How Can A Criminal Defense Attorney Discredit A Witness’ Testimony Who Is Clearly Lying?
It happens all the time that witnesses get on the stand or alleged victims get on the stand and they claim something that is just simply not true and I have my clients whisper to me at the counsel table, “they’re lying,” and obviously, as a criminal defense attorney, I can’t just say you’re lying, aren’t you, because obviously, that person is going to say, I’m not lying; I’m telling the truth. So, there has to be other ways to discredit a witness’s testimony to show that they’re not telling the truth and the way you do that is attack their credibility as a witness. You question them about something they’ve said that has turned out not to be true. You question them about inconsistent statements that they made. You question them about a potential motive for them to lie.
If somebody has told a lie in one circumstance, you can then challenge them in the circumstance of your case and say, wait a minute, you told a lie here. Why should we believe you? What happens a lot in criminal cases is the police take many different statements. The arresting officer takes a statement, the detectives take a statement, the prosecutors take a statement, and a lot of time what happens is there’s different statements and sometimes there’s inconsistent statements by the same witness or there’s inconsistent statements by the same victim. That’s the type of stuff that can win criminal cases. That’s the type of stuff where you can challenge a witness. You can say, wait a minute, at the preliminary hearing you made this statement. At the original arrest of the defendant, at the scene when you talked to the police, you made this statement. These two statements are completely different. They cannot stand.
So, now you’re going to argue and you’re going to challenge. You’re going to say, if you don’t have this story right and if you’re telling inconsistent versions of what happened, we can’t trust you. And if we can’t trust you as a witness, we can’t trust anything that you say, and this criminal case cannot stand against our client.
So, there’s a lot of different ways to discredit a witness. You’re going to usually do it through the evidence that’s available. You’re going to look at the evidence and look at their statements, and another way to discredit them is through other witnesses. There might be another witness that said something different than what the alleged victim is saying, and you can then call that witness, put them on the witness stand, and even sometimes the prosecutors will call those witnesses and you can use their statements to challenge the alleged victim. That’s the best, when there’s a couple of different witnesses and they’re saying something different as it relates to a material fact in the case.
So, again, the way to discredit a witness is to bring up prior inconsistent statements that they made. The way to discredit a witness is to call other witness or cross-examine other witnesses and bring up key points about your main witness’s testimony and impeach them through over witness statements. Also, what’s called intrinsic impeachment is available, and basically what that is, is bringing in outside stuff to challenge their statements and challenge their version of events. And of course, you can call a criminal defendant in a case and you can use that criminal defendant to challenge and impeach a witness. The criminal defendant can say no, that’s not what happened. That’s not the version of events that is true. That’s not the version of events that’s fair under the circumstances. That’s another way to attack or impeach a witness’s statement.
Also, you can attack a witness’s statement through the circumstances. I just had a case recently. Somebody claimed that my client was attacking them and they locked themselves in a room. My client kicked and broke a door at the bottom and all the pieces shattered everywhere. We have pictures of the inside of the house and you look at all the pieces and broken stuff are on the opposite side of the door. On the side of the door where my client would have been. So, that made it clear once my client told me that she’s the one that shattered the door, that made it clear that there’s no way that my client shattered the door, but it was her who shattered the door. Now the jury is going to start scratching their heads and say, somebody’s not telling the truth here. I can see evidence that shows that this alleged victim is lying. Once you get that chink in the witness’s armor about an important thing, now you can use that to start taking the prosecutor’s case apart, to start discrediting the witness to show the witness is not reliable and get that case dismissed.
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