The criminal justice system in the United States is based on the presumption that an accused is innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. In practice, what that means if you have been accused of a crime is that the State has the burden of proving your guilt. In theory, a defendant in a criminal case is not required to present any kind of defense – and in some cases not presenting a defense is actually the best defense. Whether you plan to present a defense or not though, your criminal defense attorney needs to know what all potential witnesses plan to testify to if called to the stand. While witnesses in your favor may voluntarily come in and talk to your attorney, witnesses for the State may not be as cooperative. Fortunately, criminal lawyers have the ability to interview witnesses for the State through a process known as a deposition. While it is always best to discuss the unique facts and circumstances of your case with an experienced Tennessee criminal defense attorney, you may also find it helpful to learn what a deposition is and how your attorney may use one in your defense.
The State’s Burden – Beyond a Reasonable Doubt
The State of Tennessee, through the prosecuting attorney, has the burden in a criminal case of proving the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Although every case is unique, in most criminal cases that burden is met by introducing evidence of the defendant’s guilt at trial through the testimony of witnesses. You can count on at least one law enforcement officer — and frequently several – testifying at trial. The State may also use experts, such as ballistic experts, fingerprint experts, and various scientific experts, to get evidence introduced at trial. Finally, the State may also put actual witnesses to a crime and/or the victim of a crime on the stand during a trial as part of the effort to meet the burden of proving you guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
The State’s Duty to Discover
The State also has a duty to “discover” (a legal term that really just means “to give” or “to make aware”) evidence it plans to use against you. In other words, the State cannot surprise you at trial with witnesses or evidence. Instead, you have to be told ahead of time (unless one of the few exceptions applies) what witnesses will be called at trial and what evidence will be presented so that you can prepare a defense. Therefore, your criminal defense attorney will know who the State plans to call to testify against you and may plan accordingly.
What Is a “Deposition” and How Does It Help Criminal Lawyers Prepare a Defense?
A deposition is a sworn statement made by a party or a witness in a criminal prosecution (or a civil lawsuit) made under oath. In practical terms, a deposition begins by your attorney filing a formal request to depose a witness in the case. For example, let’s assume your attorney wants to depose the arresting officer. A Notice of Deposition will be filed with the court and served on the prosecuting attorney’s office. The notice will include the time and place of the deposition. As a matter of professional curtesy, and for convenience sake, defense attorneys often coordinate with prosecutors ahead of time to arrange a date and time that works for everyone involved. The deposition may take place at your attorney’s office, the prosecutor’s office, or a neutral location. A court reporter will be present to record the deposition. The witness is placed under oath at the beginning of the questioning and anything he/she says during the deposition can be used later on at trial. Your attorney will then “interview” the witness by asking a series of questions. Think of the entire process as sort of a practice run for trial. The idea is that your attorney gets the opportunity to find out what the witness will testify to at the actual trial. The deposition process may be used for as many of the State’s witnesses as your attorney deems necessary.
If you have been charged with a criminal offense in the State of Tennessee, it is in your best interest to consult with the experienced Tennessee criminal defense lawyers at Bennett, Michael & Hornsby. Contact the team today by calling 615-898-1560 to schedule your appointment.