During the Sandusky trial, MaleSurvivor Communications Committee Chair Thomas Hodson (who is himself a former attorney, trial judge, and is now a journalist) will be sharing with us some helpful explanations of the stages of a criminal trial. Our hope is that sharing this information here will help people better understand what is going on behind the scenes, and eliminate some of the confusion and uncertainty that will inevitably come up. Please follow our Twitter (@malesurvivorORG) and Facebook pages for more information and reactions as well.
Presentation of Witnesses:
In a criminal trial, the state has the burden of proof – to attempt to prove the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Therefore, the state goes first and last in most trial procedures.
That means, after opening statements, the state will start with the presentation of its witnesses through live testimony from the witness stand. This is expected to start in the Sandusky trial on Monday, June 11. Each witness will be sworn-in and testify under an oath to tell the truth.
Each witness will go through the following forms of testimony. The party who calls the witness to the stand will conduct “direct examination” of the witness. The attorney will ask open-ended questions which will allow the witness to tell what he or she knows about a particular situation. The purpose of direct examination is to lay out the thread of the case in understandable terms from first-hand experience or investigation.
Tangible exhibits are also introduced into evidence through direct examination – things such as reports and other documents that tend to support the oral testimony that is given. Evidence, to be considered by a jury, includes both oral testimony and exhibits that are admitted into evidence in the case.
After the party who has called the witness is finished with the direct examination, the opposing attorney will conduct “cross-examination.” The purpose of cross examination is generally to attack the credibility of the witness – to attempt to raise doubt about aspects of the testimony.
The attorney who is conducting cross-examination is permitted to ask “leading questions” which means that often the answer the attorney wants is posed in the form of a question. Often leading questions permit only “yes” or “no” answers and allow the attorney to “lead” the witness in a certain direction.
Once cross-examination is complete, the attorney who originally called the witness will be allowed to question the witness one more time. That is called “re-direct examination.” The purpose of “re-direct” is to attempt to rehabilitate the witness from any credibility damage that was done during cross-examination.
This process is followed with each and every witness no matter if called by the prosecution or the defense. During cross-examination of the state’s witnesses the defense will attempt to discredit them. Later, during cross-examination of the defense’s witnesses, the state will attempt to attack their credibility.
The state will present all of its witnesses first and then the defense will have the opportunity to present its witnesses. The defense, however, is not required by law to present any testimony at all.