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Colorado Supreme Court tightens witness qualifications

Your trial is coming up, and it is possible that you aren't sure what to expect. The court will call witnesses to give their accounts of the events in question, and experts may take the stand to show how the evidence allegedly points to you. Law enforcement involved in the investigation will probably add their expert testimony. However, is law enforcement testimony really expert?

It is typical for police officers to testify about their roles in criminal investigations and to offer their interpretation of evidence. Juries find police officers believable, knowledgeable and trustworthy witnesses, and they often give great weight to their testimonies. However, despite the years of experience at crime scenes an officer may have, the Colorado Supreme Court has ruled that this experience does not necessarily qualify an officer to testify authoritatively about certain evidence in your case.

Two types of witnesses

Lay witnesses testify about what they know and experience as ordinary citizens. For example, a lay witness may testify to seeing you at the crime scene or associating with others involved in the crime. However, that witness cannot offer an authoritative opinion about your role in the crime based on his or her limited knowledge.

An expert witness, on the other hand, may offer an opinion because he or she has training or experience in interpreting evidence. Before a witness can testify as an expert at your trial, the attorneys have to qualify that witness by demonstrating that he or she has trained or specialized in the field related to the testimony. In order to offer legal opinions about blood patterns, for example, a witness must have experience and training interpreting blood splatter.

How the ruling may affect your trial

While it is true that police witnesses generally have years of experience interpreting evidence, the problem arises when they take the stand to testify against you and have not gone through the qualifying process. Without proving their expertise in the area, police testifying as lay witnesses may insert unsubstantiated opinions about your role in a crime, and a jury may simply accept the opinion as fact.

The recent Supreme Court ruling may affect your upcoming trial because attorneys will be required to qualify police as experts before presenting their testimony to the jury. Since such qualifying hearings often take place before a trial, the judge in your case may disqualify any police from testifying against you regarding certain evidence if they do not meet the high standard of being an expert.

Protection for your rights

In cases like yours, a strong criminal defense strategy will make all the difference to your future. Many felony penalties include mandatory sentencing, which means, once you are convicted, the judge or jury will have little leeway in determining how many years you will spend in prison.

This is why the choice of defense counsel is so important. When witnesses testify during your trial, you want to make sure you have every possible chance of defending yourself against their claims. The right attorney will be a solid advocate to protect your rights.

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