I just finished my first trial with a guilty verdict. During my celebratory lap around the office, another prosecutor gave me some good advice. He said that after a win most prosecutors pat themselves on the back and tell themselves what great lawyers they are. They look back on their trial as a perfect performance: no errors, no mistakes. Instead, he suggested that I think of all of the things that I had done wrong during the trial and to write them down so that I wouldn’t forget. This would also help balance what might otherwise be an extremely optimistic and congratulatory narrative developing around the trial.
First, I should have been more specific with my motions in limine. The judge took one look at my trial brief and asked me if there was anything in the motions in limine section that wasn’t “standard.” There was nothing. I could have litigated the issue of defendant’s prior convictions, for example. I could have made sure that the judge would allow me to elicit testimony about what happened after the incident so that the jury had more of a complete picture.
I could have thought of more questions for voir dire. I only had a few lines of questioning about reasonable doubt being an “abiding conviction.” I could have asked about how they use their common sense to tell if their children are lying, for example. Luckily I was able to clean up some of this on the second day.
I should have interviewed the witnesses earlier on in the trial process. Because I didn’t interview them until the day before they testified, I was totally blindsided when one of them mentioned facts that were not in the police report. I had also just made myself a witness. When I tried to amend the complaint later to add a count regarding the new facts, the judge denied the amendment as untimely.
There were certain questions that I didn’t ask on cross-examination because I had no set plan for cross-examination. That tended to work out well in some ways but led me to missing what might have been some of the most important questions.
Finally, everyone tells you to make sure your technology works, but I didn’t, and I couldn’t get my upright projector working in time for closing. Although this worked out fine because I was able to use a whiteboard, that was just pure luck. I could have fooled around with it a little bit over the lunch hour. And my failure to get it going meant that most of the time I spent working on my powerpoint was wasted.