April 2014 eJournal - Pg 3
This is especially valuable if there are a lot of witnesses involved, because the investigator can help evaluate the veracity of the witnesses’ testimony. Unfortunately, I too often see the investigator sequestered (not allowed to observe), so his or her contributions in the courtroom may be limited. Such is the unfairness of the judicial system, but that is fodder for another article.
The next part of the legal team is the paralegal or legal assistant. A vital part of the team (usually one for each attorney), the legal assistant or paralegal helps the trial attorney track all of the small pieces of the defense. Additionally, they usually communicate with the defense witnesses, to make sure they get to court on time but not ahead of time. They are also often times tasked with staying up half the night doing legal research for the next day of court, especially when a previously unknown legal issue presents itself. If you watched the Zimmerman trial, you saw the legal assistants at work many times during trial.
The January and February 2014 editions of this online journal led with articles about jury selection by Dr. Wendy Saxon. Having studied her writing, I am convinced that you will want a jury consultant on your case, too. Having the right jury is vitally important. I would not want to defend murder, manslaughter or aggravated assault charges in front of a jury made up of people who could not identify with me or who were hostile to the concept of armed self defense. Although a jury consultant cannot guarantee that you get a fair and impartial jury, their knowledge can make it more likely.
Do You Need an Expert?
If your attorney tells you that you don’t need any experts for the case, you might want to re-think your choice of attorneys. Now, why would I say that? Because in most cases, there are technical aspects of the case that regular lay witnesses are not competent to testify about, but which need to be explained to the jury. You can rest assured that the prosecution will introduce experts. They will have the forensic pathologist who conducted the autopsy.
They will have the detectives, many of whom will have been trained sufficiently to qualify as an expert in a specific field, and will then be allowed to testify as such. Consequently, in order to even the playing field, you will likely need one or more experts on your side.
In the hypothetical self-defense shooting scenario we outlined at this article’s start, you need a forensic pathologist to review the government’s forensic pathologist’s autopsy report and photographs. His or her first job is to verify that the investigation and testing were done correctly by the medical examiner or coroner’s office. In modern day practice, a forensic pathologist for a large medical examiner’s office may be called upon to do several autopsies a day. Under those circumstances, details can be missed or evidence incorrectly identified.
To the busy pathologist, the deceased is just another death by gunshot, of which he or she has seen thousands over the years, while to you, the physical evidence contained by the deceased’s body might just be your key to an acquittal. A good example is found in one case I worked on in which the deceased displayed a dual pattern of fixed lividity, meaning she was moved once and placed in a different position some six to eight hours after her death. The forensic pathologist never made any mention of this in his autopsy report, but it was a critical aspect of the case. That is only one example showing why you need your own forensic pathologist on a serious self-defense case. Ultimately, he or she may not be called by the defense to testify, but it is better to have a forensic pathologist and not need their testimony, than the reverse.
Another expert you will likely need is one who can re-construct a shooting scene. This person needs to be well versed in firearms and ballistics, both from an academic viewpoint as well as an experiential one. The Federal Rules of Evidence discuss allowing experts to testify as follows:
RULE 702. TESTIMONY BY EXPERT WITNESSES
A witness who is qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education may testify in the form of an opinion or otherwise if: