The following is taken from an interview with a Prince William County criminal lawyer as he discusses what needs to be proven in criminal cases and how evidence is collected. Those facing criminal charges already should schedule a free consultation to discuss their case today.
The prosecution has to prove, in every criminal case, every element of the crime or crimes that a person is charged with beyond a reasonable doubt. The elements of each particular crime vary. Some of them are determined by statutes and some of them are determined by the common law (judge-made law). But in every case, every element must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt and experienced counsel will know the best ways to challenge that evidence and the best defenses to employ.
The prosecution goes about proving their case by bringing to bear all of the evidence at their disposal. This can include everything from physical evidence to forensic evidence to witness testimony to, in some cases, the testimony of the accused.
The prosecution collects evidence through, in most cases, the police. They investigate the crime, collects physical evidence, and take statements from both witnesses and in some cases from the accused herself.
They also collect evidence using forensic officers, forensics labs, and technicians in order to add more evidence to their case.
There are numerous kinds of evidence that can be presented at a trial. Witness testimony is one form of evidence. This can be testimony from police officers and other witnesses. In some cases it can be a testimony that has been previously given by the accused although the prosecution can never of course force an individual to testify at their own trial.
Another form of evidence that is used at trial is expert testimony through expert witnesses. These are individuals who have a particular qualification in a particular field and are authorized by the court to express opinions on matters. This can be anything from someone who is an expert in a financial field if it’s a white-collar crime to someone who is a lab technician who tests ballistics on weapons and is attempting to match a bullet hole or a slug to a particular firearm.
This is also sometimes referred to as forensic evidence which involves various scientific tests which are done in an attempt to either tie a piece of evidence to a crime or show that a piece of evidence has a particular significance in a crime. The prosecution has to convince either a judge or a jury depending on which is hearing the case.
For felonies, individuals are guaranteed a right to have their case heard by a jury of the Seventh Amendment to the Constitution. And in some cases, it makes sense to try a case before a jury. If the Commonwealth asks for a jury, they also have a right to have the case heard by a jury.
In other cases, however, if the defendant wishes it, and the Commonwealth concurs and the judge approves, a case may be heard by a judge in which case it will be the judge who the prosecution must convince.
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