Friday, May 10, 2013

The Uncontrollable Witness

Let's call this Charles Ramsey week in America.

We've all watched the unfolding events in Cleveland this week with a mix of disgust and awe. The disgust is for Ariel Castro and his twisted actions. The awe is in the men who helped to free the girls. Many have written about one of the heroes of the drama, Charles Ramsey. As a prosecutor, I could not help but envision Ramsey on the witness stand in this case.

To analyze Ramsey as a witness, I have to tell you about my general rules for witnesses and preparation. The first time I meet with a witness, I let them know the outline of events in a criminal case in addition to discussing the crime. We don't go over the specifics of trial testimony because it is too early and the events are too fresh. I don't want courtroom testimony to come off scripted because it's been rehearsed so many times. I cannot tell a witness whether to speak to anyone or not, but I do tell them they have the right not to speak if they wish. I remind witnesses of this for two reasons: 1) the media, and 2) defendants.

It is never a good idea for a witness to give media interviews. The interviews are taped and are now prior statements where even the slightest misstatement may come back to haunt them at trial. The more interviews, the more possible inconsistencies. Plus, a person's hidden past might emerge once the media begins digging.

A witness does not need to broadcast their involvement to their neighborhood either and begin to feel any pressure associated with testifying. Defendants, their family, their friends, and defense investigators will try to speak with a witness once the secret is out and a witness does not need this kind of attention.

As we get closer to trial, I sit down with a witness for trial prep. This consists of explaining how the courtroom is set up and the trial procedure. I then go over the general rules of testifying - only answer the question being asked, do not get combative, tell the truth, say "I don't know" if you don't know, say "I don't recall" if you don't remember. There are others and every trial is different, but this advice never changes.

Ramsey is fantastic. He does not shade the truth and does not try to hide who he is. He is the type of witness every attorney loves and fears. Put him on the stand and let the jury see how direct and credible he is. The only problem is he will be absolutely uncontrollable on the witness stand. He has already violated just about every rule by speaking to every media outlet. On the stand, he would expound and elaborate every question. A yes or no question would not necessarily get a yes or no response. He would be funny, combative, and sympathetic at the same time.

We attorneys crave control and he'd be everything an attorney is afraid of at trial, and the jury would love him for it. Sometimes rules need to get broken, though.

1 comment:

  1. Loose cannon, your name is 'Charles Ramsey.' I am so glad he chose to involve himself and answer the calls for help. Too many people might have said, "Oh, domestic disturbance, I'd better stay out of it."