I spent part of last week in the Maury County Courthouse in Columbia ,Tennessee. It was built around 1905 and is a reminder of old southern courthouses. It also reminds me of how I hate the modern criminal justice centers that are bland and devoid of any character. The new justice centers remind of a jail. Lessons from the courtroom are important. In this post , I will address one tip and one lesson learned.
I have tried cases all over Middle Tennessee. One tip I have learned is if the courthouse is more than thirty minutes away from Nashville stay in a hotel. I tried this first in a week long murder trial in Gallatin , Tennessee in 2013. No stress with traffic or possible wrecks. Another hour a day you can devote on the case instead of driving. No distractions from your life. The best thing is a total immersion into the case. So for my case in Columbia, an easy drive after work.Last minute trial preparation. Up early for more case preparation and then a short trip to the courthouse where I was forty minutes early. I highly encourage this approach for trying cases away from home.
The lesson from the courtroom is request the Rule in every case. Rule 615 of the Tennessee Rules of Evidence is the rule that mandates witness sequestration if requested. Basically once the rule is invoked all witnesses must leave the courtroom. Further , no one can communicate what is going on in the trial. There are some exceptions. One exception is a party that is designated by counsel for a party that is not a natural person can remain in the courtroom. Normally in DUI trials , the district attorney asks the arresting officer to sit at counsel table.
The lesson is that f the prosecutor has a police officer at council table that officer must be the first witness to testify. It would be fundamentally unfair to have the main officer hear all the testimony of other witnesses and then let him clean up any problems. It happened in this weeks trial. I anticipated this issue might come up based on the opening statement. so I was ready to make the objection based on the Holding in Mothershed and Collins. However, I made a motion to exclude the arresting officer’s testimony based on a violation of the Rule. After a lengthy argument, the court granted a mistrial rather than exclude the witnesses testimony.
The teaching point is always ask for the rule in all trials. Master the rules of evidence. Be alert and ready to make an objection.