The purpose of the extensive preparation an experienced Layton Utah criminal defense lawyer makes for trial is to get as much helpful and credible evidence before the factfinder, the judge or jury, to help them reach a favorable outcome. Evidence refers to all the information presented at trial in an attempt to establish the facts of the case. Judges are in control of the decision of how much evidence can actually be presented at trial. They are guided by rules which have been developed to regulate the submission of evidence at trial.
The largest consideration in whether a piece of evidence will be admitted is its relevance. All relevant evidence is admissible unless prohibited by the Constitution, statute, or judicial rule. Irrelevant evidence is not admissible. To be relevant a piece of evidence must be related to an issue at trial. An attorney hoping to submit a piece of evidence must show that the evidence speaks to one of the elements of the crime, or who was responsible for the crime. Another basic criteria necessary for admissibility is trustworthiness. The desire to admit only trustworthy evidence at trial limits testimony from individuals who may not be competent to testify, such as the mentally incompetent. It is also the basis for the best evidence rule. This rule requires the submission of original documents at trial rather than copies, which may more easily be altered.
The rules of evidence divide evidence into different types and forms. There are two fundamental types of evidence—direct and indirect. Both are admissible and both may lead to conviction. Direct evidence is evidence that proves a fact without having to rely on any other evidence. Because direct evidence has the ability to demonstrate a fact on its own, the fact finder does not have to draw conclusions in order to reach a fact. The only question before the fact finder when direct evidence is presented is whether it is credible. Indirect evidence is also known as circumstantial evidence. Indirect evidence does not prove a fact directly. Instead, it requires a conclusion to be reached by the fact finder. The difference between these two types of evidence can be seen in the following example. To accept indirect evidence, the fact finder has to draw a conclusion; this is unnecessary with direct evidence.
Direct and indirect evidence can come in three different forms. The first is testimonial evidence, which normally comes into a trial by way of a witness testifying orally under oath. Less often, testimonial evidence is presented in the form of a written deposition that was taken under oath prior to trial because the witness was unable to attend the trial. As a general rule, witnesses cannot give hearsay testimony as evidence. Hearsay is defined as secondhand evidence. Hearsay evidence is testimony repeated by an individual at least once removed from the source. In other words, when a witness testifies that a friend told her that the defendant told the friend something, this constitutes hearsay. The reason why hearsay evidence is normally frowned upon is that its trustworthiness cannot be challenged through the adversarial process of cross-examination. Furthermore, the individual who originally made the statement had not taken an oath to speak the truth. There are, however, a number of exceptions to the strict application of the hearsay rule. The most familiar exception is the acceptance of the dying declaration of an individual who names his or her killer.
The rules concerning testimonial evidence generally forbid lay persons from presenting opinions as part of their testimony. Such witnesses are expected to keep their testimony strictly focused on the facts of the case. Due to this rule, witnesses are also prohibited from drawing legal conclusions in their testimony. Expert witnesses do not have this limitation placed on their testimony. Because of their specialized training, expert witnesses can give opinions that reach conclusions based on their awareness of the facts. Such opinions, which often deal with highly technical areas of medicine, engineering, forensics, psychology, and the like, serve to assist fact finders in sorting out the credibility of the facts presented at trial.
Another form of evidence is tangible evidence. This is nontestimonial evidence that is presented in the form of physical exhibits. Tangible evidence is normally divided into two categories—real evidence and demonstrative evidence. Real evidence includes physical objects that played an actual role in the crime that was committed. In order for real evidence to be admitted at trial, an attorney must be able to demonstrate that it is authentic. The need to verify the authenticity of evidence at trial has led to the development of the chain of custody rule. The purpose of the chain of custody rule is to require an attorney to account for where a piece of evidence has been and who has handled it since it was originally gathered. This helps to ensure that the evidence is indeed what it is claimed to be and that it has not been subject to tampering. Only after the chain of custody has been demonstrated can a piece of evidence be introduced into the trial and to the fact finder.
Demonstrative evidence, another type of tangible evidence, serves as a visual or audiovisual aid so the fact finder can better picture events involved in the crime or understand the testimony of a witness. A picture of the location where the body was located is an example of demonstrative evidence. Other examples of demonstrative evidence include diagrams of the crime scene, maps, charts, models, and x-rays.
A third form of evidence is judicial notice. At trial it is unnecessary to prove widely established facts, such as dates and days on the calender, when they are generally known within the community. Instead of requiring proof, the judge will instruct the jurors to accept these matters as proven.
