer will explain how the law applies to your case, investigate the charge against you, craft an effective defense strategy, protect your rights, and advocate aggressively for justice on your behalf.
Let an experienced Los Angeles criminal defense attorney represent you if you face any criminal charge – now or in the future. Your future – and your freedom – may depend on it.