Being reluctant to admit you made a mistake is understandable. It's not easy for any of us, let alone in a public courtroom.
However, what is our reaction when someone looks us in the eye and sincerely says, "I made a mistake"? We think that person is honest and humble. Those are good things for a jury to think about an officer. They strengthen the officer's credibility.
Officers are also concerned that if they admit to one mistake, they will face the defense attorney's question,
Q: Isn't it possible you made other mistakes, Officer?
But the answer to that is easy and also enhances the officer's credibility,
A: Yes, ma'am. Is there something in particular you're concerned I made a mistake about?
What do you think will be the defense attorney's response? Likely he will be left flat-footed because, if there was another mistake, you can be sure he would have already asked you about it. And the jury sees an officer who is ready to admit any mistakes brought to his attention and who is concerned about any errors he may not be aware of. All of which equals more credibility.
Embrace contradictions in testimony
Many officers and prosecutors worry needlessly about inconsistencies in officers' police reports and in subsequent trial testimony.
The question is whether the inconsistency raises a doubt about the defendant's guilt.
If it does, it will need to be resolved or we will not be going to trial. If it does not, it can actually enhance the credibility of both officers.
In the above scenario, the inconsistency raises no doubt about the defendant's guilt. This case won't be about an identity defense. There is no doubt the defendant was driving the car involved in the wreck. There will be other defenses - what and who caused the crash, whether the defendant was impaired - but not whether the person involved in the crash who left the scene is the one Officer Ames stopped.
So how can the contradiction in this case enhance the officers' credibility and strengthen the prosecutor's case?
- First, research into juror decision making shows that a witness will be seen as more credible if he testifies, in part, in a way that runs counter to his interest or the position of the side he is testifying for. [Witness Credibility: How Important Is It? Web link below.] Admitting mistakes is that kind of testimony.
- Second, what do you think a defense attorney would argue to a jury if all the police witnesses in a multiple car wreck with multiple victims, numerous witnesses and a confusing scene came into court and their testimony matched on every single detail? That's right - collusion.
I embraced such contradictions as a prosecutor. I knew if the officers addressed them in court as we have in this article, it would strengthen their credibility. And I looked forward to reminding the jury in closing argument,
Ladies and Gentleman, we now know what the defense is. It's that two officers described the dangerous instrument the defendant drove drunk, and killed and maimed innocent people with, differently. Except that's not a defense. And the fact that the two officers in this case honestly reported what they saw and heard and honestly testified about it, even if it didn't match exactly, shows they can be relied on to tell the truth.