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Depositions In Florida Criminal Cases


A trial is only the final step in a criminal case, and most cases resolve before the case gets to trial, either because the state decides to drop the charges or because the defendant decides to accept a plea deal.  Before the trial is an information-finding process called discovery.  The prosecution and defense must find any available information and physical evidence that will help them prove their case.  The rules of criminal procedure require the prosecution to notify the defendant’s lawyer whenever they find evidence that may point to the defendant’s innocence.  Sometimes the discovery process involves taking depositions from witnesses whose input may help the jury make a decision about the defendant’s innocence or guilt.  If you are facing charges so serious that both sides need to summon witnesses, contact a West Palm Beach federal crimes lawyer.

How Do Depositions Work?

A deposition is when a witness in a legal case testifies under oath, except without the judge, jury, or courtroom.  A prosecutor or defense lawyer summons the witness for the deposition, and the witness goes to the lawyer’s office at the appointed time.  The opposing party’s lawyer also attends, as does a court reporter.  The witness swears to answer truthfully.  Witnesses who lie during depositions can be charged with perjury, just like if they lied at trial.  A witness has the right to plead the Fifth Amendment in response to questions where answering truthfully could lead to criminal charges against the witness.  “I don’t know” is an acceptable answer in a deposition if it is true.

First, the lawyer who summons the witness asks the questions he or she has prepared.  Then the other party’s lawyer cross-examines the witness, following up on the first lawyer’s questions or asking new questions that the first lawyer did not address.  A court reporter records the deposition.

How Are Depositions Different in Civil and Criminal Cases?

In civil cases, it is common for plaintiffs and defendants to give depositions.  In criminal cases, defendants may not give depositions before the trial, because doing so would violate their Fifth Amendment rights.

The criminal courts have a strong preference for in person testimony at trial, rather than having lawyers read the jury parts of a transcript of a deposition.  Depositions are only an acceptable substitute for live testimony if there is a valid reason that the witness cannot attend the trial in person.  For example, a witness may not be able to attend the trial because of ill health or because he or she is serving a prison sentence.  Likewise, courts may opt for depositions instead of live testimony from witnesses that they judge to be at high risk of witness intimidation, such as the defendant’s spouse in a domestic violence case.

Contact a West Palm Beach Criminal Defense Lawyer Today

Attorney William Wallshein has more than 39 years of experience, including five years as a prosecutor in Palm Beach County.  Contact William Wallshein P.A. in West Palm Beach, Florida to discuss your case.



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