Friday, January 11, 2013

Limitations of Police as Witnesses at a NJ Criminal Trial

At trial, physical specimens, such as weapons used in commission of a crime, are used as evidence to convince jurors of certain facts. However, the prosecution or defense must use verbal testimony to explain their case to the jury. Even physical evidence has little significance without adequate explanation of why it is being presented. In light of the critical nature of verbal testimony at trial, there are written rules of evidence relating to how evidence may be presented. When a prosecutor or defense attorney questions a witness, they are asking carefully contemplated questions in an effort to have the witness state certain facts to the jury in a way that proves their own client's case. If the questions are out of line in some way, the attorney for the other party will object to the question. Similarly, there are written rules regarding what certain witnesses may testify to. Witnesses may be presented as qualified experts regarding certain issues in a case which allow them to offer "expert testimony" as to those particular issues. Most often, prosecutors use police and victims to make a case against the defendant. This is where an experienced and skilled defense attorney can make a big difference in the outcome of the defendant's case. Police may testify about the facts of an event but may not give opinion testimony unless they are qualified as experts to give such testimony. In a recent case, a defendant was charged with possession of a controlled dangerous substance (CDS) with intent to distribute, possession of CDS with intent to distribute within a school zone, employing a juvenile in a drug-distribution scheme and conspiracy to distribute CDS. The New Jersey court held that testimony offered by police of their beliefs regarding the occurrence of a crime, the involvement of a juvenile in the alleged crime and the character of the neighborhood in which the alleged crime occurred was opinion testimony inadmissible at trial. The court held the opinion testimony of the police to be so prejudicial to the defendant that a new trial was ordered in the matter. This blog is for informational purposes only and in no way intended to replace the advice of an attorney regarding your specific matter. If you face criminal charges you should consult an experienced criminal defense attorney immediately in order to protect your rights. For more information on criminal law matters, including municipal court matters, in New Jersey visit

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