In criminal cases, in state or federal court, the government has to turn over evidence before trial. Usually, it consists of police reports and the documents and physical evidence (like photographs, videotapes, objects, phone records, and test results) that the government plans to introduce as evidence in court at trial. In federal court, you usually get an investigating agent’s memos of interviews with witnesses during the investigation, says Dallas criminal lawyer John Helms.
Criminal defense lawyers show these materials to the client, and the lawyer and defendant go over them. The evidence that the government produces often shows how strong or weak the government’s case would be at trial. But does it include all of the evidence that will come in at trial?
A lot of criminal defendants want to believe that a trial will consist only of the information the government has turned over. They sometimes think that they can win at trial based on the assumption that there will be no other evidence. But that is not a safe assumption.
First of all, it is not true the government is required to turn over all of the evidence it will use at trial. The government is NOT required, for example, to tell the defendant what every witness will say on the witness stand. Even if the prosecutor follows common federal court practice and turns over the investigating agent’s witness interview memos, the law does not say that the witness can only testify about things that are in the interview memo.
The government is also not required to say HOW the government will use the evidence it does turn over. For example, the government may turn over phone records, but the government may not be required to tell the defendant what they will use the phone records to prove. If the phone records show a flurry of phone calls to and from the defendant just before and after a drug transaction, the defense may have to figure that out for themselves.
It takes an experienced criminal defense attorney to fill in these blanks, but even the best lawyers cannot anticipate everything that will happen at trial. The best defense lawyers know that there will be unexpected testimony and surprises at every trial, and they take that into account in evaluating the case as well as preparing for trial. There are almost never depositions in criminal cases, and many witnesses will not talk to the defense before trial, so a defense lawyer may not have a great sense of how the witness will come across during testimony. Sometimes, a witness turns out to be more credible than you expected. Sometimes, a witness might be less certain about what really happened or admit to having a poor memory of the event. Good lawyers know trials involve uncertainty. They have to be able to adjust their approach and strategy when there are surprises.
If you or your loved one is accused of a crime, you should never assume that you can just look at the evidence the government produces and know how the trial will come out. One of the reasons to hire a top-notch criminal defense lawyer is because they have the experience it takes to anticipate, as well as anyone can, what could and probably will happen. In this way, they can give the best advice before trial and do the best possible job in trial.
If you, a family member or someone you know has been charged with a crime in the Dallas area, contact Dallas criminal lawyer John Helms at (214) 666-8010 or fill out the online contact form. You can discuss your case, how the law may apply and your best legal options to protect your rights and freedom.