March 13, 2014 Articles

Cross-Examining Snitches

By Carlos F. Gonzalez

There is little in the practice of law that matches the excitement and adrenaline rush of cross-examination. The prosecutor asks the last question, turns from the podium, and sits.  Now it's your turn. As you walk to the podium, you take a few seconds to organize your thoughts. No two witnesses are the same. Your approach to cross-examining a fact witness will differ from how you handle an expert witness. This article focuses on cooperating witnesses, more commonly known as "snitches." This type of witness, more than any other, can have a devastating effect on your case. To help you prepare for this type of witness, this article offers a combination of basic rules and specific suggestions for effectively questioning snitches.

A snitch is a very special type of witness. He or she was arrested, accused of committing a crime, and offered a deal. The witness is not testifying out of a moral obligation or because he or she is a good citizen. The testimony of the witness is a requirement imposed by the government in exchange for a reduced sentence. There are many ways to cross-examine a snitch. Bias, motive, interest, and knowledge all offer fruitful areas for cross-examination.

But, before we consider some specific ways of cross-examining a cooperating witness, there are some general rules that you should be familiar with. These rules apply regardless of the type of witness you are cross-examining.

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