By District Attorney Ryan Sayers
2023 Vol. 12
Last week we made it through opening statements by both parties, and this week I will discuss what happens during the cases-in-chief and some of the unrealistic expectations that have been placed on the legal system by Hollywood.
During the cases-in-chief, the goal for each side is to present as clear of a picture and cohesive of a story as possible for the jury.
Leading up to trial, the prosecutor, police officer and defense attorney will have spent days combing through statements, evidence, video, messages and reports, as well as speak with witnesses, visit the scene of the crime and prepare victims.
The attorneys have to decide what is most important to present because they might only have a few hours to convey their whole story to the jury.
The parties are also constrained by other factors during their cases-in-chief. One is when a witness or victim fails to appear to testify at trial.
Another is when testimony or evidence would violate the Pennsylvania Rules of Evidence or case law, which includes things like hearsay, relevance, polygraphs and prejudicial statements.
This explains why some jurors will ask after a trial, “why didn’t you have ____”, or they will say, “if only you would have presented _____”, because then we might have had voted differently.
This brings me to a point that many prosecutors (and some defense attorneys) will discuss and harp on during jury selection and at trial, which is how televisions shows and movies are not reality.
Most of us have watched a one-hour crime drama on television at some point (Law & Order, Hawaii 5-0, NCIS, etc.).
During an episode, we are given the answer on what actually happened in regards to the crime, regardless of what the jury or police decide.
We are also shown that fingerprints can be lifted from any surface, that there is always forensic evidence, that the defendant admits when confronted or that everyone tells the truth under oath in a courtroom, or that there is always some third party that saw some crucial piece of the crime.
The reality is that most cases do not have all of those and some cases do not have any of those, and this is not due to lack of effort by law enforcement and the attorneys.
After both sides conclude calling witnesses and presenting exhibits, then it is time for both sides to make their closing arguments to the jury. Next week I will discuss closing arguments and jury deliberations.
Ryan Sayers is the elected District Attorney of Clearfield County, Pennsylvania.
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