The rules of evidence that exclude certain types of evidence and questions require that an attorney pay close attention to the opposing attorney’s questions and strategies. Since most evidence comes out in the form of testimony, it is crucial for attorneys to attempt to keep inappropriate evidence from the fact finder’s ears by objecting to improper questions and testimony. Objections are the procedure by which attorneys oppose the introduction of evidence, testimony, argument, or a procedure that they believe to be improper at trial. The primary reason for bringing an objection is to stop the introduction of some form of evidence that will harm an attorney’s ability to win the case. An important secondary reason for objecting is to preserve the issue in the trial record for re-argument at the appellate level.
When attorneys raise an objection, they should always give the legal grounds for the objection so that it can be preserved for appeal. An attorney can object to the opposing counsel’s questions on a wide variety of grounds. There are over twenty-six legal grounds for objections. These are as varied as relevance, competence, leading questions, speculation, nonresponsive volunteered answers, assuming facts not in evidence, and credibility. If an objection is made, the judge must rule on the law of evidence and procedure to determine if the question is appropriate. When the judge sustains an objection, the question or evidence will be disallowed. The attorney who is denied the ability to ask a question may make an offer of proof. The offer of proof informs the judge about what the attorney hopes to accomplish with the question, in an effort to reverse the ruling. If an attorney is unhappy with the judge’s ruling, the attorney may make an exception. The making of an exception preserves the issue for appeal. In effect, the exception is a claim that the judge has, in the opinion of the attorney, made an error and been notified of the possible error.
Normally, objections must be timely. This means that the objection must be made prior to evidence being entered into the record. Simply put, objections should be made when an inappropriate question is asked, not after the answer has been given and the damage has been done. At times it is impossible to make a timely objection; that is, a question may be appropriate but the answer may violate the law of evidence. If an objection is not made until after the jury has heard the evidence and the objection is upheld, the jury will be told to disregard the evidence. When inadmissible evidence is so prejudicial that the defendant may no longer be able to get a fair trial, then the judge may declare a mistrial.
The question as to when an attorney should object does not have a standard answer. Many opportunities to object are not exercised by seasoned attorneys. They often realize that the attorney who objects often may wear out the patience of the jurors, who may draw the conclusion that an attorney is interfering with the truth-finding process. For this reason, attorneys will often allow questions that are improperly framed to be answered, even though an objection could legitimately be raised. Experienced attorneys will also rarely raise an objection to the introduction of evidence or testimony that does not harm their case. Attorneys also take into consideration the likelihood of being successful before objecting, since objections often heighten the perceptions of jurors as to the importance of a piece of evidence.
Prior to trial, there are several steps that hasten the processing of issues once the case comes to trial. One step is the use of pretrial motions. Pretrial motions constitute a request on the part of the prosecutor or the defense team for the judge to make legal rulings about aspects of the coming trial. The party that desires a clarification of the law will make a formal written motion—termed a pleading—arguing its position to the judge. The other party to the case will also be allowed to respond in pleadings prior to the decision. Knowing that objections and rulings on objections may be perceived in a negative way by the jury, attorneys often seek to keep evidence out of trial through the use of pretrial motions rather than waiting for the trial to start. If successful, objecting to the use of evidence in pretrial motions also has the advantage of never allowing the jury any knowledge of a damaging line of evidence. Furthermore, when a pretrial motion is unsuccessful, the issue is preserved for appeal, since a full record of the decision is made.
There are a number of different types of motions that can be filed prior to trial. Among the commonly used ones are a motion to dismiss, a motion to disqualify the judge, a motion to request a psychological examination, a motion for a change of venue, a motion for discovery, and a motion to suppress evidence.
A motion to dismiss involves a routine request by the defense for the judge to quash the indictment because it contains insufficient evidence to bind the case over for trial. Motions to dismiss are rarely successful. A motion to disqualify the judge can be made when it is believed by either party to the case that the judge will not be neutral in his or her rulings.
A motion to request a psychological examination may be made if the sanity of the defendant is at issue. This motion can be made to give both parties to the case an opportunity to have their own psychological tests done.
If you are facing a criminal charge or under a criminal investigation, it is important that you hire an experienced Layton Utah criminal defense lawyer. The outcome of your case will depend to a great extent on what you do immediately after the arrest. Therefore it is vital that you hire an experienced Layton Utah criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible. Key evidence can disappear or be altered. Witness can alter their statement or forget the incident or move out of town. Delays can badly affect your case. You must get proper legal assistance immediately. A conviction can adversely affect your life. Your liberty is at stake. You must act fast.
Layton Utah Criminal Defense Attorney Free Consultation
When you need to defend against a crime, whether it is a sex crime, drug crime, violent crime, or theft crime, please call Ascent Law LLC for your free consultation (801) 676-5506. We want to help you.
8833 S. Redwood Road, Suite C
West Jordan, Utah
84088 United States
Telephone: (801) 676-5506